There are over 250 identified foodborne diseases that are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites infecting humans throughout the world. Amongst the most common, and most publicly known, is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which can be found in leafy greens, meat, and other produce. Offering proven lower risks for foodborne illnesses, a closer look at aquaponics should be taken as a reasonable and viable option to decrease the risk of all foodborne pathogens, including E. Coli, writes Victoria Mirowsky with the Aquaponics Association.
While each foodborne illness case is unique, common techniques can be used to prevent outbreaks. The CDC, USDA, FDA, and other state agencies suggest following these steps to prevent E. Coli illness, though not always guaranteed. In addition, knowing consumers are following these steps, and farmers/sellers are conducting proper safety measures, predictions can be made that the E. Coli outbreaks will decrease.
Soilless growing offers a viable alternative to growing crops in a low-risk environment for many microbial sources. Aquaponics, which is often greenhouse-grown, is an innovative way of growing fish and plants in rural or urban settings. For years, commercial aquaponic farms have obtained food safety certifications from Global GAP, USDA Harmonized GAP, Primus GFS, and the SWF Food Safety Program, in addition to being certified USDA organic (Aquaponic Association, 2019) and sold commercially across North America.
In an aquaponic system, the healthy microbes actually serve as biological control agents against pathogenic bacteria making their survival minimal (Fox, 2012). While aquaponics produce is not immune to all pathogenic contamination, it is one of the safest agriculture methods against pathogenic risk.
It's important to note that fish are cold-blooded and they can’t host E. Coli as a pathogen, and in turn the entrance of this pathogen in the system will be due to warm-blooded animals. It is also seen that some farmers utilize water directly, unfiltered or treated, from rivers for overhead irrigation which like an aquaponic system has fish and dish feces present, among other potential contaminants, yet is not restricted like aquaponics farming (Fox, 2012).
This finding is also supported by numerous other studies testing for the presence of E. coli. One conducted study looked at 9 different systems, 5 hydroponic and 3 aquaponic systems, and while all were similar in overall design they differed in size, temperature, and potential for food safety contamination (Weller, et al., 2020). When conducting these tests, it was found that all systems tested positive for chloroform, but only 3 systems tested positive for the presence of E. coli above the limit of detection for generic E. coli, and they were all hydroponic systems – no aquaponic systems (Weller, et al., 2020) .
While proper standards amongst food safety and potential hazards can be improved through training, standard operating procedures, and legal compliances, an alternative is looking into innovative growing techniques that prove to be more resistant and safe to foodborne pathogens. To enhance the overall adaptive capacity of these outbreaks, aquaponics should be looked at as a reasonable option, and furthermore, potential actions can offer incentives to retailers and wholesalers that buy from aquaponic farmers for specific pathogen-prone crops like lettuce.
Read the complete article at www.aquaponicsassociation.org.
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