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Our tests of prepackaged salads reveal bacterial contamination

Consumer Reports News: April 13, 2010 05:08 AM

Before you serve up bagged salad to your family, read on. Though you might think that "pre­washed" and "triple-washed" salad greens sold in plastic clamshells or bags are squeaky clean, our recent tests found room for improvement. No, we didn't find pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, listeria, or salmonella. But in our samples, all of which were within their use-by date, we did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination—in some cases, at rather high levels.

Results varied widely among samples, even within the same brand. But packages with higher bacteria levels had similarities. Many contained spinach and were one to five days from their use-by date. Packages six to eight days from their use-by date fared better. Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included "baby" greens, or were organic made no difference. (Learn more about keeping baby's food safe.)

What can you do right now?

  • Buy packages as far from their use-by date as you can find.
  • Even if the bag says "prewashed" or "triple-washed," wash the greens yourself. Rinsing won't remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil.
  • Prevent cross contamination by keeping greens away from raw meat.

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, supports Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, that would, among other things, require the Food and Drug Administration to set stronger produce safety standards. Those should include performance standards for indicators of fecal contamination, such as generic E. coli and enterococcus. (Get more information at www.ConsumersUnion.org/safefood.)

Read the full report in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports. Learn more in our bagged salad video.

Aaron Bailey


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