The Other Kind of Bug

  • There are probably far more health hazards lurking on your kitchen counter than there are in your garden, and:
  • That’s not to say that gardeners shouldn’t take some common-sense precautions, E. coli scare or no.

I think we gardeners do get too lax about our yummy organic ingredients.  I know better than to slip into the "if it’s organic, it’s safe" mindset, but consider these points, all of which are covered in more detail in the story:

  • There are lots of different strains of E. coli. This latest outbreak was caused by a particularly deadly strain that is common on feedlots.  (but is not necessarily more common in cornfed vs. grassfed beef, as some have said–the research is inconclusive on this point.)
  • E. coli can be carried by any ruminant, so that includes cows, goats, sheep, and even deer that may wander through your property.
  • It’s virtually impossible for a homemade manure pile to get hot enough to kill all harmful bacteria
  • Bagged manures, organic fertilizers, and the like are subject to a patchwork of state regulations.  Although heat sterilization is common, there is no single point of Federal oversight for the production of manure, bone meal, blood meal, and other animal products you might use in your garden.

What does this mean to you?  Gloves.  Maybe a dustmask when you’re digging in bone meal.  Washing your hands.  Fencing out deer.  And so on.  Pretty basic stuff, really.

UPDATE:  Sorry, I hit "publish" before I included these resources:  a handy guide from Colorado State University on home composting of manure, and a guide to preventing E. coli in the garden and the kitchen.

Has the latest E. coli outbreak changed any of your gardening practices?


  1. Very helpful information. Thank you! The E. coli outbreak hasn’t changed my gardening practices, but it did get me thinking about the safety of using manure as fertilizer. I also wish I had planted my own spinach, as I am now afraid of buying the bagged stuff.

  2. Very interesting and informative. There is a bone meal product available which states ‘sterilized’ on the label. This should kill all pathogens don’t you think?

  3. I’ve always been careful to wash my hands after gardening (even if you wear gloves, I’ve found, you often wind up with dirt under your fingernails, which is a pointed reminder), but I’m often in such a rush when I fill feeders and rinse the bird bath that I sometimes forget.

    After the E.coli thing on organic spinach, I got much better about washing hands after I come back indoors no matter what I’ve been doing outside.

  4. As others have commented – great piece and never gave much thought to it. We tend to rely on our own compost – though my other half tends to buy some composted cow manure which we work into the tomato beds – but over the last couple of years have cut back on that and buy Coast Of Maine bagged compost instead (yes, pricey, but fantastic – and we’ll support buying a local i.e New England product that is basically responsibly recycling waste)- we just don’t have the room on a 6600 sq. ft lot to do all the composting on our own we could do w/o buying more, you know gotta keep feeding the soil!

    That being said – let me raise this point as an EPA employee and kibbutzing with my fellow organic gardening buddies at my Agency – where can we find certified ORGANICALLY fed, composted animal manures – (yeah you can buy their meat in Whole Foods – but not their poop) if one so chooses to use to fertalize the garden?

  5. I have a colloidal sol that removes E.Coli from surfaces by destroying the glycocalyx, thus preventiing it from adhering.
    The Brownian Motion makes it very fast and thorough.
    Micellar actiion prevents the pathogens from redepositing.

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