Using Flooded Produce Safely

After a series of excessive rain events, some gardeners may find their beloved produce underwater. In this situation a key question surfaces: Are my vegetables safe to eat? Floodwaters that are runoff or overflow from streams, rivers, lakes, roadways, and agricultural fields are likely to be contaminated with human pathogens and/or industrial pollutants. Following are some tips on safely handling produce form a flooded garden.

Do not use any fruits and vegetables that were ready for harvest at the time of flooding. And if you have any doubts, throw it out! Some crops have a higher susceptibility to contamination than others.

Leafy Greens – (lettuce, cabbage, kale, collards, spinach, Swiss chard, and others) The surface of a leaf can vary with ridges, valleys, and curls. Bacteria or contaminated soil particles can get lodged on the leaf surface and be nearly impossible to clean. Discard any leafy greens that are exposed to flood waters.

Root Crops – (beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, onions, and potatoes) Underground crops have a degree of protection from flood water due to the buffering abilities of the soil. However, any underground vegetables that will be harvested within a month after flooding such as radish or new potatoes have a higher susceptibility for bacterial contamination. Ensure those root vegetables that are harvested within a month after flooding are washed and rinsed with clean tap water and then peeled and cooked thoroughly.

Melons – According to University of Wisconsin Extension, these and other fruits eaten raw should not be consumed from a flooded garden. Even melons that have been surface sanitized have been linked to food-borne illnesses.

Late season crops (such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, etc.) that flower and set fruit after floodwaters have receded are safe to consume when they ripen later in the season. Ensure that these plants are supported and fruits do not come in contact with the soil for at least 90 days after flooding.

And finally, never can, preserve, sell or give away produce from a flood damaged garden.

Still have questions or concerns about a garden that has recently been inundated with floodwater? Contact your local Extension office for more information.