NEW BRUNSWICK FLOODWATERS MAY HAVE MADE WILD EDIBLE PLANTS UNSAFE TO EAT
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By Michelle Moore
On May 14, New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell released a statement cautioning that wild edible plants may be contaminated by floodwaters. Plants such as fiddleheads which grow on the river banks are of immediate concern.
Fiddleheads are very popular in the province and are usually harvested this time of year, but Dr. Russell warns that in "southern regions of the St. John River valley that have been affected by extensive flooding, these types of plants are potentially contaminated and may be unsafe to consume."
Floodwaters could have contained untreated sewage, fuel or other contaminants. Fiddleheads and other edible plants that were submerged in floodwaters are deemed unfit to eat. The statement specifies that fiddleheads are an unregulated food and are the responsibility of any individual selling them to ensure that it meets Canada's Food and Drugs Act guidelines.
Boiling such edible plants is not an effective way of protecting oneself against chemical contaminants, only microbial. The Health Department, the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries are working together to review and assess the full impact the flood has had on croplands.
In a press conference with the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization on May 9, Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, Regional Medical Officer of Health said that "due to the extent of flooding into private and commercial properties we do not recommend harvesting or buying wild edible plants which would have been budding or had their edible portions exposed to the floodwater."
Floodwaters may have also contaminated soil which means that it may not be safe to have a vegetable garden in areas heavily impacted by floodwater. Dr. Lamptey explained that "the literature regarding planting suggests a waiting period of 30 to 90 days after flood water is no longer present and this waiting period can vary based on the extent of the contamination."
The Department of Health is trying to determine the extent of the contamination and will advise citizens as soon as conclusions are reached. The department also reiterates that everyone must test their well water before watering gardens containing edible plants.
Certain plants are more susceptible than others. Dr. Lamptey said "foods intended for raw consumption, especially leafy greens and root vegetables are especially at risk if the recommended waiting period is not followed. Tillage, sunlight, air and soil will contribute to the breakdown of most contaminants over time. Soil microbial activity overtime will contribute to the breakdown of those contaminants."
The Department of Health suggests using a raised bed and fresh soil from an unaffected area or purchased from your gardening supply store for smaller scale gardens.