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Traceability & Food Safety at Plenty Part 2

Reading Time | 6 Minutes

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April 17th, 2020

By Plenty

Just like a person, every plant has a history; just like people, plants have stories to tell. At Plenty, it is our mission to make sure each Plenty plant’s story is a good one and to be more open and transparent about those stories than has ever been possible in the agriculture industry.

Inside Plenty’s vertical farms, we rely on a constant flow of data to optimize plant outcomes for the sole purpose of optimizing human outcomes — your health, your happiness, and your well-being. Part of that well-being should include feeling confident that the food you choose to bring into your homes and serve on your tables is reliably safe and healthy to eat. 

Plenty can ensure the safety of our fresh produce like never before thought possible because all of our farming systems are connected and automated through our proprietary stack of software. The lifespan of a Plenty plant can be fully documented and accounted for because, thanks to our automated practices, we’re able to track the complete picture of its life from seeding to harvest, from seed to store. We’ve taken the level of internal tracking typically reserved for extremely high-risk manufacturing industries, such as automobiles, and applied it to an area we feel deserves just as much attention: food safety. 

Internal traceability has been a challenge for the agriculture industry in the past because most traditional farms rely on paper records. When a process like farming is done by hand or with limited automation, its data is most easily recorded manually — but when a process is automated like ours, its data can be recorded automatically, as well. That’s imperative to food safety because as we’ve seen with frequent leafy green recalls over the past few years, just as dangerous as the initial outbreak is the industry’s inability to trace the source of contamination through a convoluted and outdated supply chain. Poring over paper records for days, and eventually resorting to recalling an entire state’s supply of lettuce is not an ideal scenario for eaters or farms.

In stark contrast to the ambiguity of current food safety tracking, with nothing but the numerical code printed on the front of each Plenty produce container, we can build out a full picture of that plant’s life, from start to finish. Each unique numerical code tells us where that plant was seeded, the type and amount of nutrients that plant received, when and where that plant was transferred to a tower, the date and time that plant was harvested and packaged, and how it ended up on your grocery store shelf. Because, of course, the final destination for that plant is your home…

If you’ve chosen Plenty produce to do the important job of nourishing your body, then there should never be any question of the journey that produce took to arrive in your refrigerator, and if it was a safe process to get there. We’re able to account for the full lifespan of every Plenty plant because we’ve created an all-encompassing farm operating system to tell us.

FarmOS is the backbone of Plenty’s internal traceability program, acting as both a historian and an innovator for our crops. The life of every Plenty plant is documented, reviewed, and improved in our cloud-based suite of software products, creating a constant feedback loop of data. FarmOS allows us to monitor and control all of the data flowing out of our farms, and just as importantly, FarmOS processes and tracks that data in the cloud to feed improvements and optimization back into our crops.

Using our extensive network of sensors and cameras, FarmOS can control, monitor, understand, plan, and execute everything that happens on a Plenty farm. And one look inside any of our fully automated facilities will tell you how Plenty paints such a cohesive picture of the life and timeline of our plants…

Robots handle our plants from seeding to germination, from tray to tower, from harvest to packaging; cameras track every step of that growing process, and sensors are constantly monitoring water, light, temperature, humidity, and many other inputs to our crops. We sample our systems extensively for pathogens, and that data is evaluated in a matter of seconds. If a plant falls out of compliance, FarmOS knows about it. Our cloud-based software can alert the farm of possible food safety concerns before an at-risk plant could ever make it to the public.

Understanding the specific environmental treatments a plant receives on our farms from the amount of light and water it receives to the humidity and temperature it experiences in different phases of its growth is how Plenty grows the happiest, healthiest, and most nutritious plants possible. And growing the healthiest possible plants means that with Plenty, you never have to worry about even washing your produce before eating it, let alone a pathogen outbreak.

It is Plenty’s mission to take the fear out of farming leafy greens.

In the last three years, pathogen outbreaks related to leafy greens have occurred far too often, and worse still recalls on those outbreaks have taken far too long thanks to murky traceability and convoluted supply chains. The E. coli outbreak of spring 2018 was the largest and most deadly1 in the U.S. in decades with illness start dates reported from March 13th all the way to June 16th2. And while the contaminated lettuce was traced to one region3 after a few days, following a monthslong investigation, the FDA was still unable to identify the source of the pathogen contaminants definitively. 

The ambiguity of traditional agricultural supply chains is not built for the level of traceability necessary for a high-risk crop like leafy greens. After the 2018 pathogen outbreaks, many lettuce growers voluntarily agreed to begin labeling packages with the region where they were grown. However, the impetus remains on the consumer to protect themselves from contaminated products. Plenty believes that you deserve more assurance that your produce is safe to consume when it arrives on your grocery store shelves — and we’ve created the automated farming and data systems to give it to you. 

Despite the extremely low risk of ever experiencing contamination in the first place, Plenty has the system in place to be able to trace any possible outbreaks, at any point of reported contamination. FarmOS is responsible for tracing what happens to each plant with the click of a button. Should a consumer report a possible contaminated product, any one piece of information — where they bought it, when they bought it, the package it came from — would allow us to recreate that plant’s entire history during its time in our farm. With our automated process, one piece of information reveals all other data that went into and came out of that plant throughout its lifetime: how it was grown, where it was moved, who touched it, and in this highly unlikely and hypothetical scenario — how it was contaminated. 

In the seconds it takes FarmOS to piece together the provenance of contamination, it can also track which other plants may have been affected, where those plants are currently, who needs to be notified of the contamination, and how we could prevent such an error from ever occurring again. Plenty is secure in the food safety measures we’ve created with the comprehensive internal traceability capabilities of our FarmOS, and we want to share that security with our consumers.

There is no mystery to the path of a Plenty plant — our leafy greens are cared for and watched over from inception, all the way until they leave our farms, when we feel confident that we’ve raised the healthiest plant possible. Fear should never be a part of the choice to lead a healthy life. Plenty is restoring confidence in the safety of leafy greens so that our consumers can join us in restoring health to our planet, plants, and people.

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