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Human waste contamination in the garden

My neighbours pit latrine is running off into my garden space where my newly transplanted turnips are growing. We plan to try to divert the flow, but will these turnips be safe to eat when they reach maturity?

Hi Teresa, the turnips should be fine. Just wash them well as you probably do. I would be more concerned about the greens. But since it will be a while until harvest you should be fine (if you eat turnip greens :slight_smile: Your greatest concern will be contact with the effluent while diverting the flow. @Stacy_Swartz may have more info to add.

Hi Teresa! I hope you and Dan are doing well.

I am glad that your neighbor and you are working together to solve the issue of the pit latrine running off into your garden area. Great question about your turnips! The main things that are in human waste that we would worry about contaminating your fresh produce are bacterial, protozoan, and/or parasites: e. coli and cholera being the two major ones, though more rare. The more common contaminants are parasites like worms and giardia. Depending on where you and Dan are right now (I don’t think I’ve kept up - sorry!), there may be microbial contaminants found in your region (e.g. a specific parasite) that isn’t well known.

For sure, I’d stay away from the greens, like Bob said, as they are more likely to take up biological contaminants. The swollen roots are a completely separated-off organ of the plant, but I did fine one paper that found coliform in carrot root tissue! Coliform is an indicator of pathogenic organisms. Bacteria and some parasites will be destroyed at high enough temperatures (boiling), so perhaps that’s a good enough reason to make sure to cook your turnips thoroughly. Or if you can afford it, you could remove this flight of transplants and wait till you fix the flow issue.

Does anyone else have insights or experiences to share with Teresa?

The turnips and greens must be boiled thoroughly and your hands and any gloves, containers, tools or surfaces used to gather, clean and chop the plants must be sanitized. Also, just walking on the runoff area contaminates your shoes or feet. They need to be sanitized also. Pure human waste is not toxic but there are a huge number of diseases and parasites you could contract. I would try to not even touch the soil or plants with my skin until cooked. The only possible issue with the cooked plants would be high nitrate levels from over fertilization…

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