Food Safety (Wash Your Veggies)

Food Safety (Wash Your Veggies)

Part of Ep. 802 Organic Gardening

Rinse your organic vegetables before you eat them.  Barb Ingham, a UW-Extension food science specialist, explains why you should wash your veggies.

Premiere date: Jun 24, 2000

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Organic gardening has less impact on the environment and on us. But does that make it 100- percent safe? Let's ask an expert. Joining me is Barb Ingham. And Barb is a Food Science Specialist with Extension. Hi, Barb. I just pulled these out of my organic garden. I should be able to just eat them, right?

Barb:
Not necessarily. By gardening organically, you've removed any concern you might have about commercial pesticide residues. But you still have to worry about two things with organic gardening. You have to worry about manure and the soil.

Shelley:
Let's start with manure. What am I worrying about?

Barb:
Well, here I've got some very, very fresh manure.

Shelley:
Okay, I'm worried. (both laugh)

Barb:
It can be full of pathogens or harmful bacteria. So, we definitely don't want to put this on our vegetable gardens. At least not in this form.

Shelley:
What type of bacteria are we talking about?

Barb:
Well, pathogenic E-coli O15787 has been in the news a lot. Salmonella-- Some of the newer strains of salmonella. Dairy cattle and animals can carry these bacteria.

Shelley:
So, fresh is dangerous.

Barb:
Yes.

Shelley:
A rule of thumb for me is if it smells fresh, it's too fresh.

Barb:
It takes about six to nine months to get to this stage. This is manure that's been composted with some garden waste that we might have put together. It's been very, very well aerated.

Shelley:
It looks much more like soil and doesn't smell like manure.

Barb:
Right, it's something you'd really want to put on your garden. In order for this to be safe, though, for us to know that, it has to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit for five days. And that's pretty difficult to do.

Shelley:
A lot of home composters can't do it, we just don't have the time or expertise.

Barb:
Right, it takes a lot of mixing and those kinds of things. So, whether you buy it in this particular form or whether you buy it from the store, you really have to make sure that it's safe.

Shelley:
So, if I don't use it at all, then I'm okay. It's just soil.

Barb:
Not necessarily. We still have to worry about the soil.

Shelley:
What would we find in soil that could be dangerous?

Barb:
We can have pathogenic or harmful bacteria in soil. Lysteria is a pathogen that's soil-born that we need to worry about.

Shelley:
Then, whether I'm using manure or soil, what do I do to make my produce safe to eat?

Barb:
Washing is the easiest thing and one of the best things to do, too. I've got a system set up outside for us today. You can do this either in your kitchen or you can use a garden hose to wash your produce.

Shelley:
Of course, by doing it out here, I suppose we're not taking the soil into the kitchen and contaminating those surfaces.

Barb:
Right. It's really an easy way to do that. I'll let you hold this.

Shelley:
Okay.

Barb:
I've got some carrots here that have got some soil on them. What we want to do-- This is cool running water, which is fine. Warm is really good. It removes the soil a little bit better, but cool is fine. We want to scrub. We want to use plenty of running water. And we want to use our fingers or a small brush or something like that. Certainly scrub the produce, carrots, radishes, potatoes-- that scrubbing action is really important.

Shelley:
The trick is to get all of the soil and manure off.

Barb:
If we've got berries, place these in a colander. I'm just going to let the water run very gently through the berries, here.

Shelley:
I don't think we want to scrub these!

Barb:
We really couldn't.

Shelley:
We'd have a disaster.

Barb:
But certainly, this water is going to very effectively rinse these off.

Shelley:
Do I need to use soap?

Barb:
No. Soap isn't designed to be eaten or ingested, so we don't want to do that at all.

Shelley:
What about a chlorine bleach? I've seen some people swear by that.

Barb:
Chlorine is no more effective than water. And we also need to realize that if we use too much chlorine, it can be harmful to us, because we'll be eating it on the fruit or vegetables.

Shelley:
We're not supposed to eat that, either.

Barb:
Right.

Shelley:
The vegetable washes that we see in the grocery stores. Are those better?

Barb:
Some of the produce that you might buy in the grocery store is waxed. And these have been shown to actually make your produce cleaner by removing some of that waxy layer. Whether it actually removes pathogens or dirt, that we can't say.

Shelley:
Okay, cold or tepid running water sounds like the best.

Barb:
It's still the best alternative.

Shelley:
It's pretty affordable, too.

Barb:
Right.

Shelley:
I don't remember having to worry about any of this ten or 20 years ago. What's happened?

Barb:
Well, we didn't. The pathogens, like pathogenic e-coli or some of the new salmonella strains-- they're new. And we didn't have to think about those before.

Shelley:
So, these really weren't out there.

Barb:
No, they're called emerging pathogens.

Shelley:
The saddest part is I love to take my son out into the garden and teach him to eat vegetables and how to garden by pulling peas off the vine and munching on them. It sounds like maybe I shouldn't be doing that anymore.

Barb:
I think it's fine to still do that kind of thing if you choose vegetables, like peas or maybe pole beans or things like tomatoes, that are growing up off the ground.

Shelley:
Off the soil.

Barb:
Right, there's no reason not to do that still. But if you're talking about radishes or carrots or things like that, then you really have to be more careful and you definitely want to wash them first before you eat them.

Shelley:
Of course, it's a good way to teach him cleanliness, too, keep the hose out there and just wash them off and then eat them.

Barb:
Right.

Shelley:
Great. Thank you, Barb. And thanks to Allen Centennial Gardens for letting us dig in their vegetable garden.

Shelley:
One of our organic experts said the single most important thing we can put in our gardens is information. And I agree. Here's a summary of the information we've provided today. It will help make you a safe and successful organic gardener. Number one, know the enemy. Knowing what disease or insect is causing the problem makes it a lot easier to solve the problem. Number two, always start out with the least toxic measures. Use pesticides only as a last resort. Number three, read the label. Following directions can make all the difference in the world between failure and success. And number four, don't forget to wash. A little water on your fruit and vegetables can work wonders and keep you healthy.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.