Food Safety is a growing concern for consumers around the globe. In the past two decades we have seen a dramatic spike in food-borne disease and illness from leafy greens. We all remember the major spinach recall of 2006. Last May, an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce linked to Freshway Foods caused more than 19 people to get sick. Read here for more details… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/06/lettuce-recall-e-coli-pos_n_566956.html
Some people are quick to point out that the increase in food-borne illness linked to leafy greens correlates directly to the rise in leafy green consumption (by volume and per capita). While this rise in consumption is true, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA points to the quantitative data:
“During the 1986-1995 period, U.S. leafy green consumption increased 17 percent from the previous decade. During the same period, the proportion of food-borne disease outbreaks due to leafy greens increased 60 percent. Likewise, during 1996 to 2005, leafy green consumption increased 9 percent, and leafy green-associated outbreaks increased 39 percent,” researcher Michael Lynch, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a prepared statement.
The data suggests that the rise in food-borne disease outbreaks cannot be directly correlated to the rise in leafy green consumption.
Personally speaking, I know most of my peers (and I would feel confident saying that the majority of consumers) think of uncooked meat when they think of food-borne disease. Consumers would probably be shocked to learn that…
Leafy Greens are only second behind Poultry in cases of food-related disease from 2003-2007…
The CDC website goes on to add: “Food-related diseases affect tens of millions of people, kill thousands, and cause billions of dollars in health care-related costs each year. Reducing food-borne illness by just 1% would keep about 500,000 Americans from getting sick each year; reducing food-borne illness by 10% would keep 5 million from getting sick.”
In keeping our microscope focused on leafy greens, let’s address how food-borne disease is contracted via leafy greens. Handling of the leafy greens post-harvest, specifically during the processing of the greens, can transmit the pathogens. Bacteria suspend themselves in the wash water used to rinse the “Ready to Eat” bagged greens that consumers have come to love. Bacteria attached to the leafy greens also present a major problem. This problem starts in the fields of agriculture…
Field crops are susceptible to contamination by warm-blooded animal manure (the carrier of food-borne pathogens and disease) from: cow pasture run-off, manure amendments to soil as fertilizer, birds flying overhead, rodent and other warm-blooded creatures running through the acres of growing leafy greens. This warm-blooded animal excrement can contaminate the leaves of the growing produce and transmit the pathogens to its end-consumer.
Both Controlled Environment Agriculture and Aquaponics provide viable solutions to eliminate the risk of any contamination. CEA prevents birds, rodents and any animals from accessing our growing crops. We keep them out, we keep food-borne pathogens out! Aquaponics utilizes fish waste as fertilizer for the growing produce. If we take ourselves back to 7th grade biology, we recall that fish are cold-blooded animals. As you might have figured out by now, fish waste DOES NOT and CANNOT carry the food-borne pathogens that the CDC’s data shows to be a growing concern.
Am I suggesting that every agribusiness switch from field crop to aquaponics? Hardly. That is never going to happen. My suggestion is that consumers make a conscious effort to buy more from local farms – where they can visit the operations, talk to the grower and literally “feel” the safety of the operation. With a few large agri-firms controlling our produce system, we are at their mercy. We have no control over eating contaminated leafy greens. That is, unless you buy local and from farms that can be trusted as to their production process and their post-harvest processing and handling of the leafy greens. Some people are willing to take the risk. I, for one, am not.