The CEA Food Safety Coalition announced today what it says is the first-ever food safety certification program designed for leafy greens grown in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) settings. As of today, members of the Coalition can opt to have their crops assessed by the new Leafy Greens Module, according to a press release sent to The Spoon. Upon passing inspection via the module, those growers can then include a “CEA food-safe” seal on their packaging.
Founded in 2019, the goal of the Coalition is to provide science-based food-safety certification for those growing leafy greens indoors. The Coalition is not a government entity. Rather, it’s a group of leaders in the CEA space that pay membership dues and work together to provide guidance for the entire industry. The Leafy Green Module is meant to be an add-on to existing compliance standards from the Global Food Safety Initiative.
Founding members include AeroFarms, Bowery Farming, BrightFarms, Little Leaf Farms, Plenty, Revol Greens, Superior Fresh and Vertical Field. The Coalition is also led by Executive Director Marni Karlin, the former head of government affairs and general counsel for the Organic Trade Association.
“Current food safety standards were written for the field, and many do not address the unique attributes of controlled, indoor environments,” Karlin noted in today’s press release. “This new certification process and the accompanying on-pack seal helps to unify CEA growers while also differentiating them from traditional field agriculture.”
For example, controlled-environment farms that generally rely heavily on technology also favor circulating water systems via hydroponics. On the flip, there are elements CEA farms do not usually have to factor in, such as contamination from animal byproducts.
The Coalition’s entire certification process looks at four main areas:
- Hazard analysis, which is the use of water, nutrients, growing media, seeds, inputs, site control and other relevant factors
- Water that comes into contact with all plant and with food contact surfaces. “The use of recirculating water will require a continuing hazard analysis. Will also require zone-based environmental monitoring based on company-specific risk assessment.”
- Site control, infrastructure, and system design, including all food contact surfaces and adjacent food contact surfaces, such as plant containers. This area also assesses potential physical hazards from lighting, robotics, sensors, equipment and utensils.
- Pesticide Use and Testing, or the use of pesticides or herbicides during the plant life cycle. Generally speaking, though, CEA farms don’t use pesticides.
The new certification comes at time when both investment and consumer interest in CEA is on the rise. Leafy greens are still the most prominent crop to be grown in these farms, hence the Coalition’s focus on that produce type in this initial certification. However, other plants, including and especially strawberries, are becoming more popular with indoor vertical growers. No doubt indoor-specific safety certification for that crop is not far away.