Creating and maintaining community and school gardens has been identified as an effective strategy to increase healthy food awareness and consumption. Fresh fruit and vegetables have unfortunately been linked to over 450 outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. since 1990. In commercial food production, employing a set of risk-reduction steps, known as good agricultural practices (GAPs), has been pointed to by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the best prevention against foodborne illness-causing pathogens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 48 million people who are sickened with foodborne illness in the United States each year. While most people who become sick from foodborne illness recover quickly, there are on average almost 130,000 hospitalizations annually and 3,000 associated deaths. Contamination may come from many sources including physical contaminants, (metal, stones or glass) and chemical contaminants (runoff from parking lots or pesticide drift).
While much of the attention for GAPs implementation, as well as the outbreaks and recalls, has focused on commercial production,the use of steps to reduce contamination risk are also applicable to community and school gardens. The steps presented in this guide are rooted in science, practical and presented in a context suitable for the passionate organizers and volunteers associated with community gardens.