Good Agricultural Practices

  • Always test soil for heavy metals before installing a garden.
  • Do not use pressure-treated wood, used tires, or old railroad ties in your garden. They can leach harmful materials into your soil.
  • Do not grow poisonous or severely allergenic plants (e.g. rhubarb or peanuts).
  • Harvest the garden regularly and compost any rotten produce.
  • Do not allow anyone to work in the garden (or with food) while sick, or until 24 hours after symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, have subsided.
  • According to organic standards, if raw manure is applied directly to the soil, a set number of days must pass before a crop can be harvested from that soil. If you are growing a crop whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil (e.g. peppers), then you must wait 90 days. If you are growing a crop whose edible portion does have direct contact with the soil (e.g. lettuce), 120 days must pass between date of application and date of harvest. Despite these standards, avoid the use of manure in school gardens.
  • Crops should be watered with potable water. A rain barrel can be used to water seedlings, but do not water leafy crops from the rain barrel. Water only the roots of fruiting plants (not the fruits). Rain barrels can harbor harmful organisms and heavy metals from roofing materials. Test the water at least once per year. Early August is an ideal time to test so that results are available before the beginning of school. (Penn State Extension has a water test.)

During Harvest

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm running water before harvesting. If this is not possible, use a sanitizing moist towelette.
  • Ensure that all open cuts or wounds on hands, arms, or legs are not exposed.
  • Wash, rinse, sanitize, and air dry all harvest tools and containers (harvest knives, pruning shears, Tubtrugs, etc.) before harvest. All harvest containers should be food grade. Do not use Styrofoam coolers, galvanized containers, or chipped enamelware for either harvest or storage.
  • Inspect crops for bird or mammal feces before harvest. Remove contaminated plants.
  • If no sink is available to wash produce, use a sanitized food grade container filled with potable water. These crops are typically washed: carrots, turnips, beets, broccoli, leeks, lettuce, spinach, parsley, cilantro, chives, and kale. Dry these crops immediately, either in a salad spinner or under a fan out of the sun.
  • Avoid wetting produce if you plan on storing it for a while; water invites rot. These should not be washed: potato, sweet potato, tomato, and squash. Cabbage, cauliflower, pepper, melon, and cucumber need not be washed if they are in a clean condition.
  • Do not harvest soft fruits (e.g. tomatoes) whose skins are broken. Instead place in compost.
  • Store any overripe produce or produce that sustains damage during harvest separately—it will spoil healthy produce. Use it as soon as possible.

During Food Preparation

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm running water before preparing food. If this is not possible, use a sanitizing moist towelette.
  • Clean and sanitize your food preparation workspace. Use either a disinfecting wipe or a cloth in a bleach solution (50 parts per million).
  • Wash, rinse, sanitize, and air dry all bowls, cutting boards, knives, pots, pans, and other utensils. Use only a knife dedicated to food preparation for that purpose. Do not use a harvest knife.
  • Avoid bare hand contact with food. Use disposable gloves.
  • Garbage cans used during preparation should be lined with a plastic bag and have a lid.
  • Store food, food containers, paper products, and utensils at least 6” off of the ground.
  • Do not use meat when cooking with kids.
  • Be mindful of student allergies to certain ingredients (e.g. peanuts or wheat) when preparing food.
  • Use caution when cooking food with kids. When using a heat source, establish a clear “safety zone” around your workspace.
  • If more than 90 minutes will elapse before serving food, you must regulate its temperature. Keep hot food at our above 140 °F. Cold food should be held at 40 °F or colder.

Storing Food

  • Refrigerate any uneaten, prepared foods within 2 hours. Place leftovers in sealed containers and store in the freezer or refrigerator. Use cooked leftovers within 4 days if refrigerated.
  • Refrigerate cut or peeled produce, even if you would normally store it outside the fridge (e.g. tomatoes). Store produce eaten raw away from meats in the fridge (Store meats on the bottom shelf so that any escaped juices don’t drip on your produce.)
  • Most foods that show signs of mold should be discarded, as mold threads can penetrate into the food beneath the visible surface. Hard cheeses and firm vegetables (e.g. carrots, peppers, winter squash) are one exception: cut off one inch around and below the visible mold.
  • For more information on food storage and food spoilage, visit

A Note on Cleaning and Sanitizing Equipment

If a certified kitchen is not available to clean cooking equipment, use this process:

  1. Identify a workspace up off of the ground (e.g. a table). It should be large enough to accommodate three large containers and all of the equipment as it is set out to air dry. To clean the surface use a disinfecting wipe or a cloth stored in a dedicated container of sanitizer.
  2. Set three large clean containers on the workspace.
    a. The first container is for washing. Fill it with a mixture of hot water and biodegradable soap.
    b. The second container is for rinsing. The water in it should be clear.
    c. The third container is for sanitizing. It should contain a 50 parts per million bleach-water solution. To achieve this, mix 1 teaspoon of bleach and 1 gallon of water. Use a bleach test strip to test for accuracy.
  3. Scrape off any large food particles from the equipment before immersing in the first container and scrubbing with a sponge. Rinse, then immerse the equipment completely in the bleach solution for at least 10 seconds. Any cast iron implements should be put through this process last.
  4. Air-dry on a disinfected surface. If necessary, wipe equipment with an unused paper towel to speed drying. Use a paper towel to coat cast iron implements with a layer of oil after they have dried.
    To empty buckets, first pour out soapy water, then pour rinsing water into first container to rinse out the residual soap. Empty that, then pour the bleach solution into both containers. Let it sit for 10 seconds, then dump.

Download a printable PDF: Food Safety