Aquaponic Gardening

A Community and Forum For Aquaponic Gardeners

The recent outbreak of e coli in Europe has many people here extremely worried. As the body count increases I am becoming worried too. How will this affect us? Well, I have seen a dramatic drop in sales lately. This is in part due to many of my regular customers returning to Alaska and other northern latitudes for the summer. I do believe the scare is slowing my sales too. I am having a hard time getting new customers with the bad publicity on lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Even though the outbreak is on the opposite side of the planet there is fear here.

Now more than ever it is important for us to come up with some food safety guidelines for the growing aquaponic industry. These guidelines need to be based on science not blanket rules that do not apply to aquaponics. If we do not do this on our own I fear that food safety regulations that are influenced by agribusiness will squash aquaponics by hyping the fact that have fish feces in our systems.

Recently Friendly Aquaponics lost their Costco account because a leading food safety company has changed their stance on aquaponics. The food safety company no longer consider aquaponics safe because of fish manure in the system. The fact that cold blooded animals do not carry or transmit e coli seems to be irrelevant. I have watched Tim and Susanne drink system water on a regular basis for more than a year and a half and they have never had a problem. I have drank system water as well and I have never gotten sick either.

I know a local coffee farmer who had a similar problem based on regulations that should not apply to his crop. Here is a quote from him:"I was appalled by the news that the Food Safety folks had put the hurts to you(Friendly Aquaponics) by in effect knocking you out of Costco for the time being. On a much smaller scale I was forced to build a "coffee roasting facility" last year because the organic folks elected to enforce a law that really shouldn't apply to coffee at all. Also they dinged me two years ago because I used a manure containing (organically certified) fertilizer within 120 days of harvest. The fertilizer  was on the ground for a crop that is picked off a tree, skin removed, dried in the sun, parchment milled off, roasted to 450F, then boiled/steamed by the customer. Go figure."

The upcoming aquaponics conference could be a good time for the players in commercial to get together, discuss, and adopt guidelines for aquaponics safety.

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If it affects business (as it appears to be doing!) it is important. We have a wonderful solution in Aquaponics, the last thing we need is to be knocked out by misconceptions and falsehoods. When it comes to food and what people eat, you don't get a second chance. In my community here, about 20 years ago we had a fraternal group with a good reputation open a community center/bar/restaurant. It was immediately popular because of the fraternal group's efforts and reputation. A couple of years after it opened there was a case of salmonella poisoning which resulted in the center being ticketed by the food inspection department. Word spread fast and business fell off drastically. They really never recovered and before long the place closed and was sold eventually to a nursing home concern that converted it into a rehab center. People do not take chances with food and their lives or their family's.

Even if the facts are that cold blooded animals do not carry or transmit e coli, if the industry has such rumors become active, it can cause irreversible damage in our public relations. Perhaps an effort should be made to contain such nonsense now before it becomes too late.

The BBC's Steve Evans spoke to Professor Reinhard Burger, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (which monitors the infection in Germany), who said he was ''very sorry'' for Spanish farmers who were first thought to be at the centre of the outbreak (but which is now known to NOT have been the case). The damage is probably done to those farmers. (Though most folks that I've spoken with, in France, Germany as well as here in Serbia seem to feel that some "MegaCorp" meat producer is most likely to blame for the recent outbreak of the new variant of the rare strain O104 E.coli. In which case Professor Burger's statement that "we may never know the source" of the outbreak, might probably come to be true). 

Sorry to hear that this may be affecting your sales Chris, and its a real bummer to hear about Costco and Friendly Aquaponics. Could this have anything to do with the fact that the USDA (as idiotic as it may seem), lumps fish into the category of "livestock", along with cattle, pig, sheep etc...? (And all the subsequent laws governing composting of said "livestocks" manure...needs to be a certain super hot temperature etc)... How on earth does one go about remedying something like that? 

I'm sure the "Food Safety" guy is probably saying that he is just following standards set forth in the guidelines that govern his job...which in this case is based on a very,, silly oversight (either that, or the people setting forth those standards have no business being in the profession that they are in. It would seem that in this case some of the existing guidelines (laws) need to be reigned in and brought back into the fold of reason, sound science, and what most folks probably thought was common knowledge (unless of course you work for the USDA). 

Remember that much of the governance of food safety here is done by bureaucracy not scientists.
Well TC, that seems to be a good reason for the aquaponics industry to take a very strong lead in developing a strong self-regulatory system. Bureaucrats are much more willing to allow for self-regulation if it is stronger than what they are proposing, even if it does have differences, if those differences are science-based.
Do we have any scientists with specialization in food borne illness that we can recruit to our conference and cause?
Hey Chris, wow, we haven't yet experienced any down turn in sales as a result of the e-coli scare, but your concerns are absolutely most warranted.  I agree we need to develop some safe practices and certification for our growing industry.  Something like a preemptive strike before an issue really develops.  I just posted another comment regarding this very thing on another discussion on the site.  Please see my relpy at  about our hopes for creating a certifcation process and how the conference will be a launching pad to do just that.  Hope you will be able to join us here in Florida.  Will be great to see you again!

On second thought, its easier if I just paste the other response here which was a reply to a discussion regarding Certified Naturally Grown posted by Dave Hart.  Here it is: 


Hey Dave, we have researched this a little too.  Although it is not 'organic' certification, it would still be nice to have some kind of certification or stamp of approval so to speak.  The conference we are working on producing will be the launching point more or less for the non-profit organization we will be creating called the Aquaponics Association.  With this association, we hope to eventually create an aquaponics certification that would be something like the process for O cert, but that is specifically for ap farms.  Our thoughts on this is that there wouldn't be any rules and regs for ap farms, just an optional, reasonably attainable certification that would insure that only NSF materials are used and safe practices employed that will help build consumer confidence in AP products.  Of course it will take some time to facilitate and we hope to have a good respresentative sampling of individuals willing to help create it.  Along with this there will have to be quite the marketing campaign to bring about consumer awareness, and that is where grants will have to come into play for funding.  I hope you plan on attending the conference.  One of the Sunday am sessions will be just for discussing the new association.

Locally grown is locally accountable.  Spend any amount of time researching the issue and you will encounter the terms "factory farms" or "processing facilities".  Unfortunately, there will always be bad farmers that ignore food safety and cause problems.  If you put a bad farmer in charge of a mega-facility, the world will see the results on CNN.  We can take this opportunity to invite our communities to "know the grower".

The times they are a changing, yes food safety is not enforced or evaluated by scientists. Im one of those people, I work for USDA FSIS. The Best advice I can give is to know what regulations cover your products. Next develop a HACCP Plan to cover all of your products. E-coli is not in cold blooded animals; so, It is not a hazard likely to occur, I know that and you know that, but it will not be accepted by any certifying agency unless you have a peer accepted document to show this, from a university or other scientific document. The 2nd way acomplish this is to test your water. In the Haccp plan I’m writing -is to sanitize the water before cycling, then cycle the water and add fish. After the fish are added test the water on a monthly basis for generic E-coli and salmonella, after a year decrease the testing time frame because now you have historical data showing no E-Coli or salmonella. Also any added water would have to be sanitized and then added to the system. Now one more thing all fish are not covered under the same rules, Catfish are under the authority of USDA, FSIS and the rest are under FDA.


I'm personally not into the whole Ideal of "sterilization" and I definitely don't like the idea of sanitizing using chemicals but...


This might be one situation where something like UV sterilization might be appropriate.  To a large extent the bacteria in an aquaponics system are not motile and they will be attached to surfaces and most of them will be safe from a UV sterilizer that is having system water pumped through it and the UV can help keep things like e.coli and/or salmonella under control in a commercial situation.  Though the fish don't catch either of these diseases, if the system gets contaminated by outside sources (like human skin) the bacteria can survive in a system quite nicely.  Now most of the e. coli that is all over most of us humans in small quantities is not the kind to make people ill in low doses but it is a kind that will cause the tests to be positive.  And though fish don't get/carry e. coli or salmonella, if it is present in the water in high enough quantity, it will be on their skin too.  Now usually a big issue with freshwater fish since they are normally cooked before consumption which kills those pathogens but many of the veggies in an aquaponics system are commonly not cooked so it is best to avoid contamination.


And where confidence is not high for the bio-security and the system is being used to feed the public, perhaps UV sterilization might be the appropriate measure.


Biggest problem here is UV sterilization is yet another flow rate dependent thing to calculate to make sure it will actually be effective and it's an added cost to an already tight budget for most commercial operations.

I think sterilization would only be necessary for new 'make-up' water added to the would not have to continue sterilization on an ongoing basis.  As long as you do not introduce contaminates your initially sterile system should still be free of pathogens.

I think my point is that avoiding introducing contaminates may be really difficult.  All us humans have e. coli on our skin to some extent and it may be nearly impossible to avoid contamination with the relatively harmless e. coli which will still none the less cause the generic testing to show positive.


And an outdoor system that is not in a completely bio-secure environment might not be able to guarantee that a bird or frog or other wildlife can't bring a contaminant in.


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