NECAFS Releases Produce Safety Guides for Hydroponic and Aquaponic Operations

April 2, 2024

The Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety (NECAFS) is pleased to announce the release of multiple resources on produce safety in hydroponic and aquaponic operations. These guides summarize traditional good agricultural practices (GAPs) along with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule (FSMA PSR) and demonstrate how to apply them in hydroponic and aquaponic operations. These resources build upon and expand previous work in this area, providing engaging examples and links to many external resources.

The new resources include a new introductory guide to produce safety in hydroponics and aquaponics (also available as a PDF factsheet and the first grower case study of a planned series that illustrates how one hydroponic farm is implementing produce safety practices in their operation.

The case study highlights produce safety culture and practices at Legacy Greens in Tallahassee, Florida. Legacy Greens is a medium scale hydroponic farm serving a regional market.

Caption: Legacy Greens team members discuss their harvest systems and process with members of the NECAFS team to explore food safety practices specific to their hydroponic farm. Hydroponic farms often use practices and systems that are different from field-based agriculture and a current project is focused on providing food safety support for small and medium-sized operations facing these challenges.

“We all really enjoyed having members of the NECAFS Team visit our facility to document our hydroponic growing methods and food safety practices,” noted Julian Miranda, Cultivation Manager at Legacy Greens. “We don’t often get the opportunity to discuss these critically important topics outside of our staff, so it was a treat to showcase the measures we take to ensure we’re growing the best and safest produce possible for our customers. These conversations and explorations are critically important for maintaining a stable food supply system and we’re honored to have participated in this case study!”

The project team, with guidance, participation, and extensive review from national advisory and collaborator groups, created these educational resources to provide greater clarity and understanding for small and medium scale hydroponic and aquaponic producers. These materials discuss produce safety practices required by the FSMA PSR. They cover key points to consider when tailoring produce safety practices to the unique attributes of hydroponic and aquaponic operations. With much of the previous produce safety resource development focused on field-based agriculture, this group has not been well-served with relevant resources. The lack of focus on this growing sector of production is what motivated this project. These resources are some of the first developed that focus specifically on this type of production.

Educational material on this topic will continue to grow as more video, web, and print resources are developed, as part of a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) project titled Understanding and Addressing Needs for On-Farm Produce Safety Education in Hydroponics and Aquaponics. All new materials will be linked on the project home page.

More than sixty people have contributed to this work in one way or another. If you would like to learn more about ongoing work in this area, please reach out to [email protected].

The Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety (NECAFS) is one of four USDA funded regional centers tasked with coordinating training, education and outreach related to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule and the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule. NECAFS, housed at The University of Vermont, focuses on coordination and facilitation of the Northeast regional network to support a national food safety training, education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance system in support of small and medium-sized producers and small processors.

The hydroponic and aquaponic project is one of several that NECAFS leads in response to emergent producer and processor needs relative to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Food Safety Outreach Program through award 2022-70020-37599. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NECAFS also hosts a Preventive Controls Working Group for small processors which has developed a Processor’s Food Safety Toolkit. NECAFS developed and hosts a national Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse which is a one-stop shop of crowdsourced food safety educational resources. The group has also developed a Produce Safety Handbook for Buyers which helps produce buyers in the Northeast and North Central regions navigate federal and state inspectional and audit frameworks.

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Thanks for sharing, Sean! I know our community will find value in this work!