As South Carolina farmers scramble to recover from unprecedented floods, Clemson Cooperative Extension Service agents are working with state and federal agencies to provide advice and support on handling crops that have been exposed to floodwaters.
“We have put together a fact sheet of common sense tips that will go far towards making sure that harvested crops are properly handled, and Clemson Extension is on the ground in affected areas to assist farmers and answer their questions,” said Julie Northcutt, professor and Cooperative Extension Food Safety and Nutrition Program team leader.
Since floodwaters can contain environmental contaminants, federal regulations state that crops that are under water during a flood cannot be sold for human consumption, says Northcutt.
“The FDA doesn’t recognize any method of saving or reconditioning crops where the edible portion is exposed to floodwaters. Our farmers know this and are taking precautions to ensure that flooded crops are handled properly. This includes minimizing contact between flooded and non-flooded crops,” Northcutt said.
But if the crop did not come into contact with floodwater, or if the edible portion of the crop develops after floodwaters recede, the crops may be recoverable.
Crops that were only splashed with flood water should be sent to a packing house or processing plant to be cleaned. Leafy greens should be heat-treated.
If the edible portion of a crop was not developed when the flooding happened, and it will take four weeks or more for the edible portion to develop after floodwaters have receded, then the crop is safe for human consumption.
“We recommend submitting a soil sample to Clemson’s Agricultural Services Laboratory for heavy metal testing during this time,” Northcutt said. “The Clemson lab doesn’t do microbiological testing, but your local Extension Office can help farmers find private labs for that.”
Other recommendations for farmers and back-yard gardeners include:
- Discard all fresh produce that was submerged under floodwaters;
- Throughly wash and fully cook any produce suspected of contamination;
- Discard any produce that is cracked, bruised or has an open cut, scratch or other defect that could allow floodwaters inside the produce.
Farmers should thoroughly sanitize farm equipment that has been used in fields in order to prevent cross-contamination. Clean the equipment using water and detergent. After rinsing the equipment, use a garden sprayer to apply a solution of 200 ppm chlorine bleach. Prepare the solution by adding 3.5 ounces of 8.25 percent bleach to 10 gallons of potable water.
Research shows that farmers should wait at least 60 days after floodwaters have receded before replanting fields that have been flooded and soils can be tested.
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says conservative estimates put South Carolina crop losses at more than $300 million after historic rains devastated the state earlier this month.
“Right now, the most important thing for farmers to do is learn the details of their crop insurance policies and immediately contact their crop insurance agent prior to making any additional investments in their crop,” Weathers said.