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Plants in Randolph Community Garden. Garden beds in Randolph Community Garden. Blue garden shed in Open Gates Community Gardens.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1324

People and Food Safety in the Community Garden During Ordinary and Extraordinary COVID-19 Times

  • Madeline Flahive DiNardo, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Union County
  • Megan Muehlbauer, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Hunterdon County
  • Rebecca Magron, Horticulture Consultant and Research Associate, Hunterdon County

The public health emergency triggered by COVID-19 disease has made it necessary for community vegetable gardeners, garden clubs, civic groups, and volunteers who maintain public and private garden sites to implement practices to protect gardeners in an effort to curtail the spread of human diseases. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The prevention of foodborne illnesses from organisms such as pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella should also be taken under consideration.

Sponsoring and hosting organizations and gardeners should be made aware of and follow guidelines provided by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state, county, and local departments of health to protect gardeners, staff and the people they serve. Information contained in this document is for educational purposes and intended to help gardening organizations. Additional resources to aid in the discussion can be found at the end of this publication.

COVID-19 Overview

According to the CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health, COVID-19 is spread person-to-person. Being in close contact with someone who is infected increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. A person may be infected for several days before they start to experience the symptoms of COVID-19. Pre-symptomatic individuals are capable of spreading the virus. The virus becomes inactive slowly over time when it is outside its host. It can survive on surfaces for various lengths of time, depending on the surface.

CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include frequent handwashing, maintaining a minimum distance of six feet, and wearing cloth face coverings. The CDC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture have not found evidence of COVID-19 being a foodborne disease or spread by food packaging. Research on the spread of COVID-19 continues to be conducted. The CDC recommends that people wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food, as it has for many years.

Community Gardening Activities

Community gardening organizations should follow all local, state, and federal government regulations and guidelines which are intended to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in communities. Following are possible steps for consideration to aid in these efforts.

Policy Communication

Social (Physical) Distancing

Personal Protection for Gardeners

Disinfecting Commonly Used Surfaces and Tools

Harvesting and Packing Vegetables

Implementing the following food safety practices can curtail the spread of foodborne diseases caused by organisms such as E. coli and Salmonella.


Online Information Resources


Photo credit: Three across (l-r): Peter Nitzsche (Randolph Community Garden, Randolph Community Garden, Open Gates Community Gardens)

October 2020