It’s time to go back to making salads the old-fashioned way. It takes a little more work, but after the umpteenth outbreak of food poisoning from bags of freshly washed greenery, I think it’s time we all stop eating bagged salads.
When pre-washed, bagged salad mixes were introduced to the grocery store, it resulted in more people eating salads at home. It is so easy! Just open the bag and pour the salad into a bowl and you are done. You don’t need to wash, dry or cut the greens, which takes time. Or so we thought…
According to a 2015 government report, fruit and vegetables are the #1 source of Listeria and Salmonella food poisoning, and a close #2 (sorry) for E. coli. But there’s something about bagged lettuce that makes it worse than your average vegetable. Emily Bazelon explains, writing at Slate in the aftermath of an earlier E. coli outbreak:
To produce the bags, processing plants take greens from different farms, put them through three different chlorinated baths, dry and seal them in plastic, and then ship them to a market near you. The chlorination doesn’t get rid of E. coli: To do that, you need to heat the leaves and treat them with an organic acid, which would probably make them go limp. So, by mixing greens from different farms without treating them for contamination, the processing of bagged spinach spreads E. coli once it’s present in a particular field.
Here’s what the Food Poisoning Bulletin stated about the batch of lettuce in question and where it ended up:
“The salads have been known to have been distributed to the following states, but there may have been further distribution to other states. The states that received the salads include, but are not limited to: Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The salads were sold at Giant, Kroger, ALDI, Price Chopper, Walmart, Fred Meyer, Schnucks, Meijer, ShopRite, Stop n Shop, Food 4 Less, Jay C, FoodsCo, PriceRite and other stores.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this more than a good reason to switch back to preparing my salads on my own!
If you want to avoid the chlorine all together, it seems that the only way to do that is either by growing your own produce, or talking with your local farmers at a market. Even local farmers have been known to use this chlorine rinse, so it’s always best to ask!