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March 14, 2019

Is pre-washed lettuce actually safe to eat as is?

The answer is: kinda ...

Wellness Food Safety
pre-washed salad safety Lulucmy/Unsplash

People were stoked when pre-packaged lettuce began lining grocery shelves. The pre-washed and, oftentimes, pre-cut bags and containers made prepping a healthy meal that much easier.

Despite being a great convenience, these pre-packaged greens became a point of contamination and infection  after being touched more during processing — and that’s how disease spreads.

Sure, some of these bags may say “triple washed" — and you might think: I don't even do that at home! — but according to Popsugar, these items may not be all that clean or safe to eat.

Registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, told Popsugar that she recommends washing all produce, including those with peels you don't eat like avocados, to get rid of germs, bacteria and pesticides. She also said, "I recommend rewashing packaged greens that have been washed. I have found dirt and even bugs before in my pre-washed greens, as I am sure lots of other people have found, too."


RELATED READ: Experts think we should drop the 'antibacterial' outlook on life


Not everyone agrees however. “If the bag says the greens have been washed, pre-washed, triple washed, ready to eat, or has any other indication that it’s already been washed, you’re better off not rinsing it again,” Sandria Godwin, Ph.D., consumer food safety researcher and professor in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences at Tennessee State University, tells Men’s Health

And for the third, and arguably most important opinion on the matter, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) follows what the FDA recommends, which is to wash and dry all raw fruits and veggies before consuming. As for pre-washed produce that says it's "ready to eat," including greens, carrots, and sprouts, the FDA said "you can use the produce without further washing," but "if you choose to wash produce marked as 'pre-washed' or 'ready-to-eat,' be sure that it does not come in contact with unclean surfaces or utensils. This will help to avoid cross contamination."

If you open the packaged greens and start handling it yourself, the greens can come in contact with organisms on your skin, countertops or sink, which can increase your risk of ingesting bacteria or germs that lead to illness. In fact, according to Men’s Health, you’re better off not touching the salad at all — just pour it directly out of the bag and into your bowl. 

The FDA also notes that, "washing may reduce bacteria that may be present, but it will not eliminate it." So if you're worried about the various bacteria and other contaminants on your veggies, it sounds like you can't go wrong with a little extra washing.

Just make sure your hands are washed before handling any produce and that your utensils and cutting board are also clean. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas, and if a fruit or veggie looks or smells funky, it's best to throw it out.

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