ROCHELLE – Amid a national romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli exposure, one local growing company is using state-of-the-art technology and growing techniques to ensure their product is safe for consumers to eat.
BrightFarms is a major grower of Romaine lettuce as well as other greens with four different locations throughout the country including one in Rochelle. Before learning why BrightFarms greens are safer than other lettuce offered in stores, let’s first discuss the traditional method of growing lettuce used by most companies throughout the country.
Most lettuce grown in the United States comes from one of two places: Salina Valley, California, or Yuma, Arizona, and is grown outdoors in huge fields. Being grown outdoors, the lettuce is exposed to many different pathogens such as E. Coli. Animals are able to go through and fly over the fields and can leave their waste behind, possibly contaminating the lettuce.
While animals can leave different pathogens behind, the suspected main source of contamination is through the grower’s irrigations systems.
“They are pulling their water from surface water like ponds and streams, and as you can imagine that water can also carry pathogens from animals either in the wild or nearby cattle factories,” explained Jackie Hawkins, senior manager of food safety for BrightFarms.
Once the growers harvest their lettuce they then mix it with lettuce harvested from other farms, which also increases the risk for contamination.
While other farms use the traditional field method of growing and harvesting lettuce, Rochelle’s BrightFarms is using an entirely different system which has dramatically less risk of contamination. BrightFarms grows lettuce only indoors, using a hydroponic system that protects the lettuce from the environment and does not require the use of soil or manure.
The hydroponic system that grows the lettuce begins with clean drinking water, the same water that runs through the homes in Rochelle.
“We use drinking water to irrigate our lettuce, it is completely treated and not only that, we further treat it when it enters our facility,” added Hawkins. “Not only is the water coming from a municipal facility but we also choose to test our water, so we know that water is clean.”
The lettuce from BrightFarms is grown, harvested, and packaged all in the same facility and then sent directly to be put on store shelves, eliminating the need for a middle man.
While the lettuce grown at BrightFarms is safe during the E. Coli outbreak it is also more nutritious, has a better shelf life and is up to a week fresher since it is grown locally.
BrightFarms lettuce is available in many different retailers throughout the country such as: Hy-Vee, Sullivan’s Grocery, Mariano’s grocery, Pick and Save, Metro Market and Roundy’s Supermarkets. Consumers can identify that the lettuce was grown at BrightFarms by looking for the BrightFarms label as well as a picture of the state of Illinois and the writing “Grown in Rochelle.”
BrightFarms offers its consumers four tips when purchasing lettuce during and after the outbreak to ensure their product is safe to eat.
“First, is to identify the growing region on the package, the more detail such as city and state is better. Second, look for hydroponic lettuce grown indoors, this way the lettuce is protected from animals, weather elements and is grown without the use of soil or manure,” added Hawkins. “Third, is to learn more about how your food was grown and the mechanisms to keep you safe, this can be done by calling the company and asking them what food safety practices they have in place, and finally, sign up to receive updates from the FDA on recalls.”
To sign up for updates from the FDA, visit their website at www.fda.gov, click on the recall link and provide an email for them to contact you through.