click image to zoomCourtesy Mississippi State UniversityThese 8-month-old hydroponic tomato vines are 30 feet long and producing close to 4,000 pounds of tomatoes per week at St. Bethany Fresh farm in Pontotoc County, Miss. As greenhouse vegetable production grows in popularity, so does the need for improved safety.
Louisiana State University plant pathologist Melanie Lewis Ivey is studying how diseases enter greenhouses and cost-effective prevention methods, according to a news release.
Ivey, who is tied into LSU's AgCenter, is collaborating with Ohio State University colleagues on a project funded by a $2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. The AgCenter's portion is $130,000.
The researchers' goal is to identify the entry points for high-risk pathogens and develop best practices to reduce the chances of entry.
Ivey also hopes to find out whether plant pathogens and human pathogens enter systems at similar points.
The project includes both small and large greenhouses, so researchers can determine how risk levels vary by size of operation.
So far, researchers have identified Salmonella and Listeria in greenhouses.
Because implementing food safety improvements can be costly, some growers choose not to do so.
Larger operations that sell globally tend to take more safety precautions because of international regulations, according to the release. Even then, compliance can be difficult.
Ivey is developing a guide that will help greenhouse producers with best practices for plant diseases and food safety management.
Among those are buying clean seed, choosing disease-resistant varieties, equipment sanitation, water treatment and good worker hygiene.