Grow Fresh.  Grow Healthy.  Grow Safely.

Is Romaine Lettuce Safer When Grown Hydroponically?

 Just two days before Thanksgiving the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) made a request of the romaine lettuce industry that they shut down and recall all romaine lettuce products.

The request came in conjunction with the FDA’s announcement of a new E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce.

It seems almost every day when we turn on the news that some product is being recalled for some safety reason, and it seems often that it is the produce industry that seems to get hit the hardest with recalls.  This not only puts a big dent and headaches in the bottom line of growers, re-sellers, insurance companies, and the collective chain of commercialism as it relates to our food, but it also can leave a scary, and empty feeling in the pit of the stomach of consumers around the country.  After all, we do love our romaine.  There used to be a time when even I was only an “iceberg” kind of guy, but admittedly, with boutique greens, micro greens, more choices and the “thrill of the taste” looming as we try new things as consumers, even I now know there is more than one type of lettuce.  Still, E. coli, or threat of the same, sends shivers up our collective consumer spines.  And that, REALLY scares commercial growers because romaine lettuce is BIG business.

According to the website in a November 21st article, romaine lettuce sales are down in 2018 by $71 million according to Nielsen data.  The same site indicated that in April an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine left 5 people dead and more than 200 sickened.  As American consumers we are accustomed to taking safe food for granted.  So, numbers and events like this shock us for a brief spell, and then, unless we are personally affected, we most likely go right back to our old habits and right back to our romaine without thinking it could make us sick or even kill us.

The very real implications that people live with every single day in the industry, however, are the growers and producers of lettuce.  They think about lettuce all the time because it is their livelihood and an event such as an outbreak or recall usually includes disruption in growing, shipping, and invoicing.  This is something that impacts their daily lives and can rock their business to the core.  So, what is the solution?  Can we make things better?

At AUTOCROP we believe that we can make things better through safer, hydroponically-grown vegetables.  While we can’t totally control the situation (because if seeds are infected with some pathogen, then it doesn’t matter where or how it is grown), we can really limit the outside exposure to the bad things that make us sick.  This means that consumers can continue to consume, and commercial growers can continue to produce their lettuce year-round.  This feeds us, but it also feeds their families.

We also believe hydroponic growing is safer because it eliminates a lot of the potential problems that are found with conventional farming.  With our vertical racking system total solution there is no need for herbicides or pesticides.  You won’t find soil, so you won’t find any manure or animal carcasses laying around either.  We can’t control all the variables in the food chain, but we really can control a lot of the variables that seem to bring uncertainty and possible sickness and business disruption to our world.

Sure, we are in the business to sell systems, and we believe our systems are designed to give our growers healthy, high-quality, automated, accelerated crop yields that provide a great return on investment, but we truly believe that our method of growing is safer.  Nobody can ever promise you a completely sterile environment, but knowing where your products come from, constantly monitoring the controlled environment, and producing a yield that has unmatched consistency is a big step along the way to giving consumers tasty, fresh, and safe romaine or other veggies that can help us all worry just a little less.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s just around lunch time and I think I’ll meander to our lab in the back of the building for a salad.  There are some great greens there for harvesting and I just might find myself some romaine there too.  Fresh, healthy, tasty – it’s AUTOCROP.

Ken Bryant

Director of Marketing