Do deer contaminate garden crops through their droppings? | TribLIVE.com
Jessica Walliser, Columnist

Do deer contaminate garden crops through their droppings?

Jessica Walliser
1658976_web1_gtr-liv-garden-01-091319
Jessica Walliser | for the Tribune-Review
Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow perennial crop.

Question: Can rhubarb be eaten even though deer roam through the rhubarb patch?

Amswer: Deer droppings do have the potential to transmit both E. coli and chronic wasting disease (CWD), the latter of which is specific to deer and elk and has symptoms similar to mad cow disease. CWD has been reported in several locations in Pennsylvania, according to the State Game Commission.

There is little evidence that the CWD pathogen is transmissible to people when it comes to consuming deer or elk meat, but the jury is still out. And both the Centers for Disease Control and the Game Commission say that if a harvested animal tests positive for CWD, you should not eat it.

While we know for sure that E. coli can be easily transmitted through fecal to oral contact, again, the jury is still out regarding CWD. Scientists have not ruled out fecal to oral transmission of CWD from deer to humans. That means if you touch contaminated deer droppings and then put your fingers in your mouth, or you touch something that then goes into your mouth, both diseases could possibly be transmitted. However, no cases of this type of transmission have ever been reported when it comes to CWD.

What all this means is that if you encounter any deer droppings in your vegetable garden, including your rhubarb patch, handle them very carefully and avoid eating any fruits or vegetables that came in direct contact with the droppings. Use disposable latex gloves or a shovel to remove the waste and bury it elsewhere in the yard or toss it into the woods. Do not allow the droppings to come into contact with your rhubarb stems and do not use the shovel for other food-related gardening.

While this is definitely extra cautionary when it comes to CWD, especially since there’s little evidence that it’s transmissible to humans, it’s definitely important when it comes to E. coli. Do not handle deer droppings with your bare hands, and even after ridding the rhubarb patch using a shovel, wash your hands very well.

If there are no droppings present in your rhubarb patch, there’s no need to worry about harvesting and eating the stems. Cut and wash the stems as usual before preparing them.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.