Clean Soil + Clean Hands + Clean Surfaces = Clean Harvest

Good growing and harvesting practices are essential in assuring that your food donations are as safe as possible. Since many people you serve are from vulnerable populations, it is especially important to prevent foodborne illnesses.  Here are some tips for safe growing and harvesting.

Begin with Clean Soil

  • Organic growing is the best way to grow healthy and safe produce. That means avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Natural ways are best.
  • Be sure all soil and amendments are brought from a safe source. If using manure, wait 90 days before planting. Choose herbivore-based fertilizer like mushroom soil over carnivore-based like cow manure. 
  • Do not use rain water. Water from a building is safer for watering plants and washing hands and surfaces.
  • Try to keep animals out of the garden area, and especially away from the plants.

Wash your Hands!

  • This is the most important step in safe gardening! WASH YOUR HANDS!
  • For best results, use soap and water. Remember the 20-second rule and don’t forget to wash your thumbs and hands up to the wrists.
  • Dry your hands with a single-use towel and throw it away.
  • If you cannot use soap and water, use a hand-sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.

Clean Surfaces before Beginning

  • When planting and tending, be sure all tools are clean.
  • Before harvesting, prepare a space for collecting produce such as a picnic or fold-out table, or sanitized mat. Clean containers, like baskets and bins, can also be used.
  • DO NOT ALLOW PRODUCE TO TOUCH THE GROUND AGAIN. If it does, toss it in the compost area, or give it to volunteers to take home.
  • Use soap and water to clean all surfaces before you begin and sanitize with one Tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of fresh water (or a one-time use sanitizing wipe).
  • Cover all wooden surfaces with a material that is easy to wipe down. 

Harvest Day

  • Try to harvest early in the day and keep harvested produce out of the sun, in a cool spot.
  • Before beginning, do a field check and dispose of trash and animal feces. Toss out spoiled produce.
  • Harvest each plant the proper way: pull at top of root (turnips, beets); cut with scissors (cucumbers, peppers, okra); or dig (potatoes, yams). If you aren’t sure…ASK! You don’t want months of effort to go to waste!
  • DO NOT WASH THE PRODUCE AFTER HARVEST.
    • Washing produce removes the natural protective layer and allows pathogens to enter. 
    • Some traces of dirt are a reminder that produce needs to be washed before eating. 
  • Deliver produce to the pantry as soon as possible after harvest.
  • If not donating on the same day, make sure you have proper storage. Almost all produce will need cold storage such as a refrigerator.
  • Before storing, separate produce into bags based on type. Different types of produce should NOT be stored in the same container together.

Thank you for all you do to provide needed food in your community. 

For more information on general liability for good-faith donors, check out Bill Emerson’s “Good Samaritan Donation Act.”