Richard Ha writes:
An article in yesterday’s Honolulu Advertiser caught my eye. The headline was Produce We Eat May Not Be Safer. Its subheading: "Government has failed to increase inspections after deadly outbreak."
Coincidentally, we just had our Food Safety inspection two weeks ago by Craig Bowden of Davis Fresh. We passed the inspection and Craig told us he is pleased that we continue to show constant improvement. Nearly five years ago we were one of the first producers in the state to voluntarily participate in an independent, third-party Food Safety Certification program.
A few months back, when CNN ran a special about the deadly E. coli outbreak in spinach, we wrote a post explaining what we do to prevent disease at Hamakua Springs. We planned our production systems from the beginning to prevent these problems from happening. We feel confident that we are on the right track.
Leafy greens are especially vulnerable to disease because, unlike with some other vegetables, people actually eat the leaves. The plant grows low to the ground and is vulnerable to contamination from rain splattering off contaminated soil, flooding, or improperly treated compost. It is also vulnerable to contaminated spray water, employee sanitation problems, sickness, rodents and more.
Large bagged salad processors “mow” the lettuce, catch leaves and move them along conveyors in the packing house, where the product tumbles through a sanitation process—but there is no way to decontaminate leafy green in the packing house once they’ve been contaminated in the field. Worse, the packing house process actually serves to mix and spread the contamination. So it is most important to have safe field operations.
At Hamakua Springs, our hydroponic operations always begin with chlorine-treated water. After we treat the water, we measure it for E. coli colony forming units (CFU), and we have always found it to be zero.
After that we plant. The plants get their nutrients from this treated water. Since we grow our produce hydroponically (without soil) in covered houses, there is no risk from rain splattering the plants or contaminated spray water. We address other possible contamination issues as a part of our food safety program. We are very comfortable with our safety methods and you can be, too.
Although we hope we don’t hear about any more E. coli-contaminated lettuce on the Mainland, we will not be surprised if it happens again.