“You can best wash strawberries by placing them in a colander and spraying them withwater,” Harrison said. “The crop usually begins coming in in mid-March and lasts until early June,” Krewersaid. “We’re a little early this year due to the warm weather.” The weather has also made this a banner year for Georgia strawberries. “It comes at a very bad time for us,” Krewer said, “because it gives the wrongimpression. But we have a very good crop this year. And the combination of clean,drinking-quality water used for irrigation, strictly using dry commercial fertilizer andthe plastic shield between the berries and the soil make it an outstanding, clean crop.” No matter where you live in the state, you should be able to find a fresh supply ofGeorgia-grown strawberries. “The Georgia strawberry crop is one of the most sanitary crops I know of,” said GerardKrewer, a University of Georgia Extension Service horticulturist in Tifton. “It’sdrip-irrigated with drinking-quality water, and a layer of plastic separates the berriesfrom the soil, eliminating the risk of soil-borne illness.” “The fertilizer used on strawberries is commercial dry fertilizer, not manure,” saidButch Ferree, an extension horticulturist in Fort Valley. “The first round of fertilizer isusually plowed into the soil in the fall, and more is added to the irrigation system in thespring. Soil low in organic matter produces the best strawberries, so it’s properlytreated before the berries are even planted.” The soil and fertilizer used on the crop also make it safer. “Our crop is scattered all over the state,” Krewer said. “We don’t have exact acreagefigures on the crop, but we do know they are very productive, yielding about 15,000 to20,000 pounds per acre.” “We had some problems around Savannah because the warm weather betweenChristmas and New Year’s forced some of the plants to bloom early,” Ferree said.”But this dry weather has brought us superb quality.” They’re a tasty crop, too, Ferree said. “The variety usually seen in grocery stores is Chandler, and it was practically made forthe Georgia climate,” he said. “If you pick your own, they are more mature and evenfresher.” Take advantage of this limited-time offering of fresh Georgia-grown strawberries.Don’t let the recent scare scare you off. Georgia’s strawberry crop is in. Don’t let the recent food scare keep you from pickingand eating these scrumptious specimens. The prime picking time for Georgia strawberries is now. “Whether it’s industry, pick-your-own or the family garden, poor sanitation can causeproblems,” said Judy Harrison, an extension food safety specialist. “Using clean handsand clean, properly stored containers for the product are important, regardless of thecrop or who is picking it.” Harrison says to remove any badly bruised or moldy strawberries. Place the rest in asingle layer in a clean container covered with wax paper in the refrigerator. Cap andwash thoroughly with drinking water just before using. Despite these precautions, animals passing through a field, or mishandled berries, couldstill cause a health problem. Sanitation care in the kitchen, and at every step in foodhandling, is required.