Eating healthy on the go is a little easier these days especially when grocery stores offer conveniences in the form of prepared meals, chopped veggies and pre-packaged salads ready to serve. Who hasn’t been a fan of the delectable roasted chicken options located only steps away from the check out registers and that cherished ceaser salad bag ready to go for a quick meal after a long day at work?
Salad lovers, you’re going to want to have a seat after you learn the cold hard truth about what could be lurking in your greens. The option of skipping the dreadful tasks of peeling and washing your greens before creating a die-hard entre may now include a little extra effort given the recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in pre-packaged lettuce.
In late August, Dole voluntarily recalled 1,039 cases of its bagged salads due to a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause foodborne illness in a person who eats a food item contaminated with it. Shortly thereafter, Fresh Express Hearts of Romaine recalled 8,000 cases of their products in grocery store produce. Symptoms of being infected by such an organism may include fever, muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. Those with weakened immune systems, primarily pregnant women and adults can be greatly impacted by Listeria monocytogenes.
Believing the marketing hype on your favorite go-to bagged lettuce won’t necessarily save you a trip to food illness hell either. Those pre, triple and quadruple washed bags are still potential culprits of carrying potential bacteria that’ll send you running to the store for Pedialyte and a box of saltines.
In 2010, Consumer Reports Magazine tested 208 packages representing 16 brands finding that most of the bacteria discovered in these contaminated products were indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination at high levels.
Recently, brands have been cracking down to identify additional safety measures of their products but buyer beware. No one ever said living the healthy lifestyle would be an easy feat. While you might consider the switch back to traditional bulk lettuce you won’t find much comfort in knowing that those stalks, much like most of the produce we purchase at the store, can also carry high levels of bacteria. It’s the price we pay for having our food grown, picked, shipped and brought to our neighborhood grocer.
Despite the doom and gloom of the recent lettuce safety epidemic, all is not lost or forsaken with your grab-and-go salad habit. Whether you decide to buy bulked or stick to the convenience of bagged lettuce, you’ll do well to avoid contamination by thoroughly cleaning your lettuce produce before putting it on your plate. Follow these proper lettuce care rules for a clean, safe and healthy experience:
- Pay attention to sell by dates and try to purchase pre-packaged bags with the furthest sell by date possible.
- Make sure your bagged lettuce is as cold as possible in the produce isle. Warm lettuce is a breeding ground for bacteria. Keep it cold by sticking it in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
- Before eating, whether bagged or bulk, wash your lettuce in a sink that has been thoroughly cleaned to avoid cross contamination. Invest in quality vegetable washes like SoyFresh All Natural Vegetable Wash, Veggie Wash, and Eat Cleaner that are antimicrobial and help to remove pesticides and other chemicals.
- With bulk lettuce, break off each lettuce leaf individually and rinse them under cold running water while rubbing gently with a wash. Dry your lettuce in a salad spinner or with paper towels and allow them to dry. Avoid drying with cloth towels which could transmit bacteria.
Do you prefer bagged or bulk lettuce?