This article originally appeared in Produce Processing, and is reprinted here with permission. © 2023 Produce Processing www.produceprocessing.net
by Monica Noble for Center for Produce Safety
Food safety is a building block of controlled environment agriculture (CEA). 80 Acres Farms was built on the premise that we could leverage CEA’s design advantages to deliver safe foods. We want to give consumers fresh, high-quality produce year-round; to accomplish that, we must have a steady, food-safe supply.
Because CEA technology is evolving, we can influence food safety through our farm design. We build food safety and sanitary design concepts into how we grow, pack and deliver food. The farm we built two years ago was our most high-tech ever. Two years later, we have learned so much that our next farm will look very different.
Coming from traditional agriculture to CEA, I now think about risk differently. The food safety hazards are similar, but how they happen in CEA is different. Things that are traditionally separated by miles – from seed to finished product – we have under one roof. So we incorporate learnings from traditional food and produce industries into our farms. As a result, we treat our farms more like processing facilities than traditional farms.
We have all the usual food-safety programs processing facilities do. For example, we have strong Good Manufacturing Practices and certifications; we use traffic patterns and color-coding to prevent cross-contamination between different risk areas. We also try to incorporate these practices on the growing side, so that our processes are more homogenous.
There is still a lot we don’t know. We’re still learning how the food safety risks common to outside farming translate to our indoor operations – how high the risks are to our operations, how those risks go throughout our process, and how to better control them.
So we participate in Center for Produce Safety (CPS) to be part of an ecosystem of knowledge that will help us get where we need to go.
CPS’s Research Symposium is a treasure trove
CPS’s 2023 Research Symposium, convening June 20-21 in Atlanta, will feature reports on 13 finished research projects and updates on 14 ongoing projects. Small breakout sessions will follow, so we can discuss learnings with researchers and industry colleagues. These breakouts are rare chances to ask questions, have frank conversations and explore impacts for our businesses. A general session will explore a timely topic and its relevance to fresh produce food safety – last year we were surprised by what we learned from the airline industry’s safety overhaul.
I attend the symposium every year, even though as a member of CPS’s Technical Committee I help guide and follow CPS research year-round. I attend to hear researchers’ final reports – and to learn how my colleagues react, to talk with them about how they plan to apply what they’ve learned, and to bounce ideas off them. I’ve had conversations that have changed how I see something, how I practice produce safety. These interactions are value-added.
2 research projects to watch
I am watching two CPS research projects in particular. While CEA-centric, they are relevant across the fresh produce supply chain. They also demonstrate how CPS is able to react rapidly to a changing world.
University of Arkansas’ Kristen Gibson, Ph.D., is looking into what we know – and need to know – about microbial risks in indoor leafy-green production. This two-year project* will gather current science to identify best practices proven to enhance CEA-grown leafy greens safety. Researchers will interview U.S. CEA operators to benchmark current practices, and food-safety knowledge gaps. Gibson’s team will explore what information is out there? How can we use that? What is the industry doing right, and maybe not perfect? Where are the gaps? Where do we need help?
Ana Allende, Ph.D.’s two-year project* seeks to understand where food safety risks occur in CEA. Her team will study how pathogens of concern – Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes, specifically – move from one place to another, and where in the process we find risk – whether that’s inputs, water or equipment. Two major Spanish CEA growers are collaborating with Allende; industry input is a longstanding hallmark of CPS research.
Center for Produce Safety helps 80 Acres Farms feel confident that we are focusing on the right areas of fresh produce food safety, and that we are leveraging the latest tools to live up to indoor farming’s promise of delivering safe produce. CEA is a small segment of the fresh produce industry; to be part of something larger benefits CEA.
CPS is also important to you. CPS exists to conduct useable research that can improve produce safety, and to get industry involved and using this knowledge. We all want our consumers to trust us to deliver that. To get started, check out all the resources available at www.centerforproducesafety.org. And join us for the Research Symposium in Atlanta in June.
*To learn more about these and other CPS research projects, visit www.centerforproducesafety.org/funded-research-projects.php.
— Monica Noble is director of quality and safety for 80 Acres Farms, an indoor producer of salad greens, microgreens, herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers located in Hamilton, Ohio. She is a member of Center for Produce Safety’s Technical Committee, which guides CPS’s produce-centric food safety research program. Prior to joining 80 Acres Farms, she worked in various food safety positions for Dole Fresh Vegetables and Dole Food Company. Noble earned a bachelor’s degree in food industry engineering from Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey, and a master’s degree in food safety regulations from Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Academic Programs.