WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A spate of foodborne illnesses in leafy greens and other produce in recent years has sickened consumers and disrupted growers and supply chains. It’s been thought that hydroponic and aquaponic systems could reduce these issues since there is little opportunity for pathogens like E. coli to contaminate the edible parts of plants.
A Purdue University study, however, has found the presence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) – the same bacteria that have made consumers of several produce products ill – in hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems. Hye-Ji Kim, an assistant professor of horticulture and the study’s corresponding author, said the findings suggest growers using these systems should be careful in handling and harvesting to avoid contamination.
“Many people think that there is no chance that E. coli could be present in these systems and that risk of contamination is low,” said Kim, whose results were published in the journal Horticulturae. “Our findings suggest there is some potential for food safety concerns. We’re not saying that these foods are unsafe, but that it’s important to handle these plants properly and carefully.”.
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