My garden flooded: Can I eat my vegetables and what can I expect to happen?

Published 10:43 am Friday, September 21, 2018

First, there is a distinction to make between flooded gardens and gardens inundated by rain. If the flooding has occurred from rivers or streams, then the vegetables are considered flooded. The first and foremost issue in this situation is from a food safety standpoint.

Are these vegetables safe to eat? The short answer is floodwaters contain many harmful substances like petroleum products, chemicals, heavy metals and often raw sewage. Vegetables from flooded gardens should be handled with caution. Many of these vegetables we consume raw and, as such, it is nearly impossible to wash off contaminates. The FDA recommends, “If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to contaminated floodwater it is considered adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and should not enter the human food supply. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating ‘clean’ crops.” These recommendations are for commercial fruit and vegetable crops but apply to food safety across the broad spectrum.

The conservative answer to ensure safety of all food is to discard all produce. However, there are some fruits and vegetables that can be salvaged. Begin by discarding all vegetables that will be consumed raw (uncooked). Soft fruits and vegetables that are ready to eat must be cooked before consumption. Many of our fall vegetables that have not begun fruit should be fine if allowed to mature another four to eight weeks. More can be found regarding food safety by visiting

If plants were inundated by rain water and not floodwater, is not considered flooding but pooling. In this instance, there are a multitude of issues that stem from complete inundation of plants. Health risks from contaminants however are very minimal in a pooling situation. Vegetables or fruits harvested after inundation from rainwater are safe in most cases but should be thoroughly inspected before consumption. Shelf-life may be greatly reduced from inundation as well.

In general, fungal pathogens may be present and produce risk of plant disease. Many plant fungal diseases travel or spread through water so instances of certain fungal diseases will be enhanced.

Lastly, plants have roots and those roots must have oxygen. So, what can you expect if those plants did not have oxygen for a period of time? The age and hardiness of the plant and the length of time roots were inundated will determine the outcome. Fall gardens with young seedlings will most likely be lost. Transplants for many fall vegetables are still available to replace what has been lost.

Register for the “What You Need To Know So You Can Grow” educational series taught at the Beaufort Extension Center this October to learn more about Soil, Growing Vegetables, Growing Fruit, Turf Management and Ornamentals. This series will be taught on Thursdays beginning Oct. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cost is $10 per class; those attending all of the classes will earn the Blacklands Area Friends of Horticulture “HomeGrown” certification and a free gardening guide published by the Extension master gardener volunteers in Beaufort County.

If you have a question to submit, please email to Gene Fox at Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road!

Gene Fox is the area agriculture and consumer horticulture agent for Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties.