What could be healthier than pulling up a fresh lettuce from the vegie patch for a homemade salad or an egg and lettuce sandwich?
Or cutting some fresh, fragrant homegrown herbs to sprinkle on your homegrown tomatoes or homemade pizza.
Not much you'd think.
But what if that fresh, crunchy lettuce or herbs made you seriously ill?
The Food Safety Information Council is reminding people to make sure homegrown produce doesn't get contaminated with animal faeces.
Recent Omnipoll national research on food safety and gardening involving 1238 people showed four in 10 Australians (43 per cent of women vs 36 per cent of men) grow their own vegetables and/or fruit either in their backyard or in community gardens, but 40 per cent of them reported not protecting their vegies from contamination from pet or bird faeces.
"It's great to grow your own veggies, fruit and herbs as they are fresh, can save money and help our children understand where food comes from," said the council's head of Communications Lydia Buchtmann.
"While our research showed 60 per cent of gardeners said they did protect their gardens from animals, and this rose to 66 per cent of gardeners who were cat owners, there is quite a gap with those who did not."
Ms Buchtmann said cats in particular can pass on the infective stage of toxoplasma parasites through their faeces that can be particularly risky for pregnant women and their unborn babies, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
She advised covering garden beds with bird safe mesh and keeping cats and dogs out with a high fence. Children's sandboxes should also be covered when they are not in use to deter cats from using them as makeshift litter boxes.
You can avoid other foodborne disease risks by following these five simple tips when growing your fruit and vegies:
- Locate your veggie beds in a safe spot. Locate your veggie patch and herbs in a convenient spot away from potential hazards. For example, if you have an older building, avoid using soil that could have been contaminated by scrapings of lead paint from many years ago or soil close to the street where it might have been contaminated by leaded petrol. A Macquarie University study found about one-fifth of vegetable gardens across Australia are likely to produce food with unsafe lead levels. Preferably grow your veggies in a raised bed with new soil and away from buildings possibly painted with lead paint; and septic tanks.
- Compost safely. Veggies need lots of nutrients but make sure any compost is well composted before use as the heat generated by the composting process not only kills any weed seeds but also helps kill food poisoning bacteria. Prevent easy access to your compost bin by vermin and pests like mice and rats, which can spread disease, and don't compost meat scraps which can attract vermin. You can also use reputable commercial compost and fertiliser mixes
- Use clean water. If you want to recycle 'grey' water from the washing machine water it will contain microbes so don't put it on to the edible parts of fruit, vegetables or herbs growing in the garden. Also, water from the washing up or dishwasher may have too much fat and other solids which can be bad for plant growth. Only use water you would drink directly on your fruit and vegetables
- Follow instructions on garden chemicals. Minimise the use of garden chemicals like pesticides and herbicides and make sure you follow the directions on the label exactly. Don't spray other areas of the garden in windy conditions in case the spray drifts onto fruit and vegetables. Some chemicals will have withholding periods you must follow before you harvest any fruit or vegetables that have been sprayed
- Wash your fruit and veg before eating. Whole fruits and vegetables will be contaminated by soil on the surface. Scrubbing and washing them just before eating, under clean running water, will remove loose soil and may remove many bacteria and viruses, as can removal of the skin. If you are gardening near marshy areas or grazing paddocks avoid liver fluke by properly cooking vegetables.
"Finally, remember after gardening to always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry them thoroughly as soil is likely to contain microbes - use a nailbrush to remove dirt from your fingernails.
"If you are elderly, pregnant or have a weakened immune system choose fruit and vegetables that are easy to clean and avoid curly leaf herbs and vegetables or rock melons that have a netted surface," said Ms Buchtmann.
Try this simple and delicious salad courtesy of Food Safety Information Council member and chef Narelle Bickford.
For the salad
- 2 cups of cooked risoni
- 1/4 red onion finely diced
- 1 cup fresh chopped parsley
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped capers
- 1 cup of cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 2 skin free chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the dressing
- 1/2 teaspoon capers
- 1/2 avocado
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh spinach
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup Greek yoghurt
- Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper
- Place chicken on a hot oiled griddle pan
- Cook for 5 - 7 minutes on each side this is depending on the size of the chicken breast.
- Allow to rest for 5 minutes and then slice.
In the meantime
- Combine remainder of ingredients. Add rested chicken and combine.
- To serve top with the creamy dressing
To make the dressing
- Add ingredients to the food processor (apart from the olive oil and lemon juice)
- Pulse and blend together while slowly adding oil and lemon juice and until smooth and creamy