1. K-State home
  2. »Research and Extension
  3. »Johnson County
  4. »Lawn and Garden
  5. »Agent Articles
  6. »Vegetables
  7. »Produce Safety in the Vegetable Garden

Johnson County

Research-based Information You Can Trust — Localized for your needs

Johnson County
11811 S. Sunset Drive
Suite 1500
Olathe, KS 66061

Office Hours:

Monday - Friday,
8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

(913) 715-7000
(913) 715-7005 fax

Map to our office

K-State Research and Extension is committed to making its services, activities and programs accessible to all participants. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities may be requested by contacting Johnson County Extension at (913)715-7000. Notify staff of accommodation needs as early as possible.

Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service

K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Produce Safety in the Vegetable Garden

By Anthony Reardon

When growing your food, significant thought and attention can be put into developing an abundant harvest. You have perfected your soil, managed your pests, inhibited environmental injury –all the necessary items for a good crop, and then some. However, one factor that may have been overlooked is the relationship between how that crop has been handled and food safety. Was it fertilized with manure? Were pets allowed in the plant rows as they grew? Were hands washed before harvesting? These can be potential serious vectors for food-born illness, and their mitigation methods are simple.

The importance of practicing safety while growing and handling food cannot be understated because the list of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that could be contracted from them is immense. Salmonella, E. Coli, Norovirus, Listeria, and Hepatitis A are some potentially fatal diseases on the list. So where do these contaminations happen? How do we avoid them?

The three most common types of produce that may become disease-contaminated are sprouts, leafy greens, and melons. What do these all have in common? The crops of the plants grow in direct contact with the soil. However, the same crops aren’t typically associated with being dirty –they’re not root vegetables. As such, proper washing and handling decline, where they should always be at the forefront regardless of how the crop grows.

While soil is a vital and necessary component to successful (traditional) plant growth, the elements that comprise soil, as alluded to, are unfortunately less than hygienic. In fact, at its core, soil is composed of decomposed organic matter, minerals, and water. Trouble presents itself with the (essential) organic matter and water components, as this is where diseases can thrive.

So, you’ll wash your produce better, using clean water and potentially even some white vinegar. Problem solved, right?

Partially, but the external sources that bring disease to food should also be addressed for complete safety. For example, water used to wash the produce should not be reused to wash other produce. While vegetable gardens and pets often coexist in the same area, pet fecal matter poses a danger to consumption. The recommendation is to fence off the gardens to keep them out.

Even with manure, a widespread and traditional form of garden fertilizer and organic matter, health risks exist when it is not correctly managed or applied. The manure should be fully broken down in the soil before planting in the garden. This is not only because the soil will initially be so high in nitrogen and ammonia that it will likely burn your plant roots, but it also takes around four months to decompose and merge with the soil, lessening biological hazards. For this reason, manure incorporation into a vegetable garden should be done long before planting or growing.

The routes of contamination when it comes to produce can be plentiful. Luckily, common sense and a little forethought will take you a long way in protecting your harvest and your health.

Return to Vegetables Agent Articles

Lawn and Garden Questions

Do you have lawn and garden questions? Please direct all gardening questions to our Garden Hotline, staffed by trained Extension Master Gardener volunteers and backed up by Extension staff who will assist you with your questions.


For more information, visit our page on composting.