U.S – A recent article in the Journal of Food Protection has shed light on crucial food safety gaps and requirements identified by academic, industry, and regulatory stakeholders in the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) sector.
The insights were gathered during the Strategizing to Advance Future Extension and Research (S.A.F.E.R.) CEA conference held in April 2023 at Ohio State University’s Ohio CEA Research Center.
Key themes emphasized by stakeholders include supply chain control, preventive measures for foodborne pathogen contamination, research, training, education, and fostering collaboration and partnerships within the CEA sector.
One prominent recommendation is the necessity for tailored risk assessments specific to crops, cultivars, and CEA systems, taking into account intrinsic and extrinsic factors like pH, nutrients, temperature, humidity, and lighting systems.
Understanding the diversity of the CEA industry was underscored as essential, requiring further research and funding.
The identified stakeholders have pinpointed crucial areas in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) that demand focused attention and dedicated research efforts.
These include, firstly, the development and evaluation of seed treatment protocols to mitigate pathogenic contamination.
Additionally, there is a need for comprehensive investigations into the factors influencing the shelf life and microbial quality of soilless substrates.
Effective cleaning and sanitation practices for food contact surfaces, minimizing disruption to plant growth and crop yield, emerge as another critical focus area.
The exploration of alternative pathogen inactivation methods, such as hot water, steam, ultraviolet-C (UV-C), ozone, and radiation, is also deemed essential.
Furthermore, implementing control and hazard mitigation strategies in the soilless substrate supply chain is identified as a priority.
The stakeholders highlight the significance of identifying key food safety risk factors in water and microbial ecosystems within CEA.
Education and outreach programs are proposed to raise awareness among various stakeholders, including educators, the workforce, regulators, and campaigns targeting youth, funding agencies, and academia.
Lastly, there is a call for workforce development initiatives, incorporating the creation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training programs for extension agents, ensuring a well-prepared workforce in the field of controlled environment agriculture.
Collaboration across stakeholder groups was emphasized as crucial for enhancing CEA food safety. The stakeholders stressed the importance of joint efforts in addressing these gaps and advancing research, education, and outreach in the rapidly evolving CEA sector.