Food Safety after Urban Wildfire
On This Page:
- Reports & Resources
- Project Background
- Toolkit: Food Safety After Urban Wildfire
- Additional Resources
- For Researchers
Reports & Resources
*NEW* Post Fire Soil Workshop
- Webinar video recording For those wanting to grow produce and/or have poultry on soils directly impacted by fire. October 2020
- Slide Deck
Food Safety After Urban Wildfire
- Webinar video recording This presentation on Post-Fire Food Safety provides an overview of how wildfire impacts the health and safety of locally-grown produce and backyard chicken eggs from home, school, and community gardens and local farms. July 2019
- Presentation with Speaker Notes
- Best Practices for Produce Safety After a Fire
- Research Report: Produce Safety After Urban Wildfire
- Understanding Risk: A community guide for assessing the potential health impacts of locally grown produce exposed to urban wildfire smoke
- Social Media Statement: "During a Wildfire"
- Wildfire Resources for Poultry
Urban Wildfire and Potential Contamination
The fires that spread through Northern California in October 2017 burned over 160,000 acres of wildland, suburban, urban and industrial areas, creating dangerous air quality conditions for the region that lasted long beyond the fires themselves. The wildfire smoke likely included high concentrations of toxic air contaminants. Following the fires, the Food and Drug Administration wrote a letter to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health, stating that “toxic elements, firefighting chemicals, and combustion products such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins are of greatest concern.” There are well-known human health impacts from the inhalation of these contaminants. Additionally, plants have the potential to absorb air pollutants directly through their leaves,,, but little research has been done on the risk to human health from ingesting contaminants from smoke and ash on produce.
Impact on Local Farms, and Gardens, and Backyard Poultry
Local farms and gardens played a significant role in food relief efforts immediately following the October 2017 wildfires, contributing produce to shelters and kitchens. Many farmers, gardeners, and community members were concerned about how the fire-related air pollution might impact locally-grown produce. Farmers were unsure of the potential health impacts of the fire on themselves, their workers, and their customers. School, community and home gardeners were concerned about the potential health impact on children and other vulnerable groups.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UCD SVM) provided free egg contaminant testing for backyard chicken owners in the state of California from January to September 2018. Eggs were tested for two different types of contaminants, depending on what county the hens resided in. For more information on this study, go to: Egg Study Results.
Community Science Initiative
In the weeks following the October 2017 Sonoma County fires, concerned community members came together to launch the Produce Safety after Urban Wildfire Community Science Initiative. Sonoma County residents and members of the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County collaborated to take samples from over 25 sites across the county using a sampling protocol created under advisement by Environmental Health and Food Safety Specialists. Samples included washed and unwashed produce, each in triplicate, to determine if contaminants were present and whether contaminants could be easily washed off produce. Volunteers focused on leafy greens with large surface area directly exposed to air pollution: kale, collards, chard, and lettuce. In total, over 200 samples were taken and frozen for subsequent laboratory analysis.
Soil contamination was also a concern for the community, and thus, community-led soil sampling at high priority sites was conducted in June 2018 to test for persistent chemicals at 7 months following the fires.
Toolkit: Food Safety After Urban Wildfire
This toolkit is designed for communities experiencing urban wildfire to conduct their own community-based research on the safety of local produce, backyard chicken eggs and soil as well as to provide background educational resources about the results of our study, the potential health impacts of urban wildfire smoke, and how to reduce risk. We hope more groups experiencing urban wildfires will expand emerging research on this topic by adapting this community science research initiative for your specific communities.
This toolkit contains links to the following resources based on topic areas:
Overview of the project
Conducting your own community research
- Sample Recruitment Letter for Produce Study (for sites and volunteers)
- Produce Sampling Guide (with Optional Soil Sampling, Sampling Consent, Volunteer & Site Info)
- Sample Recruitment Letter for Egg Study
- Egg Sampling Guide
- Egg Submission Template (in English and Spanish)
- Soil Testing Sampling Guide
- Soil sampling checklist and protocol
- Tips for Interpreting Soil Analysis
- Groups of contaminants in soil
Testing & Analyzing Samples
- “During a wildfire” Social Media Graphic
- “During a wildfire” Sample Social Media Statement
- Best Practices for Produce Safety After A Fire
- Wildfire and Backyard Poultry Safety Handout
- “Understanding Risk” Handout
- Soils in Urban Agriculture (UCCE publication)
- Workshop Evaluation Form
- Researching Post-Wildfire Produce Safety, UCCE Sonoma blog, October 27, 2017
- Is it safe to eat local produce after a wildfire? Updated July 19, 2018 and How toxic ash from wildfires could poison our food, July 22, 2018, Pacific Standard
- Produce Safety & Smoke, UCCE Sonoma blog, November 21, 2018
- Community Science Examines Smoke On Our Produce with Geoffrey Riley & John Baxter, Jefferson Public Radio, Dec. 5, 2018
- Post Fire Food Safety Research UCCE Sonoma blog, March 8, 2019
- Produce safety post-wildfire, Petaluma Bounty Blog, April 27, 2019
- Sonoma County Farm Bureau article November 2019 (see attached PDF)
- Up In Smoke, UC Davis Outlook magazine article Fall 2019
- Follow the project’s Produce Safety after Urban Wildfire Facebook Page for Updates.
- Join the Produce Safety after Urban Wildfire Google Group to share resources.
- UCCE Sonoma Disaster Resources
- UCCE Fire in California
- Fires & Food Safety flyer by USDA FSIS, 2/2013
- Food Safety after Fire by USDA FSIS, 8/2013
- BreezoMeeter: an air quality site that gives a breakdown of the different harmful elements in the air. Type your address and it gives you a reading.
Our Community Science project invites other researchers to continue to study the impact of urban wild fire on food safety. We hope this work will continue to support research with a lens on community health.
 Lemieux, Paul M. "Emissions of Organic Air Toxics from Open Burning." Washington, DC, United States Environmental Protection Agency 62 (2002).
 Uzu, Gaëlle, et al. "Foliar lead uptake by lettuce exposed to atmospheric fallouts." Environmental Science & Technology44.3 (2010): 1036-1042.
 Kipopoulou, A. M., E. Manoli, and C. Samara. "Bioconcentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in vegetables grown in an industrial area." Environmental pollution 106.3 (1999): 369-380.
 Schreck, Eva, et al. "Metal and metalloid foliar uptake by various plant species exposed to atmospheric industrial fallout: mechanisms involved for lead." Science of the Total Environment 427 (2012): 253-262.