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Family and Consumer Sciences

Ohio State University Extension


Researcher works to stop pathogens growing in your salad

Aug. 7, 2023
Researcher works to stop pathogens growing in your salad

By Robin Chenoweth

Across Ohio and the nation, thousands of warehouses and greenhouses glow with LED and high-pressure sodium lights. Vegetables suspended on platforms dangle webs of roots into water fortified with nutrients. Stacked vertically or sometimes stretched across acres-wide greenhouses, the systems grow leafy greens, tomatoes and other crops without a modicum of soil, like futuristic space farms in sci-fi flicks.

But hydroponic growers have been around for decades. In 2023, about 2,290 hydroponic crop-growing businesses operate in the United States, employing thousands of workers and supplying locally grown produce to millions. Chances are, at least part of the restaurant salad you munched on for lunch, or the herbs you bought at the grocery, were grown indoors using hydroponic technology.

“Hydroponic production has really taken off,” said Sanja Ilic, associate professor of human nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology, and state specialist for OSU Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences. “Just in Ohio, we have a number of new producers from small greenhouse facilities all the way up to really large leafy green producers.”

Consumers might think that — minus the soil and outdoor exposure — hydroponic crops are not at risk for being contaminated by pathogens such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli. But that’s not the case, said Ilic, who has done multiple studies on food safety. This fall, she will begin a nearly $1 million study on reducing food-safety risks for hydroponically grown leafy greens. [Read more...]