What’s So Bad (or Good) About Pre-Washed Greens?

What’s So Bad (or Good) About Pre-Washed Greens?

Been to an emergency room lately? I hope not but if you have, you’ve likely notice those dispensers on every wall for antibacterial wipes. I had a little read of the label last time I happened to find myself with time to kill in emerg. and these things are no joke! They kill HIV, hepatitis and all other manner of nasty bacteria and germs that lurk on surfaces. I was thisclose to grabbing one to wipe my hands with before the boyfriend suggested I read further. Oh yeah, you’re also supposed to wear gloves and a mask and try not to let the wipe touch your skin lest it melt your face off. Is it wrong that I was still tempted? So, yes my name is Kathy and I am a germophobe.

So I never, ever buy bagged salads or pre-cut fruit plates. I feel like I have no way of knowing how well washed anything was and I imagine the knife used to cut the watermelon was previously used to cut raw chicken and maybe dig a splinter out of someone’s hand. But produce accounts for about 14% of all food borne illness according to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and it’s not all the fault of those conveniently washed and bagged greens.

According to www.everydayhealth.com there have been “six separate recalls of bagged lettuce since April” of this year. At first glance, that might seem to justify fears about choosing bagged or pre-cut over bulk produce. But the article goes on to quote Dr. Ken Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Centre at North Shore University Hospital who says, “I wouldn’t make much of a distinction between them in terms of food safety. They should both be approached by consumers as generally safe items that require thorough washing before use”. And Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the NYU Langone Medical Centre actually “prefers the bagged lettuce because it is generally pre-washed-and he washes it again at home”.

Ok, that makes sense. You can buy the pre-washed and consider it a “bonus” wash in addition to the one you do at home. So, wouldn’t it just be better to buy the loose produce (which is often less expensive)? Well..the definitive answer is maybe. That’s because “bagged greens (and other pre-cut and wrapped produce) –once it hits the supermarket-likely has fewer bacteria than loose, as it is washed and customers…haven’t been handling it”. Dirty, dirty customers… not you… them!

Keep in mind, many pre-washed greens have been hit with a cycle of chlorine in the process. And one expert, Robert Tauxe of the Centres for Disease Control, says, “it’s tough to get bacteria off greens. Those germs are very sticky. This triple washed stuff that comes out of the bag—if it’s got contamination on it, there’s no way to wash it off, even if you use bleach or detergent.” Um, no way? So, should we abandon greens altogether? Not likely. While greens are the top offender on produce germs, they’re also full of important nutrition. Listeria is the prime culprit in the most recent recalls and “triple washing usually kills about 90% of the potential organisms” according to Tierno.

Here are Dr. Tierno’s tips:

  • Wash your hands and all surfaces with soap and water before and after washing and preparing produce
  • Never put produce in the kitchen sink… it’s nasty in there!
  • And, though it’s a little off topic, wash ALL produce, even the stuff you’re going to peel. Slicing into an unwashed melon or lemon will drag any contaminants through the fruit.
  • Consider stocking up on the emergency room wipes (ok, that last one is my tip!)

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