GLOBAL – A new food safety certification program specifically designed for leafy greens grown using controlled environment agriculture (CEA) has been launched by the CEA Food Safety Coalition (CEA FSC).

According to a press statement, the CEA FSC’s Leafy Green Module uses science-based standards to assess an operation’s food safety practices in areas including water and pesticide use, site control and hazard analysis.

CEA FSC’s module will assess hazards associated with water, nutrients, growing media, seeds, inputs, site control and more. Systems using recirculating water will require continuing hazard analyses while all food contact surfaces and adjacent surfaces will need to be assessed for contamination risks.

Companies that pass the module will be able to use the CEA food safety certified seal on their product packaging.

Members of the CEA industry first proposed the program in 2019 to distinguish indoor-grown greens from those raised in fields.

For those unfamiliar with CEA, it features plants that are grown year-round through hydroponic, aeroponic or aquaponic methods, many without pesticides and protected from the weather.

CEA cultivation is said to allow for greater control over growing conditions. This not only includes temperature, humidity and light, but also enhanced biosecurity.

Many indoor farming operations market their produce as having never been exposed to pesticides or herbicides due to the tightly controlled environment.

Growing concern for safety

The food safety certification has debuted as the leafy greens industry struggles to get control of a series of E. coli outbreaks, which have sickened many and led to a number of fatalities over the past few years.

Indoor farming companies are hoping to offer consumers another option when it comes to getting their greens amid growing concerns over their safety.

After the 2018 outbreak, romaine lettuce sales plummeted 45% compared to the year prior, according to Nielsen data cited by The Wall Street Journal, while overall lettuce sales dropped 27%.

The new certification programs could help in allaying consumer concerns as it acts as a form of reassurance about the quality and transparency of their food.

The fact that the CEA FSC program is maintained and enforced by a neutral third party could help consumers feel more comfortable relying on the certification compared to the brand’s own claims about its products.