Standing water covering road and fields
Updated: September 10, 2021
By Carol Allen

Flood Waters and Produce Safety

Hurricane Ida dumped a lot of rainfall in Montgomery, Frederick, and Howard Counties. If you farm in an area where local creeks or rivers overflowed their banks and flooded produce fields, your crop may have been contaminated and should be discarded. Plowing under after the soil has dried is a common method of disposal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides a guidance document, Guidance for the industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-affected Food Crops for Human Consumption here:

In this instance, flooding is considered when water is flowing or overflowing a field outside the grower’s control. Specifically, it is when the waters of the state: rivers, lakes, streams and similar, overflow their banks and deposit sediment, sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, and human pathogens on the edible portion of the crop. Also, there is the possibility of the plants taking up chemical contaminants. Such an event also increases the potential of molds and toxins to develop post-harvest.

This contamination is considered adulteration under section 402(a)(4) (21U.S.C. 342(a)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This produce should not enter the food stream. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop such that it provides a reasonable assurance of human food safety.

The above section covers all food crops including leafy greens, tomatoes, string beans, berries, corn, potatoes, carrots, garlic, watermelons, winter squash and similar. In this case it does not matter if the crop is intended for processing or to be eaten raw. All are considered contaminated.

In cases where flood waters did not touch the edible portion of the crop, growers are to evaluate the safety of the crops for human consumption on a case-by-case basis. The FDA urges farmers to work with state regulators for guidance. Care should be taken to harvest and manage uncontaminated crops so they do not come in contact with contaminated crops.
More information on replanting flooded fields can be found in the aforementioned document. If a well was involved in the flood, be sure to check the water quality.

Site specific rainfall data available from NOAA: Click Here


This article appears on September 9, 2021, Volume 12, Issue 6 of the Vegetable and Fruit News  

Vegetable and Fruit News, September 2021, Vol. 12, Issue 6

Vegetable and Fruit News is a statewide publication for the commercial vegetable and fruit industries and is published monthly during the growing season (April through October). Subscribers will receive an email with the latest edition.