Backyard gardening and home-raised livestock are an increasingly common domestic feature in the United States, particularly with increased concerns of pesticides, GMOs, and antibiotics in the food we eat. Gardening and raising chickens may help you feel like you have greater control over your diet, and these activities can encourage healthier eating for your whole family. Plus—you’ll be getting great exercise and stress-relief when you tend to your veggies and feed your chickens in the relaxing setting of your own backyard.
So what’s the downside? Raising your own food can come with some unpleasant side effects when you grow more than fruits, veggies, and livestock. Without the right preventive measures, you might also raise pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, which can make your family very ill, especially those members of the family with compromised immune systems. To help you manage a garden that won’t yield food poisoning, read the tips below for healthier at-home food production.
Know Your Soil
If you have a garden but don’t raise chickens, you might not be very concerned about the safety of the food in your garden, since it came from your own backyard. However, you will want to think about the soil that you’re using and the possibility of it contaminating your crops with harmful bacteria. When you use manure in your soil, your plants will have plenty of nutrients to grow, but they might also absorb E. coli and salmonella if these contaminants are present in the dirt. If you do use manure, only plant items that will not make direct contact with the soil, such as corn. Items like potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables should only be planted in composted soil, which has fewer risks for contamination.
Prepare Produce Properly
With all produce that comes from your garden, you’ll want to wash it thoroughly before use. On root veggies and mushrooms, use a dry brush to remove any remaining soil before washing. Peeling fruit and vegetable skins can also be helpful, especially for items like apples that have fallen on the ground before being picked.
Handle Chickens Carefully
If chickens are a part of your home garden, remember that they are not like household pets. It’s tempting to handle and cuddle chickens—especially when they’re still chicks—but this can lead to salmonella exposure, so you should only handle chickens when you absolutely need to. When you do, always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. As you harvest fresh eggs, clean them with a dry towel or brush rather than washing them, since water can push bacteria through the shell and into the egg. Always cook eggs to an appropriate temperature before eating.
Seek Medical Attention for Food Poisoning Symptoms
Though prevention is the best course of action for managing foodborne illnesses, there is no foolproof way to completely eliminate potentially harmful bacteria. Therefore, you should be aware of the symptoms of food poisoning and seek medical attention sooner rather than later should you become ill. Though most healthy people will get better within a matter of days, food poisoning can escalate quickly and lead to consequences like dehydration. When you have symptoms like stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, connect with a MeMD medical provider to start feeling better faster.