Grocery retailers understand that food production is complex and that following proper food safety handling techniques is imperative, albeit very difficult. The stakes are even higher in an era when “farm to table” is a growing trend. Along this pathway, there are many instances where all foods can be contaminated. In the case of the most recent incident of E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce, many touchpoints could have been the culprit: Post-harvest, the lettuce
was put in boxes, shipped to another facility (or multiple
ones), stored under refrigeration, washed, chopped and
then packaged in bags of plain romaine or various salad
mixes. Alas, on July 1, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention identified the outbreak strain of E. coli 0157: H7 in
canal water taken from the Yuma,
Ariz., growing region.
All the foods on our supermarket shelves are literally rooted agriculture. Our land, water,
soil and environment are under siege, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts climate change will further
escalate the challenges. Former Environmental Protection
Agency chief Scott Pruitt has left his mark on agriculture:
raising doubt on climate science; supporting President
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord; the
rollback of emissions standards and bans on the dumping
of toxic coal ash next to waterways; and the reduction of
criminal enforcement actions against polluters.
Where we grow our foods, on dirt farms, is where many
of the food safety recalls occur. At the same time, we are
seeing more consumers opting for more of a plant-based
diet. There is also a new breed of younger farmers entering
the fields. The USDA’s latest Census of Agriculture reports
that the number of farmers ages 35 and younger is increasing, only the second time that has happened since 1900.
Nearly 70% of the new breed of young farmers have college degrees—far higher than the 40% of the population
who has graduated from college. Younger, smarter farmers
will bring us into a new era of agriculture and food safety.
Most of the lettuces sold in the U.S. are shipped from
California. The bagged lettuce you buy in Manhattan had
to travel 3,000 miles, hopefully in a truck that was immaculate and under the proper temperature.
Vertical indoor farming is more efficient, bringing more
farms closer to where people live, reducing expense and
environmental impact. In Los Angeles, Local Roots is the
first vertical farm to have mass retail distribution in 40
Walmart stores in California. AeroFarms’ Dream Greens
Why Grocers Need
brand of baby greens enjoys retail and foodservice distri-
bution in the New York metro area and is looking to expand
beyond its Newark, N.J., farm with another in New Jersey.
Under construction in Linkoping, Sweden, is a 16-story
multiuse building with a farm-to-office ratio of 3-to-1.
Called the Plantagon Greenhouse, this controlled environ-
ment would greatly reduce the risk of contamination. It’s
slated to open in 2020. This farm also is much more energy
efficient: It saves 1,100 tons of CO2 emissions and 13 mil-
lion gallons of water while producing four to six times the
yield as 1 outdoor acre. A similar building could be built in
downtown Manhattan and deliver to that bodega or super-
market just a few miles away. Of course, these types of ver-
tical farm buildings are expensive and take years to build.
Indoor farming is more efficient, with greater and faster
yields that do not require pesticides or herbicides, which is
one more reason I feel strongly that food retailers need to
embrace indoor vertical farming without further delay.
Phil Lempert, also known as
the Supermarket Guru, is a
leading food marketing and
consumer trends analyst for
the grocery and retail sectors.
to Embrace Indoor
It took three months to discover the source of E. coli-
contaminated romaine lettuce that killed five and sickened
consumers in 36 states. There’s a better way. By Phil Lempert
The latest news, analysis and trends from an industry expert
A rendering of the
building being built in