Latest research shows 4 in 10 Australians grow their own fruit and veg but 40% take a risk not protecting gardens from animal poop (14 November 2023)

Australian Food Safety Week 11 to 18 November 2023  ‘Food safety – dollars and sense’

The Food Safety Information Council today released Omnipoll national research on food safety and gardening that shows 4 in 10 Australians (43% of women vs 36 % of men) grow their own vegetables and/or fruit either in their backyard or in community gardens.

Lydia Buchtmann, the Council’s Head of Communications, said that 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.

‘But we are reminding people to make sure your homegrown produce doesn’t get contaminated with animal faeces that can make you sick. You can do this by covering with bird safe mesh and by keeping cats and dogs out with a high fence. While our research showed 60% of gardeners said they did protect their gardens from animals, and this rose to 66% of gardeners who were cat owners, there is quite a gap with those who did not.

‘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. Also make sure to secure and cover children’s sandboxes when they are not in use to deter cats from using them as makeshift litterboxes.

‘You can avoid other foodborne disease risks by following these 5 simple tips when growing your fruit and veg:

  1. Locate your veggie beds in a safe spot. Locate your veggie patch and herbs in a convenient spot but choose a site 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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,’ Ms Buchtmann concluded.

To help you enjoy your garden produce try our recipe for Chicken and Risoni Salad

Note: Macquarie Uni study

Methodology: This research was funded by SA Health and conducted nationally by Omnipoll online over the period August 24-29, 2023, among a sample of 1238 people aged 18 years and over. To reflect the overall population distribution, results were post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics data (Census 2021) on age, sex, area and highest level of schooling completed.

Media contact:

Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or