The FDA has not yet linked any specific romaine lettuce grower, supplier, distributor, or brand to the E.coli outbreak in Salinas, California. This week the outbreak has spread further with 67 people reported sick in 19 states. Just like last year around Thanksgiving, the advice is not to eat Romaine lettuce. Other than last year, the FDA declared a specific growing region (Salinas) and says indoor grown lettuce is safe. "Outbreaks like these are another confirmation that the future of the industry will be indoors", says Bram Vanthoor with Hortiplan.
"All of our lettuces and herbs are grown, harvested and packed daily in controlled indoor hydroponic greenhouses in New York, Chicago and Providence, R.I. Hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine, which is voluntarily labeled as “indoor grown,” from any region is not related to the current outbreak." It's the message Gotham Greens shared on social media this week. "As always, Revol Greens lettuce is safe to eat", Revol Greens also shares. "Look for our Grown in Minnesota logo and eat safe!"
It might look like a repetition from last year, when greenhouse growers had to deal with an all-including Romaine lettuce recall and had to get the word out there that greenhouse or indoor grown lettuce was safe to consume. This year it's different: they're supported by the FDA who announced indoor grown lettuce to be safe to eat. "It's important to get the story out there", Bram Vanthoor with Hortiplan agrees.
Why indoor lettuce is safe
The company supplies Mobile Gully System for growing lettuce and herbs indoors and they also help growers with the water system, including the disinfection. "Thanks systems like these we know indoor food is grown safe: all water used in the crop is being controlled", Bram explains. "Lettuce grown in the open field needs a bigger surface and a more broad water supply system, making it also more vulnerable for contamination." Combined with the traceability in products like lettuce, that's very high in the indoor industry and very low in the open field production, it's easy to confirm the indoor farms are not the source of the outbreak.
It's partly because of situations like these that food safety in general has become the driving force behind the development of hydroponic lettuce in both Europe and America. "There are many opportunities in the indoor industry. Retailers want to avoid situations like these, where people get sick and they have to recall product. They want a continuous supply of traceable, packed produce that's guaranteed safely grown and that has a story they can share with their consumers. The quality of the indoor grown lettuce, the freshness and the sustainable way of growing offer additional opportunities in this."
It's shown on the indoor grown lettuce in the US: other than in Europe, the product is easy recognisable by the words 'indoor grown' or 'greenhouse grown' on the packaging. It's a quality label, and not only when there's a food crisis.
Opportunities in indoor industry
"When you have your production in order and your concept for indoor growing is working, there are big opportunities in this industry - that's what's shown by this outbreak", Bram summarizes. "Although of course you do have to share this information with your consumers. Because all in all, outbreaks like these are another confirmation that the future of the industry will be indoors."