Chow Line: Safety first at u-pick farms

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I’m taking my children to pick-your-own farms for the first time this summer. Any tips?

First -- have fun! Of course, that’s the whole point, with the added benefit of getting the freshest produce possible.

But you also need to keep in mind some food safety considerations. Although consuming fruits and vegetables is associated with all sorts of health benefits, it’s also possible to be exposed to bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause foodborne illness.

The most important thing to remember is for you and your children to wash your hands, and do it often and properly. Here are some guidelines:

  • Wash hands before picking fruit, after going to the bathroom, after eating, and after any hand-to-face contact, such as after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • When washing your hands, first wet your hands, then lather up with soap and wash for 20 seconds. That’s a lot longer than you might think. A common piece of advice is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while rubbing your hands together, especially around your fingernails and knuckles. Scrub well.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and dry your hands and wrists with a fresh paper towel.

If there’s no water available, use hand wipes to remove any surface dirt, and follow up with a hand sanitizer.

Some other considerations include:

  • Don’t pick fruit that has fallen on the ground.
  • Use clean containers. Some operations provide containers; others ask that you bring your own.
  • Leave Fido at home. Dogs and other pets can’t be expected to be sanitary in the great outdoors.
  • Bring a cooler with ice or cold packs with you so you can start chilling the fruit quickly. After being picked, berries and other perishable foods shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours -- one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees (like it can get in a hot car).
  • At home, rinse the fruit thoroughly under running water -- use the spray for fragile produce, like berries -- before storing in the refrigerator. Use a colander for smaller pieces.

For more information, Ohio State University Extension offers two fact sheets free online: Food Safety in Berry Patch, at, and Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, at

Other tips for visiting pick-your-own operations are available at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor, please note: In May and June 2014, Chow Line will be published only every other week.

This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Sanja Ilic
OSU Extension, Food Safety