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Food Safety & Environmental Services
School Garden Program
Food and Garden Safety
Gardener Hygiene and Illness
Sick gardeners carry bacteria and viruses on their hands and should not work with produce. The bacteria and viruses can get onto the produce and cause someone to get sick, especially young children. Bacteria and viruses can be on many different surfaces, including animals; therefore, gardeners should wash their hands before and after working in the garden and after handling animals. Any time your hands touch your face or mouth, bacteria and viruses can be spread. During harvesting, gardeners should wear non-latex gloves as an added step after proper hand washing to prevent bacteria and viruses from getting onto the produce. A hand washing sink is necessary to ensure gardeners have a designated place to wash their hands.
Produce Contact Surfaces
Gardeners should protect the produce from contaminated equipment by ensuring the following:
- Harvesting and garden maintenance equipment (shovels, rakes, pitch forks, spades, knives, scissors) are clean and sanitized
- Washed with hot soapy potable water, rinsed with clean water, and then sanitized with a chlorine or quaternary ammonia solution. The solution must be tested with a test kit to ensure it is at the proper concentration per the manufacture specifications.
- Harvesting storage containers are made of food grade quality and/or new, unused plastic or paper grocery bags can be used for harvest and transport.
- Harvesting storage containers are cleaned and sanitized after each use
- Washed with hot soapy potable water, rinsed with clean water, and then sanitized at the proper concentration with a chlorine or quaternary ammonia solution.
The water source should come from an approved source. Approved sources would be a municipal water supply or a water system that has been tested. Water can be contaminated with E-coli and other harmful pathogens, like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Contaminated water used to water produce can contaminate the produce and make people sick.
Water from your local municipality is not required to be tested. If your water is from a well, the water must be tested for microbial contamination once during the growing season and should not be used for irrigation purposes if it exceeds the US EPA Recreational Water Quality Standard. If your water is from surface water, the water must be tested three times during the growing season and meets the microbial requirements of the US EPA Recreational Water Quality Standard. Water used for sanitizing vegetable harvest containers and equipment must meet the minimum drinking water standards. Per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (U A CALS) Cooperative Extension, it is highly recommended that rain water is not used on edible plants due to bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and chemicals that can be found on roof tops and grow in the collection container.
Rain water can be used on non-edible plants and landscapes.
Soil Composition and Amendments
The composition of the soil is important for not only growing produce, but also ensuring it is not contaminated with lead. Soil should be tested for lead; lead can harm a child’s brain and other organs. Other agronomic and yield enhancing tests on soil can include pH and phosphorous, potassium, and organic matter.
If fertilizer is used, it must be commercially produced to ensure it has been treated to remove any pathogens. Any commercially prepared or processed organically derived fertilizer containing animal products such as blood or bone meal, or dried blood products must be from a widely familiar, brand-name source and content/purchase records from the supplier kept on the premises at all times.
Per the USDA and the U A CALS Cooperative Extension it is not recommended that school prepared compost (plant-derived) be used on edible plants, due to the potential for a high bacterial load. For non-edible plants, compost should only be made of plant origin and be treated for a sufficient length of time to remove any pathogens. All equipment used for composting must be washed and sanitized prior to using on produce.
Location is key to preventing contamination from harmful chemicals and pathogens. Gardens should be located a safe distance and uphill from the following:
- Septic system
- Storage tanks
- Animal enclosure
- Compost pile
- Parking lots
- School animals
- Bird habitats
- Area subject to any kind of chemical application: herbicide, fungicide, or pesticide
- A low-lying, poorly drained area
- Used tires
Note: Files are PDF format unless stated otherwise.