University of Maryland Extension

Harvest, post-harvest storage, and food safety

Neith Little, Extension Agent, Urban Agriculture

Urban Ag home | Table of contents

How you harvest your crops and how you store them until your customers purchase them has an important impact on the quality of your product and on food safety risk management.

For most vegetables and fruits, especially leafy greens and herbs, harvesting first thing in the morning before the day gets hot is a good practice to prevent wilting and increase the shelf life of your produce. Tomatoes are an exception to this rule, because they are so susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases. Avoid harvesting or otherwise disturbing tomatoes when the leaves are wet from dew or rain, because damaging the leaves when wet can increase the chance of infecting the tomato with a plant disease.

The appropriate temperature and humidity for storing harvested crops varies depending on the type of fruit or vegetable. In general, for optimal taste and shelf-life, cool-season crops like kale and cilantro, need to be kept cool and prevented from drying out while warm-season crops like tomatoes and basil should not be refrigerated or stored damp. Some crops, such as winter squash and sweet potatoes, benefit from a “curing” stage between harvest and eating.

In general, plant diseases do not infect human beings. But human diseases, such as E. coli or Salmonella, can contaminate produce. Basic food safety risk management practices include training anyone harvesting to wash their hands, cleaning and sanitizing tools for harvesting, storing produce at appropriate temperatures, restricting animals' access to places where fresh produce is growing, and waiting 120 days between applying manure and harvesting. To learn more about food safety, see the UMD Extension food safety page here:

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