The Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety (NECAFS) at the University of Vermont is pleased to share this set of resources for Produce Safety in Hydroponic and Aquaponic Operations. These resources, primarily written for the audience of produce safety educators and regulatory officials, guide readers through produce safety considerations specific to hydroponic and aquaponic operations. They assume a general background in the FSMA PSR and are supplementary to the content of the Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training. The factsheets cover first steps in discussing produce safety with growers and other stakeholders in hydroponics and aquaponics.
The Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule (FSMA PSR) sets mandatory standards for growing, harvesting, packing, and holding produce for human consumption. Farms that are covered by the FSMA PSR will be held to certain standards designed to reduce the presence of foodborne illness causing organisms that can contaminate produce. For farms that may not be subject to the FSMA PSR, it is still important to consider the implementation of these practices to reduce produce safety risk.
The cleaning and sanitizing requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule apply to hydroponic and aquaponic production environments as well as packing areas. The objective of this factsheet is to help growers identify their food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces to inform the creation of a cleaning and sanitizing schedule and appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs).
In an aquaponic operation, the production of fish and produce are interconnected through recirculating water. While the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule (FSMA PSR) does not require practices specific to fish health and handling, it is important for aquaponic growers to understand that these activities impact produce safety. In short, healthy fish and proper handling are critical to produce safety. The objective of this factsheet is to focus on practices that promote an aquatic environment that will support the growth of healthy fish, thereby reducing produce safety risk.
Harvest and postharvest handling practices in hydroponic and aquaponic operations are generally similar to those used in field agriculture. A key difference is that in these operations production water (water used in the growing of a crop) can be in close proximity to the crop during harvesting. Postharvest water (water that contacts produce or food contact surfaces during or after harvest) may or may not be used in these operations since they are soilless and often produce is not washed. The objective of this factsheet is to focus on practices that reduce the risk for cross-contamination between water, tools and equipment, and people during harvest and postharvest activities.
There are regular and frequent human interactions with hydroponic and aquaponic operation components. Therefore, effective training and implementation of health and hygiene standard operating procedures (SOPs) is essential to produce safety. The objective of this factsheet is to help growers consider the different ways humans interact throughout the system. Based on these interactions, growers need to understand when health and hygiene training must be provided.
Wildlife and domesticated animals can carry pathogens to produce and food contact surfaces. Therefore, growers need to limit or exclude their access to production and packing areas. The objective of this factsheet is to focus on assessment, monitoring and exclusion practices specific to an operation, whether open to the environment, partially- or fully-enclosed.
In 2022, NECAFS received funding from the USDA NIFA Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) to continue working in the area of hydroponic and aquaponic produce safety. This project has five primary objectives:
- Advisory Group - Form a nation-wide hydroponic and aquaponic produce safety advisory group that informs project outputs at multiple steps.
- Needs Assessment - Determine produce safety educational needs and gaps specific to hydroponics and aquaponics.
- Educational Resource Development - Develop educational curricula, programs, and resources for diverse audiences with interests in hydroponic and aquaponic produce safety.
- Education Delivery and Evaluation - Deliver educational resources and programs to relevant audiences and evaluate outcomes and impact.
- Coordinate Future Research - Coordinate research efforts to address knowledge gaps.
This 3-year project has begun with the formation of Advisory and Collaborator groups to help direct and plan the work. An initial needs assessment is being conducted to further focus educational curricula and program development. This process will also inform a research roadmap to direct future research to address identified gaps in knowledge.
If you would like to receive updates on new educational resources and programming, please don't hesitate to reach out to Sean Fogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also welcome those interested in becoming more involved by contributing to the advisory group, making connections between the project and growers, or collaborating on specific project activities.
The intended audiences for these educational resources are primarily educators, regulators, and technical service providers. The resources are written to guide the reader through produce safety considerations relevant to different aspects of hydroponic and aquaponic operations. The goal is to increase the knowledge of educators and regulators on this topic so that they can help guide produce safety practice implementation among hydroponic and aquaponic operators.
- These resources are intended to supplement, not replace, existing resources and training.
- They are intended to serve as a starting point for produce safety practice implementation and describe information specific to certain aspects of hydroponic and aquaponic operations where initial questions commonly occur.
- It is assumed that the reader understands the FMSA PSR and food safety principles. Therefore, these resources do not duplicate existing content that covers produce safety practices consistent across agriculture (i.e., the principle of proper handwashing). Instead, they describe practice implementation specific to hydroponic and aquaponic system components and operations.
- These resources are not exhaustive and intent to provide a starting point for produce safety practice implementation in hydroponic and aquaponic operations.
- Educators, regulators, and technical service providers are encouraged to share these resources with producers as appropriate.
This project was undertaken by NECAFS in direct response to feedback from network partners.
NECAFS, housed at the University of Vermont Extension, is one of four USDA funded regional centers tasked with coordinating training, education, and outreach related to the FSMA PSR and the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Foods (PCHF) Rule. NECAFS’ work focuses on coordination and facilitation of the Northeast regional network to support a national food safety training, education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance system among small and medium-sized producers and small processors.
This work was led by Elizabeth Newbold and Sean Fogarty at NECAFS, with support from Chris Callahan at NECAFS.
We are grateful for our Project Advisors and the time, expertise, detailed review, and feedback they provided to this work.
- Davis Blasini - PSA Spanish-Language Extension Associate at the Produce Safety Alliance, Cornell AgriTech
- Audrey Draper - USDA-FDA Food Safety Liaison at the US Dept. of Agriculture
- Laurie George - Midwest Regional Extension Associate at the Produce Safety Alliance, Cornell AgriTech
- Todd Guerdat - Civil/Agricultural Engineer at the US Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service
- Peter Konjoian - Owner/Operator, Educator, and Researcher at Konjoian's Greenhouses and Landscaping
- Chris Obergfell - Produce Safety Inspector at the New York State Dept. of Agriculture & Markets, Division of Food Safety & Inspection
- Patricia Millner - Research Microbiologist at the US Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
- Sujata Sirsat - Associate Professor at the University of Houston
- Michelle Smith - Senior Policy Analyst at the US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
- Phillip Tocco - Extension Educator at Michigan State University Extension
Factsheet graphic design by Kelly Collar, Mad River Creative. Many thanks for working closely with us through several rounds of revision.
This work was supported by the Food Safety Outreach Program grant no. 2018-70020-28878 and 2021-70020-35497 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 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.