On November 20th, the CDC released a massive recall of all romaine lettuce in the United States. Citing e. coli contamination with an undetermined source, the recall affected consumers nationwide. Not limited to specific brands or lot numbers, the contamination caused fifty-two known infections and nineteen hospitalizations across fifteen states. Additionally, eighteen people have been identified in two Canadian provinces.
Emerging from this outbreak is yet another benefit to indoor agriculture: produce grown indoors is fed with liquid fertilizers. It is therefore never exposed to contaminants like e.coli, salmonella and other pathogens that may reside in animal digestive tracts. Outdoors, contamination may occur in a variety of uncontrollable ways, including waste washed downstream from livestock farms and slaughterhouses. Waste can also be blown on the wind, or originate from field workers with inadequate rest facilities. In precision farming environments, all aspects are more easily controlled: air filtration systems clean incoming air, irrigation runs through pipes instead of canals, herbicides and pesticides can’t blow in from neighboring fields, and bathrooms with running water are available.
For this reason, greenhouse growers are seeking exemption from future recalls similar to this one. According to this article about Go Green Agriculture, “After Tuesday’s email, many buyers told him not to send any romaine lettuce and ‘trucks should be turned around immediately; everything’s being dumped and destroyed on site.’ He explains to 10News why the indoor farming technologies ‘pretty much guarantees that everything is 100 percent safe.’”