Leafy greens are supposed to be good for us.  But a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study found that between 1998 and 2008, salad greens were associated with more food poisoning cases than any other type of food.  In 2016, Consumer Reports tested 208 bags of “triple washed” salad greens and found common food poisoning bacteria in one third of the bags.   Romaine lettuce was gone from store shelves for many months over repeated E.coli outbreaks, and now Fresh Express is recalling thousands of bags of salad from the US and Canada over a Cyclospora outbreak.  What’s going on?

Food producers claim they take all the measures possible to keep us safe.   But they are not very forthcoming on exactly how they do that.  A reporter with Slate magazine tried to get to the bottom of the “triple washed” claim.  Only two of the producers, Earthbound Farms and Ready Pac were willing to answer any of his questions, and then they didn’t provide any details.  Dole and Trader Joe’s refused to discuss their practices at all.  “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to participate with input for your article,” was the answer from Dole.    All you have to do is look at all the recalls over the last few years and it’s clear the process of providing safe food isn’t as thorough as it should be.  So, should you rewash pre-washed greens?

Most experts say no.  Even the FDA doesn’t recommend you rewash them.   If they have so many problems, why not?  The answer is simple.  Because you’re more likely to contaminate the greens yourself.  Few people follow strict food safety procedures at home.  And study after study has found a home’s kitchen surfaces are covered in bacteria.   And pathogens that survive the cleaning process at the packing facilities aren’t going to be removed by a quick rinse at home.  The only way to reliably reduce the danger is by cooking the greens—and destroying your salad.

If you want a nice, healthy salad, buy unwashed greens yourself.  Wash your hands well before you begin washing the greens thoroughly.  Only use cutting boards and knives dedicated to their use—don’t use the same tools for preparing meat or poultry as you do for produce.  Clean your hands, surfaces, knives, and cutting boards between each ingredient you prepare.  And don’t handle other items like condiment shakers, dishes, or other kitchen utensils while preparing the ingredients.   Sounds like a lot of trouble?  Maybe.  But if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll find it worth it.

lettuce field