Urban farming food safety issues

Food safety is similar in urban settings as it may be in rural settings, but some special risks exist that are unique to the urban setting.

Urban agriculture is becoming increasingly more popular. In many cases, growing safe, nutritious food can be achieved equally as well in an urban environment as it can be in a rural one. The process is similar in urban settings as they are in rural settings, but some special risks exist that are unique to the urban setting.

Soil contaminants

Beyond biological soil contaminants, urban areas may have significant concentrations of lead or other heavy metals in the soil. Former industrial sites may also have various chemicals contaminating the soil. It is very important to have a history of the use of the land where produce is being grown. Soil tests for heavy metals will begin to show the extent of the contamination. These two items will allow a clear picture of risk. When in doubt, creating raised beds and planting in imported soil may reduce the chances of chemical contamination of the produce.

Unsanitary equipment

Many resources present themselves in cities for use and creative re-use. Not all of these resources are of food grade quality. Anything that produce touches, from picking buckets to harvest preparation tables, needs to be of food grade quality. Though it may be convenient and cost effective to use recycled things, the equipment needs to be kept sanitary with frequent washing and sanitizing.


In the broadest sense, both stray animals as well as neighbors and homeless people can pose a threat to human health. The range of diseases stray animals and homeless people carry are broader and more diverse simply because both populations lack the means to adequately address their health issues. In an urban setting, it is important to consider the risks posed by homeless people and stray animals, especially in those areas that offer shelter as well as food, like hoophouses. Hoophouses may need to be periodically checked for evidence of entry and locked to ensure entry of only authorized personnel.

If you would like more information on the specific food safety risks posed by urban farming, contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Workgroup at 517-788-4292 or gaps@msu.edu.

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