Produce Exposed to Floodwater in Any Way Is Unsafe to Consume

Floodwater carries pathogens and may also contain raw sewage, heavy metals, and/or chemicals

Produce Exposed to Floodwater in Any Way Is Unsafe to Consume
Image: Pixabay
August 16, 2016

Four states are currently experiencing major flooding while seven are dealing with minor flooding, and consumers living in those areas are being advised to avoid consuming produce that has been in contact with floodwater in any way.

"Gardens that were partially flooded may still be growing. Produce ripe for picking may look edible. However, any plants that came in contact with floodwater must be destroyed. It is a serious health concern," warned West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick.

Although the produce may appear unharmed, the floodwater to which it was exposed may contain pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, as well as raw sewage, heavy metals, and/or chemicals.

Nor is the danger limited to those growing above ground.

"Even root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, that are under ground [sic] should not be consumed if floodwaters covered the soil above them," reports Food Safety News (FSN). "Similarly, fresh produce such as squash and melons that have been touched by floodwaters should not be eaten, according to the FDA. Their thick rinds do not provide protection for the edible flesh inside."

Unfortunately, there is no way to salvage any edible part of a crop in a way that will still keep it safe for consumption. Ginger Pryor, state coordinator for Penn State's Master Gardener Program, stated that the reason the crops cannot be cleaned sufficiently is because they can absorb bacteria, which can contaminate internal tissues. Even if the crops are growing on vines or stalks that remained above the water level, they can still be contaminated via splashing or infiltration.

According to FSN, the following foods should be discarded if they contact floodwater:

  • Crops that grow above ground, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, string beans, berries, and sweet corn
  • Crops that grow underground, such as peanuts, potatoes, carrots, and garlic
  • Crops possessing a hard outer skin or shell, such as watermelon and winter squash
  • Grain, nuts, corns, and similar products that are stored in bulk

Seven people have died in Louisiana as a result of the flooding, while 20,000 had to be rescued and 10,000 were displaced by the flooding and are now living in temporary shelters.