Are Food Safety Regulations No Longer a Priority? How Local Farming Can Protect Our Food Supply

The year of 2020 has been a challenging one on many fronts. From the global pandemic and its economic impact, to the protests over police brutality, to natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes, we’ve faced adversity from sea to shining sea. And there may be more yet to come.

A Growing Food Safety Concern

Many of us like to think our food supply is safe and generally free from harmful contaminants. Most people likely picture food inspectors carefully checking each and every food shipment to come off the farm and into grocery stores or restaurant kitchens. While the system has never been quite that thorough, it seems that it’s gotten far worse recently. Here are just a few of the more concerning developments in food safety this year.

As the coronavirus took hold, the US FDA paused all food safety inspections from March 10th through July 20th. Further, when they resumed, inspections were “pre-announced” to the businesses being inspected, giving them time to clean up their act in time for inspectors to arrive. 

In the wake of grocery store shortages, the US Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) gave some poultry plants permission to speed up operations. While this undoubtedly allows them to output more product, it also means less time for quality assurance and safety examinations.

With the lack of safety oversight, many companies are relaxing safety practices in favor of greater productivity. In fact, some farmworkers are complaining that they are punished or even fired for speaking up about safety concerns regarding sick coworkers who could be contaminating food. And the conditions in which many laborers work and live are exactly the type that medical officials have been warning Americans to avoid.

In fact, there have been huge outbreak problems among workers in our food supply chain. More than 42,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and as of the end of September, there have been about 63,000 positive cases across all sectors of our food supply chain. We owe it to our essential food workers to offer them safer working conditions.

Food Safety Reporting Problems

On the other end of the problem, when a contamination issue is identified, the news has been slow to break to the public. For example, since mid-March the FDA has been aware of a contamination problem with enoki mushrooms imported from South Korea. These mushrooms killed four people and hospitalized 30. Yet the problem was not published until April 14th, more than a month after the initial company recall on March 9th.

Overall, we’ve seen a huge decline in the number of foodborne illness investigations. To be clear, this is not because the food is safer and doesn’t need to be investigated. Prior to the halt in inspections, the FDA was issuing citations at a rate of more than 900 per month. In April of this year, there were only eight citations issued. 

Recalls (which are mostly self-reported by the companies who produce our food) have also followed a downward trend. There were 173 such recalls issued in February, but by April that number had fallen to just 70. The USDA routinely finds an additional 10 recalls per month, but there were none at all in March and only two in April. These numbers are alarmingly low as they most likely point to hazards slipping through the cracks and making it all the way to the dinner table.

Our Food Supply is at Risk

While most Americans don’t regularly think about where our food comes from or how it gets to us, our food supply is not as safe as we’d like to think. There are many possible points of contamination in the food supply chain. And some experts seem to believe that contamination is unavoidable in traditional food production methods.

Fruits and vegetables, those delicious vitamin-packed foods our doctors tell us to eat more of, seem to be at particularly high risk. In fact, they are the source of nearly half of all foodborne outbreaks. Does this mean that we should cut back? Not at all. But it does mean that we can’t afford to not prioritize safety.

Hydroponics: A Safer Alternative to Traditional Farms

Vertical Greenhouse at Eden Green Technology

The big food safety question becomes, is it really possible to completely avoid contamination in the field? Maybe not. But the field is not our only option, nor is it the best one.

Hydroponic agriculture is a safer alternative, keeping our plants safely contained inside vertical farm greenhouses where outside contaminants aren’t an issue. Because hydroponic plants are not exposed to soil and groundwater, which can be easily contaminated with various pathogens, they are the safer alternative that the country has been searching for.

Our greenhouses can grow healthy leafy greens, fresh herbs, and other produce faster and with a greater yield than traditional farming methods. Every step in the process is closely monitored and controlled, so it’s easy to ensure your crops have no contamination hazards and your workers are kept safe too.

Eden Green Technology’s hydroponic farms require 98% less water, 99% less land, and plants grow with 99% sunlight. They are also urban-friendly, needing only about an acre and a half footprint, and climate-agnostic since they contain their own microclimate technology. This means safe, sustainable local farming is possible for communities across the country and around the world.


How Vertical Hydroponic Greenhouses Work


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