Growing your own herbs and vegetables is always satisfying and for many green thumbs there’s nothing better than seeing the fruits of their labor plated up in a delicious meal at the family table.
But while growing your own produce always seems to satisfy the tastebuds more than anything bought from the market, it’s not always the safer option.
Some of the garden hacks we’ve been told to use to help plants flourish can actually be hazardous to our health and lead to food poisoning and the spread of disease.
Food Safety Information Council council chair Rachelle Williams said you can avoid this by following these five simple food safety tips in the garden.
Locate your veggie patch and herbs in a convenient spot but choose a site away from hazards. For example, if you have an older building, avoid using soil that could have been contaminated by scrapings of lead paint many years ago.
Keep your pets and chooks away from your veggie garden where they can poop on the food plants and beware of trees and bushes overhanging your garden as birds might ‘bless’ your veggies – there have been food poisoning outbreaks traced back to bird droppings.
Veggies need lots of nutrients but make sure any manure or compost is well composted as the heat generated by the composting process not only kills any weed seeds but also helps kill food poisoning bacteria. Prevent easy access to your compost bin by vermin and pests like mice and rats, which can spread disease, and don’t compost meat scraps which can attract vermin.
If you want to recycle ‘grey’ water from the washing machine water it will contain microbes so don’t put it on to fruit, vegetables or herbs growing in the garden. Also water from the washing up or dishwasher has too much fat and other solids which can be bad for plant growth.
Weeds, bugs and fungi enjoy the spring too. Minimise the use of garden chemicals like pesticides and herbicides and make sure follow the directions on the label exactly. Don’t spray other areas of the garden in windy conditions in case the spray drifts onto fruit and vegetables. Some chemicals will have withholding periods before you harvest any fruit or vegetables that have been sprayed.
“Remember after gardening to always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly as soil is likely to contain bacteria – use a nailbrush to remove dirt from your fingernails,” Williams said.
“Don’t forget to wash and dry your fruit and vegetables, too. Whole fruits and vegetables will be contaminated by soils on the surface. Scrubbing and washing them in water or with sanitisers will remove loose soil and may remove many bacteria and viruses, as can removal of the skin.”