How An Aquaponic Vertical Farm Improved Food Safety
Food poisoning is a common problem across the globe, and 600 million people become sick after eating contaminated food every year. As the agricultural sector continues to find ways to deal with foodborne illnesses, startups are looking for innovative ways to help. Jason Green, the CEO and co-founder of Edenworks, shared more in an interview.
Edenworks is a Brooklyn startup that designs and operates vertical aquaponic farms to produce a range of foods for grocers. Its products include leafy greens, such as kale and chard, and seafood, such as salmon and shrimp. The company's mission is to become the world’s largest fresh food supplier by replacing globalized supply chains with local products that are sustainable, organic and inexpensive.
"We grow in vertically stacked shelves. Imagine bunk beds full of greens. Each shelf contains a series of rafts floating on water. The water both fertilizes and irrigates the plants, as well as helps move the plants from point A to point B. This system of floating rafts is common in Dutch greenhouses and goes back as far as the Aztecs, who grew on chinampas or rectangular plots of land that floated in shallow lakebeds. It is a simple, robust and ecologically-focused system that has worked for thousands of years. We have taken this technology and automated within a vertical farming context," Green explains.
Edenworks recently announced that it has eliminated foodborne pathogens, including E. coli, reduced crop disease incidence from 25% of harvests down to 1% and improved sustainability by more than 50 times compared to conventional farming practices. Its focus on removing foodborne pathogens is important because the CDC shares that leafy greens account for 23% of all cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. In 2018, romaine lettuce experienced three different E.coli outbreaks and was off the shelves for a significant period of time. The most common source of E. coli contamination is irrigation water on farms.
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"Edenworks improved food safety with safer irrigation via better microbiology. We eliminated the presence of E. coli from irrigation water without the use of sanitizers or other chemicals. By understanding the conditions under which E. coli can and cannot thrive, versus the conditions where beneficial microbes thrive and compete for resources with E. coli, we have engineered a farm that is structurally resistant to the growth of E. coli on the microbial level," Green says.
Edenworks tests for E. coli throughout its system, both in aquaculture and horticulture, three times per week, which exceeds the regulatory standard of five times per year. For over eighteen months, Edenworks has charted zero detectable levels of E. coli, verified by independent laboratory testing.
"Cold chain integrity: Pathogens rapidly develop when temperatures exceed 40 degrees F. As a result, harvesting, washing, drying, packaging and shipping all ideally occur below 40 degrees, which is a sequence of refrigerated steps known as the cold chain. Field farms are not able to maintain refrigeration between harvesting in the field and bringing product in for washing. As an indoor grower, we can, and so we are able to maintain the cold chain all the way until product is delivered to customers," Green shares.
Green also explains that Edenworks relies on automation. Human operators are the largest food safety threat for indoor farms because they are the vectors or the carriers of pathogens. The company has developed automation systems for every step from seed to package, so human hands never need to touch the product.
Lana Bandoim Contributor
I am a freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of experience. My work has appeared on Yahoo! News, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, The Week, MSN Money and many other publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Butler University and graduated summa cum laude with a double major in biology and chemistry. I specialize in science, tech and health content. I have been a judge for the Scholastic Writing Awards from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. My work has been nominated for a Best Short form Science Writing award.