canieatitfilter: the poop edition!
June 11, 2009 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Can I Eat It Filter: a cat pooped in my lettuce bed...

Novice gardener here - a neighborhood cat pooped in my freshly planted lettuce bed (the lettuce are only seedlings at this point). I removed as much of the actual excrement as I could find without disturbing the seedlings, but some traces might be left.

If this were a vegetable that I were going to cook, I wouldn't worry about it, but since lettuce is consumed raw, I'm concerned. Is it dangerous to eat lettuce which has been grown in proximity to minute traces of cat poop? Should I be warding off children and pregnant women from the salad bowl?
posted by Wavelet to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You have no idea what goes on in your greens garden when you are not looking. Any yet, we eat raw vegies with few bad effects.

Just rinse your lettuce, and hope for the best.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:11 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you pregnant? Do you have an immune disorder? Are you not planning on washing the lettuce first? Do you have reason to believe that the cat has eaten contaminated meat at least two weeks ago? Did you leave the poo in place for more than 48 hours after it was pooed?

Otherwise don't worry about it.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2009

I think it'll be okay.

As a person who cohabitates with cats whose idea of warm-weather fun is ignoring their tidy litterbox in favor of crapping in my garden, I recommend a water scarecrow to avoid this problem in the future. They're kind of expensive but really effective, have a pretty wide range to protect a large space, and will also keep birds and animals from eating your garden once it starts looking really tempting.

Just make sure you remember to turn it off before you yourself go into your garden beds. It's like being strafed.
posted by padraigin at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Slurry, a mixture of animal waste and who knows what, is often used by farmers to fertilize crops. It's pretty potent stuff, definitely stronger than a little bit of cat poop, so I would say don't worry. Of course, you should wash it, but that's a given.
posted by Sova at 1:20 PM on June 11, 2009

All sorts of animals poop in gardens when you're not looking.

Yet, fresh veggies continue to be good for you.

Wash your lettuce before you eat it and don't worry about it.
posted by anastasiav at 1:20 PM on June 11, 2009

while it's not from cats - organic fertilizer is poop. you'll be fine.
posted by nadawi at 1:23 PM on June 11, 2009

My sister crapped in our garden and nobody got sick.
Seconding everyone saying it's not going to hurt you- trust me, the things you don't know would disturb you far more.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:32 PM on June 11, 2009

It's going to be a week or three before you harvest, anyway, if they're only seedlings now. There's nothing to worry about.

Also, the plants are likely to get pooped on again between now and harvest, whether from birds or insects or rodents or whatnot. Just wash it and stop worrying.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:32 PM on June 11, 2009

Aside: I had a problem with the neighbour's cat digging holes and crapping in my raised lettuce beds. Solved it by putting some netting over the whole lot; the net has a wide enough mesh that I can get my hands in to pick the lettuce, so it's no inconvenience.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2009

Best answer: I'm really surprised that Toxoplasmosis has not been mentioned. If anyone eating the lettuce might be pregnant or have immune system issues, this is not something to take lightly.
posted by crapmatic at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sunshine is an outstanding disinfectant.
posted by u2604ab at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2009

Aside from the toxoplasmosis potential, it's just plain old poop, so treat it as such and wash your veggies well. Even the CDC recommends washing your veggies. But take note and scroll down in that link. The CDC also warns against gardening without gloves in places where cats may have pooped.
posted by zerokey at 2:09 PM on June 11, 2009

I've recommended this before, but it's still a good strategy. Lay a fairly dense criss-cross pattern of small (half inch/1cm or smaller) sticks over the whole bed. The plants will grow up between the sticks, and the animals won't walk (much less dig and crap) in your garden beds.

I am also n'thing the wash your veggies advice.
posted by reflecked at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2009

Seconding crapmatic. Cats specifically have toxic waste. Literally.
posted by litterateur at 3:12 PM on June 11, 2009

My sister crapped in our garden and nobody got sick.

posted by at 3:36 PM on June 11, 2009

Data point: She was four, and wasn't a cat (although she didn't like wearing clothes very much.)
posted by dunkadunc at 3:58 PM on June 11, 2009

Best answer:

How is anyone going to get toxoplasmosis from washed lettuce? Lettuce is not part of the life cycle of the parasite.

You're much more likely to get it from litterbox tools that never get disinfected.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:46 PM on June 11, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, all. After reading up on toxoplasmosis I am now kind of leery of eating any vegetable ever again, but it sounds like the likelihood of contracting it from my lettuce is about the same as from other lettuce of unknown provenance/cat feces exposure.
posted by Wavelet at 5:47 PM on June 11, 2009

The biggest factor here is time (and sunshine). You are not going to be eating anything from this garden for quite a while. All poop breaks down from natural degradation over time, with other bacteria and insects harvesting what they can use, and sunlight killing bacteria as well, and for domestic animals it seems that it is pretty well neutralized within a week to ten days.

If the event happened a few days before picking, I would perhaps be more alert. After a couple of weeks, I would simply rely on ordinary washing.
posted by megatherium at 6:16 PM on June 11, 2009

Actually megatherium the toxoplasmosis parasites take time to hatch and mature in the soil. The longer you leave the cat poo in place, the worse things get. From the CDC above:

The unsporulated oocyst takes 1 to 5 days after excretion to sporulate (become infective).

Oocysts can survive in the environment for several months and are remarkably resistant to disinfectants, freezing, and drying, but are killed by heating to 70°C for 10 minutes.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:39 AM on June 12, 2009

"Mulching" with pine cones keeps cats out.
posted by auntbunny at 11:00 PM on June 12, 2009

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