Most bagged salads that you find at the supermarket have words on the packaging that read "Pre-washed" or, even better, "Thoroughly Washed." But don't fall prey to this reassuring marketing tactic: Though they may be "clean" in one sense, packaged salads -- like any fresh produce -- are at risk of being contaminated with a dangerous food-borne illness.
In fact, packaged salads have been recalled several times in recent years in connection with outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The most recent recall involves more than 3,000 cases of various bagged salad blends from Taylor Farms Retail Inc. that were distributed in 15 states and have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. (For a complete list of the bagged salad brands involved in the recall, check the FDA's website here.)
So if bagged salads are so "dirty," then why in the world do we continue to eat them?
Because they're so convenient, of course! Think about it: Procuring a whole head of lettuce, putting it in the fridge, remembering it's even in there, then washing, drying, and cutting it all up for a salad ... who has the time? We'd rather pay double the price (and sometime even more) to have someone do most of those tasks for us. No matter if we're putting ourselves at risk for food poisoning.
And, to be fair, there's supposedly no proof that bagged salads have a higher risk of illness than a head of lettuce. True, some scientists including ones at the Center for Science in the Public Interest argue that bagged salads are more risky because contaminated leaves can spread bacteria to thousands of other leaves during washing and packaging.
But a spokesperson for FDA pooh-poohed this theory, saying that there's no evidence that bagged salad is any more or less risky than a whole head of lettuce. Eating any lettuce can be risky business because -- like any fresh fruit or vegetable that grows outdoors and close to the ground -- it's particularly susceptible to deadly pathogens like listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. Moreover, cutting fresh produce increases the risk of bacterial growth and contamination by breaking the natural exterior barrier of the produce -- it makes no difference if there's a bag involved or not.
Sheesh. With news as depressing at that, it's little wonder people are skipping salad altogether and eating fries instead.
Image via catsper/Flickr