Taking Action on Food Safety Through Hydroponic Indoor Farming System
It might look like hydroponic and farmers and container farm builders spend a lot of time focussing on the hygiene and cleanliness of the produce. The reason for this is food hygiene is a serious issue, even in the USA in 2020.
It might sound unbelievable but the last multistate E Coli outbreak in the US had 167 victims. Thankfully there were no fatalities but 85 people were hospitalized in all. Fifteen people also had developed a type of kidney failure, according to the C.D.C.
Many may brush off E Coli has little more than a stomach upset but the 2019 outbreak, usually called E. coli O157:H7, was a serious affair. It caused vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Prolonged dehydration and misdiagnosis of an E Coli infection causes hemolytic uremic syndrome which requires supportive care involving dialysis, steroids, blood transfusions, or plasmapheresis. Deaths are thankfully rare but 25% have ongoing kidney problems.
The C.D.C. linked the last outbreak in November to the same strain of E. coli that caused outbreaks linked to leafy greens in 2017 and to romaine lettuce in 2018. A majority of those infected in November were in Wisconsin, Ohio, California and Maryland, but the sources were all traced back to farms in Califonia.
Consequently, the C.D.C. has been advising consumers, retailers and eating establishments not to eat, sell, ship or serve any romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, Calif., growing region. This included prepackaged lettuce but also hearts of romaine, spring mixes and organic romaine. The agency also advised consumers to abstain from eating romaine lettuce or packaged foods if a product’s label does not indicate the growing region.
Importantly, the C.D.C. also told reporters hydroponically grown greens did not appear to be related to the current outbreak, saying, “There is no recommendation for consumers to avoid using romaine harvested from these other sources.”
This is a breakthrough moment for hydroponic container farms and recognition that our produce is cleaner and more hygienic than traditionally farm-grown produce. It also shines a light on the US food distribution system where a lettuce can travel thousands of miles a year. We should additionally be aware that the C.D.C. only acts on diagnosed and sourced E Coli outbreaks and much of foods’ sources is not transparent at all. Each year in the United States, E. coli infections cause approximately 265,000 illnesses and about 100 deaths.
For many customers, food origin and proof of hygiene are becoming critical factors in their shopping decisions. Hydroponic grown produce has long been acknowledged as superior in taste and texture as well as being economically viable for independent farmers. One learning from the 2019 E Coli outbreaks is that food cleanliness may be just as important.