By Darbie GranberryUniversity of GeorgiaThe chance of garden vegetables causing illness is small. Still, home gardeners should be aware of food safety principles and take steps to make sure their garden vegetables don’t get contaminated with human pathogens or harmful levels of chemical residues.Food safety has had a lot of news coverage in recent years, with increasing reports linking outbreaks of food-borne illness to eating fresh produce.Food-related illnesses may not have actually increased. Today’s technology enables better detection, and immediate news coverage of such events has heightened public concern.Historically, the notion of safe food was mainly concerned with chemical contamination. However, a recent Federal Food Safety Initiative broadened the concept to also include the absence of disease-causing microbes such as Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, Shigella, etc., and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora.Not complicatedProducing “safe” fresh produce in the garden isn’t complicated. Vegetables themselves aren’t a source of human pathogens. And even if plants have a disease, plant pathogens don’t make people sick.In nature, garden veggies are normally free of human pathogens. If they harbor them, it is because they’ve become contaminated from some other source. So, food safety in the garden is straightforward: prevent contamination.There are two main sources of disease-causing pathogens and parasites: people and animals.People can possibly spread their “germs” to the garden. But that’s highly unlikely. Gardeners generally practice good hygiene and exercise due care so they don’t contaminate their fruits and vegetables.Most likely sourcesThe most likely sources of contamination in the garden are fecal matter from domestic or wild animals and animal manures. If cats, dogs, deer or other animals frequent the garden, restrict their entry with fences or appropriate repellents.If you use animal manures in the garden, consider using composted manures. Properly composted manures are much more beneficial to the garden than raw manures. And the high temperatures that occur during composting inactivate human pathogens.If you use uncomposted manures, incorporate them into the garden soil a month or so before seeding or transplanting.To prevent chemical contamination, use cultural and biological control as much as you can. If chemical control is required, use recommended products. And be sure to apply them at the prescribed concentrations and frequencies.The final stepThe final step in food safety is washing of the produce before you eat it. Washing will help clean many types of vegetables, especially those with smooth surfaces like tomatoes. It doesn’t work as well, though, with vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower that have irregular surfaces.Again, the probability of someone getting sick from eating garden vegetables is small. But it can happen. Taking these steps to prevent contamination, though, helps keep your garden veggies safe for your family, friends and neighbors.