After a slow start, most home gardens seem to be making up for lost time. Tomatoes that refused to ripen for so long have decided to come calling in beautiful jackets of red, yellow, purple and orange. Green peppers, heck, red, orange and violet peppers, too, seem to be reproducing at record rates. Hidden zucchini grows large enough to use as a canoe, while the rest of the backyard garden wildly tries to keep up.
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Anyone who has tasted just picked vegetables knows the taste cannot be beat. Anyone who has tasted just picked vegetables better watch out for E. coli O157:H7.
Yes, E. coli O157:H7, a pathogen which can reproduce quickly and can cause severe sickness, even death.
Home gardens do not have automatic immunity when it comes to pathogens on the food. Whether the garden grew with pesticides and fertilizers, chemicals or organic practices, any food not grown in a sterile environment may become a home to unwanted organisms, including those responsible for food borne illnesses.
The Colorado State University Extension recommends the following practices to reduce the chance of contamination from garden produce:
• Irrigate your garden with potable water.
• Never apply uncomposted manure to growing food crops.
• Compost manure properly to kill most E. coli O157:H7.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before working with food.
• Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Proper growing practices help to reduce the pathogens on the produce and proper washing techniques complete the safety procedures.
Always rinse all fruit and vegetables under cold, running water for at least 15 seconds. If possible, rub the surface of the food while rinsing. Yes, that means the watermelon must be rinsed. Pathogens on the surface might be transferred to the inside of the melon when cut.
Do not put the freshly washed garden treasures back on the dirty counter and do not return the produce to the bag that carried the bounty into the house.
Enjoy scrumptious fresh vegetables and fruits safely.
Too much fresh garden produce? Check out the free public education classes offered by the Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County for safe and modern ways to preserve food.
Questions about safe home food preservation? Call the Master Food Preservers and leave a message at 530-621-5506. A Master Food Preserver will return the call.
The Master Food Preservers are also available free of charge to speak to organizations and clubs about food safety or food preservation topics. Just call the number above to arrange for a speaker for small or large groups.
For more information be sure to go to the Master Food Preserver Website at cecentralsierra.ucanr.org/Master_Food_Preservers/.