The pick-your-own blueberry field near our house opened last week. Since the season is short, folks are flocking in! Pick-your-own produce is a fun family outing and a great way to teach children about farming. Furthermore, pick-your-own farms provide an opportunity to get the freshest local fruits and vegetables at a good value.
In addition to the blueberry farms we also had pick-your-own strawberries earlier this year, and I’m looking forward to pick-your-own tomatoes later this summer. There’s something special about being in the field and being able to say “I picked it myself.”
Upon our arrival at a pick-your-own farm last year, I noted several new signs and a portable sink. The signs instructed the blueberry pickers to wash their hands both before and after going to the field. I have to admit, many of us who were waiting to pick our blueberries laughed. After all, we understood the reason to wash up when coming back from the field, but we wondered why we had to wash our hands before we started. How dirty could we be?
As I picked, I mulled over the sign and its directive.
Actually, there is lots of wisdom in washing your hands before going out to pick. In fact, there is lots of wisdom in washing your hands frequently, no matter what you’re doing. I think it’s savvy for these farmers to ask the pick-your-own patrons to help them keep the fields safe. After all, providing their customers with wholesome and safe fruits and vegetables is a priority. The last thing they want is for you to pick up bacteria along with the produce.
When picking-your-own produce, you can help keep the food safe by remembering these tips:
- Wash your hands both before and after you go into the field. This can help prevent contamination and will keep the produce clean. This practice will help you avoid spreading possible contamination from hands that have not been washed after going to the bathroom, sneezing, blowing your nose, coughing etc.
- If water isn’t available to use for washing your hands, use hand sanitizer.
- Don’t pick fruit that has fallen on the ground.
- Use a clean container when collecting your fruit. Some operations provide containers. Others ask that you bring your own.
- Use the restroom before going to the field. If they are available, you can also use the portable restrooms in the field. Just wash your hands afterward.
- A farm field is not a place for dogs or other animals. Leave them at home.
- Don’t leave trash or spit in the field.
- Walk in the rows — don’t step on the plants.
- Handle produce gently.
- Select only fresh-looking fruits and vegetables. They should not be bruised, shriveled, moldy, or slimy. Don’t pick or touch any produce that shows signs of decay.
- Check with the farmer about field policies before eating, drinking, or smoking in the field.
- Bring a cooler with ice or cold packs with you. That way, you can start chilling the food quickly. Fresh fruits and vegetables should not be left in a hot car or trunk.
- Once you get home, wash the produce thoroughly with fresh running water before you eat it.
- If you take children with you, keep a close eye on them and encourage them to follow these tips. Make sure that they wash their hands. After all, kids are quick to touch and put things into their mouths.
Be considerate of the other pickers that may come along after you. Do the same for the farmer and his employees.
Most importantly, enjoy the opportunity to be out in the field!
Want to spread the word about picking your own produce wisely and well? Download the free handout!
By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University
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