NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s on the label of almost every bag of lettuce at the grocery store — “prewashed” or “triple washed.”
But with a number of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to prepackaged salads, should you rewash those “prewashed” bags to be on the safe side?
As CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois reported, last summer, hundreds of people in 15 states — including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — got food poisoning from bagged salad mixes that were contaminated with the parasite cyclospora.
Food safety expert Marion Nestle said, for the most part, bagged salads are safe.
“I’ve been to plants where salad greens are prepared,” Nestle said. “They do a really good job in making sure that they’re washed, provided that the groundwater is clean — and that’s where the problem comes in.”
Emily D’Alessandro is among those who love bagged salads because they’re quick and convenient, but she admitted she sometimes wonders just how ready to eat they actually are.
“It feels sometimes gritty,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like if you were to chop up a head of lettuce.”
The potential for cross-contamination exists on large, industrial farms, where animals are raised next to where vegetables are grown.
“That’s what happened in the spinach outbreak of 2007, when spinach was found to be contaminated with E. coli,” Nestle said.
But despite such outbreaks, the Food and Drug Administration, as well as many food safety experts, say there are risks to rewashing prewashed salad at home.
“Maybe you washed or prepared some uncooked chicken or washed something that had been touched by uncooked chicken, and now your sink is contaminated,” said Michelle Clausen-Rosendahl with the Siouxland District Health Department in Iowa. “And if that touches the produce that’s not going to be cooked, you could be introducing other kinds of bacteria.”
Nestle said: “On the one hand, you have people saying don’t rewash salads. On the other hand, I always wash my salads.”
So what’s a confused consumer to do?
“I think it’s a good idea to run a little bit more water over them and then run them through a salad spinner, but that’s just me,” Nestle said.
Experts suggest always keep bagged salad stored in the refrigerator below 40 degrees and eating it before it expires because the longer you keep it, the more bacteria will grow.
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