Prewashed Salads May Still Need Cleaning

Posted Sun, 03/14/2010 - 5:37pm by Fred Lee

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Eating right can be a challenge, especially when you consider the hectic and busy lifestyles that many of us lead. As a result, convenience becomes a major issue when we prepare meals, and when it comes to getting some healthy foods in our diet, it’s hard to beat a nice dinner salad for its simplicity and enjoyment. This is especially true in light of the explosion of ready to eat greens that line the supermarket shelves. Just tear open the bag and enjoy, right?

<>Well, it turns out that the convenience of these salads may come with certain costs. A recent article in Consumer Reports has reported that after testing hundreds of packages of some of the major brands of prepackaged salads, high levels of coliform bacteria were found in 39% of the samples taken, while high levels of enterococcus were found in 23% of the samples. According to the tests, none of the packages contained the pathogenic strains E. coli and salmonella.

Coliform bacteria and enterococcus are not pathogenic in and of themselves, and are found naturally in the soil and in our intestinal tracts. They are used more to indicate circumstances that are less than ideal. In other words, since they occur in the soil, when food is properly washed, the coliform bacteria should be removed. Detection of coliform indicates inadequate washing, and by extension, the possibility that more dangerous bacteria might be present, as well, including those associated with fecal contamination.

Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter if the greens were organic or not. In fact, organic produce was just as likely to have high levels of the indicator bacteria as non-organic products. It is important to keep in mind that coliform bacteria can be found in virtually all produce sold in the market, and do not themselves make people sick. However, their prevalence does highlight the importance of washing your food before eating it, even if it says it is pre-washed and ready to eat.

The reason for this is because bacteria can be introduced at various stages of the packaging process, including through human handling, unsanitary equipment, contaminated water, and even through the process of transporting and storing the food. Bacteria, after all, can still survive and grow in a refrigerator.

The findings are particularly relevant in light of lack of attention that is paid to fresh vegetable, with most of the focus going to meat and dairy products. So, with this in mind, consumers are encouraged to wash all fruits and vegetables before they eat them, including the ready to eat variety. This will also help to remove any pesticide residues.

Additional steps that can be taken include paying attention to the package expiration dates, and keeping fruits and vegetables that are to be eaten raw away from raw meats.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 76 million cases food borne illnesses occur in this country every year, and many more go unreported. Of these cases, over 320,000 people are hospitalized, and nearly 5000 die from food poisoning.

For more information about food borne diseases and what you can do to prevent them, visit the website for the CDC.

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