With the extensive flooding occurring throughout the state, numerous calls have come to "Hortline" regarding the edibility of flood-damaged fruits and vegetables. The most important thing to determine is whether the garden area was flooded by sewer backup or rain water. Plants and produce should be discarded if sewage was involved. If the damage is from flood water or standing rainwater, the produce is safe to consume if it's firm, unblemished, and the plant remains healthy and survives. Watching the garden area for the next one to two weeks will help you make the decision. Leafy crops, such as lettuce or spinach, are another concern. Because we directly consume the parts of the plant that were flooded, it is difficult to thoroughly remove silt and other dirt. More importantly, harmful bacteria can build up and it is best to avoid a potentially harmful situation by discarding this type of produce. Broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, etc., should be safe as long as dirt can be thoroughly washed or peeled off. Root crops should be safe to consume as long as the plant survives and there are no soft spots on the produce.
Along with washing the produce in clean water, gardeners may want to peel the vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers that are consumed raw. Boiling will kill the bacteria that are present on other vegetables. We need to use common sense and our best judgment in dealing with flood-ravaged produce. If plants begin to wilt and die, or produce is injured and soft, discard it. It is better to err on the side of safety.
This article originally appeared in the July 14, 1993 issue, p. 113.