Food Safety at Plenty (Volume 1/3)
Reading Time | 10 minutes
February 26th, 2020
By Plenty Farms
At Plenty, health is our number one priority. We grow healthy food to nourish healthy people, and foster a healthier planet. As a vertical farming company that functions as both a grower and a manufacturer of food, Plenty cannot seek to restore human health without also seeking to improve and advance food safety in the agricultural industry. That means growing the tastiest and safest produce by monitoring exactly what and who goes into Plenty plants — and just as importantly, by controlling what we keep out of them.
Plenty crops are grown clean: no pests, no pesticides, no chemical sprays, no exposure to potential sources of contaminants like contaminated water or debris. Therefore, they are ready to eat as soon as you purchase them from your local grocery store. We don’t have to spray any pesticides or other chemicals on our crops because Plenty’s high level of control over everything coming in and out of our vertical farms means there’s minimal risk of pests getting to our produce in the first place. Not to mention, the fact that we grow indoors means our plants aren’t impacted by Mother Nature.
Our crops are grown in a hermetically sealed environment that sits within a highly controlled space designed with the highest possible food safety in mind. Though Plenty produce is already at a very low risk for encountering pests, we operate an extensive integrated pest monitoring program that includes ultraviolet lights outside of our farms, air curtains on every door to control the air that enters and leaves our growing rooms, filters on all of our HVAC systems, as well as extensive pest monitoring performed on a regular basis.
And because Plenty plants aren’t exposed to pests, there’s no reason for us to ever spray them with pesticides. Which means those non-existent pesticides will not interfere with dinner time.
Leafy greens have long been considered a high-risk crop because they’re usually eaten raw. Typically, after a bunch of kale, or a head of lettuce is bought from the grocery store, it’s taken home, given a quick rinse, and put on a plate to be eaten. And while rinsing produce is a habit that’s likely been ingrained in most consumers since they were old enough to reach the sink, it is not, in fact, a particularly effective habit. At best, washing produce with water simply knocks down the population of any existing pathogen, but to truly clean something harmful like E. coli off of a plant, you would need a chemical to interfere.
As that’s not likely a science experiment you’d like to perform every time you make a salad; leafy greens should be arriving to your kitchen ready-to-eat, free of pests, pathogens and pesticides. Traditionally, the way to mitigate the risk of contamination in leafy greens has been by performing a triple-wash on them between harvest and sale. Triple-washing involves a pre-wash, a saline wash, and bathing the greens in a sanitizing solution like chlorine. Not only do leafy greens lose flavor and texture, but in the effort to reduce pathogens, bathing greens also runs the simultaneous risk of spreading any existing pathogens even further if performed incorrectly.
The more a crop is handled after harvesting it, especially by humans, the more likely cross-contamination is to occur. The triple-wash process means that after harvest, an outdoor-grown leafy green is: transported to a processing facility, sorted, rinsed, put in a spinner, given a second rinse, spinner again, third rinse, sorted again, packed, and finally transported to your grocery shelves. Further, during all of this, it must be considered that water is a vector if the process isn’t performed perfectly; it spreads pre-existing pathogens far faster than human hands or surfaces can.
When you shop at the grocery store, you see a lot of packages claim that their greens are “triple-washed” or “pre-washed”. Sanitizing solutions can kill pathogens in theory, but the introduction of water could potentially introduce pathogens. If one leaf of lettuce is contaminated with E. coli and then put into a package to be delivered to the grocery store, only that one package of lettuce is contaminated. But if that lettuce is first put into a water bath where it transfers its contamination to other lettuce, and then put into another bath, and then another…like wildfire, that pathogen could spread rapidly. As the numerous recent instances of leafy greens recalls demonstrate, triple-washing is clearly not a foolproof process.
It’s time to change the way we grow leafy greens.
Plenty eliminates the need for triple washing by dramatically reducing the risk of contamination. Outdoor water sources can pose a high risk of contamination due to everything from livestock proximity to seasonal shifts. Contaminated agricultural water can pool inside every nook and cranny of a plant, creating a tiny ecosystem that is difficult to clean and where microorganisms thrive; threats rise further in the rainy season when higher temperatures and humidity encourage bacteria’s survival.
On a Plenty farm, there are no seasons — no rises in humidity or fluctuations in temperature – nor long gaps between harvesting and packaging . For every potential contamination variable that outdoor farms must attempt to mitigate after harvest, Plenty has a system in place to dramatically reduce from the ground up, before our crops are even planted.
Plenty’s irrigation water is drawn from filtered, potable water, and each crop’s container is designed so that no irrigation water ever touches the part of the plant we feed to customers. In addition, our growing and processing rooms are hermetically sealed, also known as clean spaces, meaning our produce can’t be exposed to outside elements.
We also perform extensive sterilization and supplier control to make sure that the inputs to our farm, such as seeds and nutrients, are clean and safe. Because we can control the safety and cleanliness of the materials that enter our farms, we can even further control the safety and cleanliness of the fresh produce that exits them.
Every decision we make at Plenty, every plan we put in place, every control, variable, and measure is designed to improve the health of people, plants and planet, and that means prioritizing food safety in any and every way possible. We feel lucky to be at the forefront of a new industry that is not only restoring consumer confidence in leafy greens, but setting a new standard for how safely fresh foods can be produced.
It is not easy to make leafy greens 100% safe — but it is possible to dramatically lower the risk. Eliminating the need for pesticides and controlling variables like water and weather mean that produce can enter your home clean and ready to eat. Consumers shouldn’t have to clean their produce with chemicals or risk their health in order to eat well, and it is our mission to make sure they never have to. Plenty is growing clean, safe produce to fuel healthier lives for people, plants, and the planet.
Next, we cover how the software inside our technologically advanced farms play an integral role in our food safety program.
Edited: March 12, 2020
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