Marni Karlin, executive director of the CEA Food Safety Coalition
The CEA Food Safety Coalition (FSC), comprising leaders in the controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) industry, has launched the first-ever food safety certification program specifically for CEA-grown leafy greens. Coalition members can now choose to be assessed for the CEA Leafy Greens Module, and after they complete it, they will be permitted to use the CEA food-safe seal on certified product packaging. The module is measured against science-based criteria and is an addition to existing compliance with an underlying Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized food safety standard.
Traditional food safety risk profiles include examining the physical hazards and microbial hazards from water use, herbicide and pesticide use, and impact from animals and animal byproducts, many of which don’t affect CEA growers to the same extent, if at all. The CEA Leafy Greens Module spotlights produce grown indoors while ensuring the highest standard of quality and compliance.
“Current food safety standards were written for the field, and many do not address the unique attributes of controlled, indoor environments,” noted Marni Karlin, the coalition’s executive director. “This new certification process and the accompanying on-pack seal helps to unify CEA growers while also differentiating them from traditional field agriculture. It also better informs consumers and provides a quick-glance image to know when produce has been grown safely indoors, with a high standard of quality and without some of the hazards of the field, such as potential contamination from animal byproducts.”
Controlled-environment agriculture takes a technology-based approach to creating optimal growing conditions inside controlled environments such as greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. Plants are usually grown year-round using hydroponic, aeroponic or aquaponic methods, without the need for pesticides and unaffected by climate or weather.
The certification program is available to all CEA FSC members for a nominal cost and must be completed annually. CEA growers can be assessed for various sites in four areas:
Hazard Analysis: Use of water, nutrients, growing media, seeds, inputs, site control and other relevant factors
Water: All contact with the plant and with food-contact surfaces. The use of recirculating water will require a continuing hazard analysis. The assessment will also require zone-based environmental monitoring based on company-specific risk assessment.
Site Control/Infrastructure/System Design: All food contact surfaces and adjacent food-contact surfaces, including plant containers. The assessment will also assess associated farm physical hazards, among them lighting, robotics, sensors, equipment and utensils.
Pesticide Use/Testing: The use of pesticides or herbicides during the plant life cycle.
“The CEA industry is rapidly expanding and predicted to support more than 10% of U.S. vegetable and herb production by 2025,” said Rebecca Anderson, technical key account manager for Portland, Oregon-based GLOBALG.A.P. North America. “The CEA FSC Leafy Green Module will set a new industry standard for CEA-grown produce while driving consumer awareness of the innovations happening in indoor agriculture today.”
Based in Washington, D.C., the CEA Food Safety Coalition was founded in 2019 to represent the interests of controlled-environment agriculture leafy greens growers in developing credible and appropriate food safety standards while educating consumers and regulators alike on the practice. The coalition represents companies with facilities and distribution in more than 20 states. Founding members include AeroFarms, Bowery Farming, BrightFarms, Little Leaf Farms, Plenty, Revol Greens, Superior Fresh and Vertical Field.