The idea of fresh naturally grown food— like food you can grow hydroponically— sounds safer and healthier than most food at the grocery store. But it’s only true if it’s grown in accordance with hydroponic crop safety and compliance standards in a greenhouse: including standards for hygiene, cleanliness, sanitation, employee training, and more.
If you’re a hydroponic greenhouse grower and you market your food as being fresher and healthier than conventionally grown, here are some standards to follow to make sure you’re getting the “healthier” part right— and ensuring your hydroponics are grown, processed, handled, and packaged not just for the safety of the public, but for the longevity of your operation as well.
Keep equipment clean and sanitized
All surfaces and equipment should be regularly cleaned, including surfaces, cleaning tools, equipment, apparel, sinks, tables, and more. This is to prevent any possible pathogens from touching hydroponic crops, food products, or bringing illness to employees or customers.
While all parts of your facilities should be cleaned regularly, it is of utmost importance to clean any surfaces or tools that come into direct contact with the food that you grow and harvest daily— if not multiple times per day. Cleaning and sanitizing can be easily and (for food) safely done with a highly diluted bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution.
Have a handwashing station in place
One of the first things a health inspector will look for in your greenhouse or facility: a handwashing station. If you’re lacking one, it’s one of the first red flags they’ll look out for when giving out violations or citations.
Handwashing stations in your greenhouse (or growing and packing facility) are a must— especially with such a water-dependent setup like hydroponics. Between touching and handling food in any stage, hands should always be washed, and this applies to both you and any of your employees. Whether or not you’re routinely inspected, it’s better than having an operation that gets shut down— and it’s just not worth overlooking.
Keep meticulous records and logs
It may not seem to have anything to do with safety and compliance in a greenhouse. Still, keeping records or logs of everything you grow, harvest, clean, pack, and distribute can protect your business and keep your hydroponic greenhouse business accountable in case of outbreaks.
While regular inspections catch on-site violations, mistakes can still happen. What if you follow food safety, health, and violation codes to a T, and a distributor traces a pathogen or illness breakout to your greenhouse or facility?
If you have proper records and logs in order, a clean and sanitized hydroponics system won’t be the only thing that protects you from pathogens— the right records will too, and you can prove it.
Treat, maintain, and flush lines regularly
Hydroponic tubing holds water often and on a consistent basis. It can also be a magnet for dangerous and health hazardous pathogens. These microbe-attracting environments thus need to be cleaned, sanitized, and sterilized routinely to keep these disease vectors from affecting your customers— and in many cases, even your hydroponic crops themselves.
Cleaning and sanitizing can be done daily with help from food-safe cleaning solutions in dilute amounts added to the water in your hydroponic system. Still, daily sanitizing is not enough: every once in a while your system will need to be disassembled, sterilized, scrubbed, and deep–cleaned in order to keep it truly safe and compliant.
Keep employees trained, informed, and responsible
It’s one thing if the boss or manager knows all cleaning and safety rules. But to truly adhere to hydroponic crop safety and compliance in a greenhouse, you need to make sure employees are on the same page with cleanliness, too.
Compliance to safety and cleanliness standards should be part of all training of new and established personnel: including pre- and post-work cleaning and sanitizing, handwashing habits, good hygiene, and the right cleaning attire and wear.
Test your water source for pathogens
Even before testing your water source for growing hydroponically in a greenhouse, it should also be filtered, treated, screened, or potentially all three of these to ensure purity and cleanliness while growing. Even then, it’s wise to actually test your water source directly for pathogens that could get people sick: including bacteria, viruses, or amoebae.
This especially applies to rural areas where the water source may be “live” or raw, including wells, spring-fed lines, or open-air water sources (natural or manmade). Though generally speaking, every type of water source (live or not) should be tested regularly.
Even if your hydroponic system runs separately from other water lines, be sure to test all separate water sources too (including the ones that only wash your produce and hands).
Adhere to “Good Agricultural Practices” | GAP
Need somewhere to start when coming up with your own guidelines? Visit the USDA website and model your hydroponic greenhouse safety and compliance standards after their Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
The USDA outlines all bases that must be covered to be compliant and safe as a hydroponic greenhouse business (or any other type of agricultural food production business, for that matter). You can also request a review (audit) of your enterprise to see what you can improve in terms of cleanliness on-site, and even get GAP certified.
Adhere to “Good Handling Practices” | GHP
Good Handling Practices (GHP) are another level of safety and compliance rules you can pursue. These specifically relate to your hydroponic crop product once it is harvested and out of production. These standards enforce hygiene when it comes to the cleaning, processing, packaging, storage, and shipping of your food products.
Combined with GAP, these standards give you the most thorough overall approach to preventing all possible hazards from health-harming pathogens that could negatively impact the public— and which could also have repercussions or harm your hydroponic business, too.
Don’t let any aspect of cleanliness fall through the cracks. The best way to do so is by not letting there be any cracks in the first place!
Having a completely safe, clean, and compliant hydroponic greenhouse business takes a lot of effort and a uniform approach from everyone on your team. But even still, mistakes can happen; in those instances, a greenhouse insurance policy can protect your livelihood and your enterprise in the face of unforeseen accidents.