Wednesday, August 31, 2011

E. Coli and your Vegetable Garden

There have been plenty of mentions about e. coli in the news as of late. It has affected our meat supply to vegetables grown on farms throughout the country. Many people ask, can e. coli contaminate our home grown veggies. While the short answer is yes, the long answer would be it depends on where you grow your garden, who are your neighbors, do you wash your veggies before you consume them and so on.

As with any problem, the more you understand about what the problem is and what is causing it goes a long way to finding a solution. Being able to stay e. coli free in your home vegetable garden really depends on making sure you understand what e. coli is and the steps you can take to avoid it.

According to an agricultural and resource economics update conducted by the University of California, over 12% of food borne illnesses linked to e. coli occur in fresh fruits and vegetables. These are of course fruits and vegetables that are grown on farms and transported long distances.

So what exactly is e. coli? According to Doctor Ajit Mahapatra of the Food Engineering Lab, Agricultural Research Station at the College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Technology for Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, GA, “E. coli is a bacterium that lives in our intestines. Most types of E. coli are harmless. However, some strains of E. coli (such as E. coli O157:H7 linked to food born illnesses) cause diarrhea. The diarrhea can be accompanied by severe stomach cramps. Symptoms usually occur within 2 to 3 days following exposure. Young children and elderly may develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a condition that can lead to serious kidney failure and even death, if exposed to E. coli.”

E. Coli is derived from a variety of methods that go simply beyond farm workers not washing their hands. The farm may be using contaminated water, improperly managed manure up through and including not properly washing the machinery that is used to harvest and cut the vegetables. One affected fruit or vegetable in contact with other fruits and veggies can make e. coli spread very quickly.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of e. coli. According to Doctor Mahapatra, “If the product is labeled "washed", “triple washed" or "ready-to-eat", there is no need to rewash before being eaten. Because rewashing may, in fact, increase food safety risk.” Also be sure to wash your hands and utensils prior to handling any fresh fruits or vegetables, then wash the fruits and veggies as well.

Although the possibility of an e. coli outbreak is low among home vegetable gardeners, the risk is still there as your fruits and vegetables may come in contact with those that you buy in the store. Be sure to wash them thoroughly after you harvest them and if possible not harvest until you are ready to eat, which makes for a fresher meal anyway.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

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