It’s safest to discard produce from flooded garden

Article by Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen, UW-Extension Interim Horticulture Educator for Kenosha and Racine Counties.
Submit plant care questions to the Master Gardeners Plant Health Advisors.
Phone: 262-857-1942 or email:  master.gardeners@kenoshacounty.org

Question:  What should I do with the produce in my garden now that the flood waters have subsided?  Is it still edible?   R. H.

Consuming garden produce after being subjected to flood waters is a huge concern.  To be safe and eliminate all risk of eating contaminated food, discard any produce that came into contact with flood waters.  It should not be donated nor sold.

If you are unsure whether the produce made contact with flood waters, be safe and clean the produce thoroughly before eating.  Wash with clear tap water followed by a two-minute soak in a weak chlorine solution (2 T. bleach per 1 gallon of water).  Rinse in clean tap water.  It is suggested to peel or cook this produce before consuming.  For fruits that are usually eaten raw, such as melons and berries, discard to eliminate the possibility of being subjected to a food borne illness.

For vegetables that grow underground, such as potatoes and carrots, there is a debate about the safety of consuming these crops.  Some sources state that if the vegetables are still in the early stages of growth, they should be OK if allowed to grow to maturity but will need to be sanitized and cooked.  Other sources, including the FDA, claim there is evidence that uptake of pathogens can occur through the lenticels of potatoes and the crowns of carrots deeming them unfit for consumption.

As for the vegetable plants with growth that has not yet produced flowers, the future vegetables that are produced should be safe; yet, they should be washed thoroughly and peeled.  Cooking will increase the safety of these vegetables, too.  Refrain from canning, preserving, or drying flood contaminated produce.

Be smart and stay healthy.  If in doubt, throw it out, or compost it if you compost using a hot composting method, similar to that utilized with composting animal manure.

Woody ornamental plants have been affected by flood waters, too.  Oxygen is needed by plant roots, and flood waters reduce the amount of oxygen in the soil.  The result is root death due to the increased amounts of toxic compounds in the soil.  Since root health has been compromised, photosynthesis gets altered causing growth to slow or stop.

Soils that remain excessively wet are the perfect environment for soil-borne root rot and crown rot organisms.  Watch plants for the remainder of the growing season to see if they have any adverse reactions to the flooding, such as yellowing or browning of the foliage, leaf drop, and branch dieback.  If the flood waters left behind debris in and around any plants, remove it. If excess soil was deposited on the plant or its roots, carefully remove it to the original depth it had been around the root system.   It may take a few weeks to determine if a plant will survive after flooding.  Survival is dependent on various factors such as the age and health of the plant, how sensitive it is to being exposed to excessive water, and how long it was submerged in the flood water.