FDA Spokesperson: Is Bagged Salad Safe To Eat? "No, I Don't Believe It Is."

When NPR asked the FDA “point man” on “all things e. coli” whether bagged salad was safe to eat he replied, “No, I don’t believe it is.” Good enough for us.

Anyway, how hard is it to chop up your own lettuce? It takes what, 5 seconds? Literally? Chop your own lettuce. Thanks, NPR.—MEGHANN MARCO

Safety Questions Linger Over Pre-Washed Greens [NPR]
(Photo: prone to wander)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Parsnip says:

    If you listened to that whole report you would know that they said the only way to keep your greens safe was to cook them.

  2. joeblevins says:

    I would thing that a head of lettuce would be just as bad as the bagged stuff. Same unwashed migrant worker picked the lettuce in each.

  3. gorckat says:

    I hate news sites that feature video or audio stories w/o print versions. My local tv station’s site wjz.com has video for most stories and text for all of them.

    With no speakers at work, and no desire to let the office know what I’m listening to even if I did, I feel shortchanged.

  4. SpyMaster says:

    It never looks very good coming out of the bag anyway, does it?

  5. add_robinson says:

    Yes Meghann, it only takes 5 seconds to chop lettuce. But you should wash it as well, which makes preparing a salad more time consuming. Hence, the reason why people buy bag salad, convience. Or did you forgot that people(myself included) tend to be lazy.

  6. whans2007 says:

    You should always, always, always thoroughly wash all produce regardless prior to eating it (obvious?). On a side note, if you tear your lettuce rather than chopping it, the edges won’t get brown as quickly…

  7. Michael Bauser says:

    A government spokesman telling the truth? Expect the Bush administration to fire him or her sometime in the next week.

  8. Ben Popken says:

    If anyone doesn’t wash their salad before eating it, they’re in for a fun surprise when they chomp down on the crunchy dirt particles that will immediately grind their teeth.

  9. Meg Marco says:

    @Parsnip: Go ahead and boil your salad. Have fun. I figured people would think that advice wasn’t very practical.

  10. nweaver says:

    The problem with bagged salad is the “Jack In The Box” effect which caused the bad E coli outbreak a few years back…

    When its just a single cow being ground up into hamburger, only the people who eat the cow can get infected if contaminated. But when 1000 cows are tossed in a grinder, a single bad cow can infect a whole lot more…

    Its the same on the bagged salad. Rather than a single (possibly but rarely contaminated) plant, you are exposed to hundreds (with mixing/cross contamination, thousands) of (possible but rarely contaminated) plant material.

    EG, assume there is a 1 in a million chance of a plant being contaminated.

    With a whole plant, you have 1 in a million odds of encountering a contaminated plant.

    But with a salad which was exposed to 1000 plants, you have to have ALL of them clean, which means your adds of being exposed to a contaminated plant are 1 – (.999999)^1000, or , or about 1 in a THOUSAND!


  11. formergr says:

    @joeblevins: Ugh, this really annoyed me during the spinach scare–e. coli contamination of produce is not a result of “unwashed” migrant workers (stereotype much?) with poo on their hands!

    It’s because industrial agricultural fields are concentrated in one area, often close to giant cattle operations as well. In the case of the recent spinach outbreak, it was found that runoff containing sewage from a nearby cattle ranch had contaminated water runoff that then flooded onto the spinach fields.

  12. not_seth_brundle says:

    @gorckat: Psst… the “R” in “NPR” doesn’t stand for “Reading.”

  13. mattbrown says:

    I ate some the other week and immediately puked, then i bought more. (seriously) hummm….

  14. AcidReign says:

    …..I buy bagged spinach, and occasionally spring mix. Most of the time, I boil the spinach for about 10 minutes in water, salt, black pepper and olive oil. When I use spinach or spring mix for salads, I grudgingly pour what I plan to use into a collander and spray it with cold water. Probably not washed enough, but as has been mentioned above, I’m lazy. I do put lots of hand-chopped tomato in the salad, so maybe the acid will kill the ecoli. Wishful thinking much? I am not a fan of iceberg lettuce. It’s a waste of good tomatoes and cucumbers, if you ask me.

  15. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    As I am lazy, I tried the whole bagged salad route for a while. I stopped not because I was scared of e coli, but because bagged salad tastes…err…wait, it doesn’t taste. It’s bland, soggy and utterly without any texture. So I went back to chopping…and liking salads.

    Re: to help prevent brown edges – wash and dry your chopped lettuce and place into large plastic storage bag. Tuck a paper towel over the top of the lettuce. Zip bag 3/4 way shut. Starting at the bottom of the bag, gently squeeze or roll out all the air. Zip bag all the way shut. Lettuce should remain crisp and last a week or more if you do this every time you reopen the bag.

  16. hemaphore says:

    more stuff we, the public, can be paranoid about!

  17. scott5834 says:
  18. Dustbunny says:


    You boil spinach for that long?? Doesn’t that boil all the nutrients out of it? I usually sautee spinach for 3-4 minutes until it’s wilted.

  19. mantari says:

    But… but… bagged lettuce has little bits of carrots and cabbage and other vegetables that I need!

    Thanks for ruining bagged salad for me, Ben Popken. You’re a cruel cruel man.

  20. chopping your own lettuce is ok so long as you’re going to eat it immediately. the problem is that steel bladed knives catalyzes the oxidation process, so the lettuce will turn dark and then brown much faster. there are plastic knives made specifically to avoid this problem (they’re cheap but don’t work very well) or you can use a ceramic knife (more versatile and useful but very expensive). Or you can just tear it by hand, which is what I end up doing anyway, since I seperate the vein from the leaves and throw them away.

  21. Meg Marco says:

    @mantari: Hi, my name is Meghann.

  22. MercuryPDX says:

    “Chop your own lettuce.”

    But.. but… it doesn’t come in all those cool varieties with an appropriately prepared dressing.

    My personal fave – http://tinyurl.com/2dg3zx

  23. Buran says:

    @gorckat: I wouldn’t mind the videos so much if they were captioned, and the radio stories including transcripts. Why? Hearing impairment. Seriously, ABC/CNN. Why don’t you subtitle your videos? NPR, why don’t you include transcripts, not even speech-to-text auto-generated ones?

  24. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    There is a greater variety of lettuces available with bagged salads versus buying the lettuce separately.

  25. laila says:

    As I understand it, there are 2 major issues with bagged greens:

    1. when they are all “washed” together in large batches, contaminants have a chance to spread to all of the greens in the batch

    2. the bag itself creates an environment that is especially hospitable to growing microorganisms – so although un-bagged greens could be equally exposed to bacteria sources, the lack of a bag can limit the numbers of bacteria that are able to proliferate successfully

  26. mantari says:

    @meghannmarco: Oh! You’re evil too! Sorry!!
    I won’t make that mistake again! :)

  27. FLConsumer says:

    Why bagged? I’m single and anything more than that’s going to spoil by the time I get to it.

  28. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I’ve been eating bagged salad for years and I have yet to become sick. Let’s face it, there’s the chance that anything you eat will become contaminated with something at some point in your life, so I’m not going to let it keep me awake at night.

    There’s also a similar chance that I’ll be struck by lightning, win the lottery, or get killed by a bus, but so far, I’m 0 for 3 on those too.

    I’ll take my chances.

  29. FutureRoadie says:

    I work in the food service field and would just like to clarify some points. First of all as previously mentioned triple washed guarantees that it is cleaner then it was before being washed, However that does not guarantee its completely clean. However as far as E. Coli bagged lettuce is safer generally, being that most responsible lettuce factories do quality checks for e. coli and other such quality issues. P.S. bagged salads with kosher certification are usually cleaner then other salads due to stricter requirements

  30. asherchang says:

    @joeblevins: The spinach incident was caused by dairy farmers feeding grain to their cows, which caused their stomach juices to become highly acidic, which created a highly acid-resistant strain of whatever bacteria that was. And then the cow’s waste went into the water that was supposed to water the spinach. I don’t think that any “unwashed migrant worker” was responsible for that one.

  31. asherchang says:

    @whans2007: although chances are that any contaminant that didn’t bind to the greens (and are therefore resistant to any amount of washing) would have already been washed by the industry’s proscribed methods.

  32. Enduro says:

    Salad spinners never get the salad dry enough and there is nothing appetizing about soggy spinach or fun about drying greens with a kitchen towel.

    I’m a rebel, if I can’t make it to the farmer’s market I eat the baby spinach right out of the bag. I’m down with the non-pasturized milk cheese folk and the raw egg mayo motor cycle club too.

  33. Frequentflyer says:

    As I wash some heavy duty mud and dirt from fresh vegetables purchased at the local verdulerias, I reflect on the spinach and lettuce scare in the US. People do not seem to worry about these things here. If I buy strawberries, I get one to taste first, this would be unheard of in the US, where we are supposed to wash them well. Zucchini, potatoes, come with enough dirt to start my own garden, nevertheless they are handled with the same hands that handle fruits. The meat counters have raw and ready to eat foods next to each other. Are others immune to stomach diseases, do they hide them, or are they less prevalent?

    Let us look at the spinach story in California. First of all, there is no confirmed, scientific story. What has been said is that a mile and a half from the spinach there were cows with the same strain of E.Coli as in the spinach…maybe the brothers, maybe cousins, maybe distant relatives. We do know that feeding corn to cows is a bad thing for the cows because they are not adapted to it and get sick, requiring antibiotics and producing 1,000 times more E.Coli and salmonella than cows fed on grass. But, contamination of the spinach directly from cows has not been proven.

    Here is an interesting note to chew on: There are no reports of sickness from fresh products, only from washed spinach and lettuce, especially cut lettuce, and this has been a regular feature of the ambient, not as bad as the last one, but ongoing. Again, why only processed, cleaned, “triple washed”, etc., vegetables, but not fresh, most often quite dirty spinach and lettuce?

    We are told E.Coli cannot be washed off the leaves with water, so, again, how do people not get sick from fresh vegetables? Why are they triple washed and sent out as clean if washing does not get rid of deleterious bacteria? Why do people get sick from presumably clean leaves? The infection point is clearly in the processing plant, not the field, and, there are no cows in the processing plants, there are people. The people who handle the plants are immigrants, and we know that they carry infectious diseases that are rare here. In San Francisco we have a miniepidemic of TB among the immigrant population, but a child cannot receive TB immunization (it is mandatory in Argentina). The immigrant population carries polio and a variety of salmonella and E.Coli strains. In the fields, they handle the outside of the plants, mostly parts we throw away. In a processing plant, the surface area exposed to handling goes up dramatically, and with it contamination. It takes one person to contaminate washing or processing equipment and thus the loose leaves or lettuce cuttings.

    Nevertheless, the low scale immigrant population has become the latest political sacred cow, the advocacy industry having discovered them as a profitable product, and, of course, the financial support of agribusiness, the construction industry, the food industry and so on. Our pres himself has said that he “welcomes illegal immigrants that come to work”, his words. We are not going to hear that the source of infection was in processing because it is a no-no. There are certain things that can no longer be said with impunity, and creating a scare about low scale immigrants is the latest.

    My suggestion: Go to local ethnic markets and farmer’s markets and buy dirty, muddy produce, take it home, get rid of the outer leaves, wash it and enjoy it, and most of all, boycott processed produce. Who needs it?

  34. saerra says:

    @ FutureRoadie – thanks for the tip about Kosher salads…

    I buy the bagged spinach too, I’m trying to eat healthier, so it’s a staple for me.

    I’ve tried washing it, but… it gets soggy :( and paper towels are inadequate for drying. Bleh. I’ve also tried a “salad spinner” to dry it (thank you baby sister for the Christmas gift)… but it doesn’t really get it “dry”.

    It says right on the bag, “triple washed” – it should be clean! Not to be an idiot (but…) the bags I buy say nothing about washing, just “hey we’re triple washed! Ready to eat!” not “wash, then eat” but “READY to EAT!”

    Anyway, the E Coli outbreak last year had said that the e.coli was in the water, and thus absorbed by the plants… so it was *inside* the structure of the plant, and no amount of washing could fix that…

    Now, go eat your veggies :)

  35. Sandtiger says:

    Two sure ways to avoid e. coli contamination with certainty….

    1) Grow Your own.

    2) Use a Cusine Clean or Pureprep veggie washer.

    Personally I haven’t decided which route I want to take. They are both around the same price when you include seed pods/time involved for the growing your own route.

  36. medalian1 says:

    I use a 50/50 bleach/water mix in a spray bottle on my lettuce and hang it to dry before consumption.

  37. queen-of-swords says:

    i doubt migrant workers are provided toilet facilities — or toilet paper. so they use what’s available. that means their hand… or a lettuce leaf! lol! so yes, qualitatively and operationally, there is no difference between bagged and head lettuce. raw vegetables and strawberries are perfectly safe to eat if you wash them with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. bleach also works. personally, i’ll stick to the peroxide.

  38. Youthier says:

    @dwayne_dibbly: Word. I can’t think of one thing that I eat that will not possibly kill me. I’m not going to be a complete moron but I’m not going to sweat everything I put in my mouth either.

  39. KopyKat says:

    Everyone is forgetting the real victim here – Rachael Ray. Her 30 minute meals are often based around bagged, prewashed veggies. Without them she’s nothing. NOTHING!

    Also, I’m super lazy, and come from lazy people. We very rarely wash our produce, unless it’s got visible dirt on it (like leeks). This is my little way of living on the edge.

  40. gafpromise says:

    Personally, I wash my produce for an entirely different reason. Hang out in the produce section of a supermarket and watch how many people handle produce with their bare hands after sneezing, coughing, wiping their nose, etc. Yecch!

  41. silverlining says:

    @joeblevins: Did you seriously suggest it was “dirty farmworkers” that were the problem?

    You mean the same farmworker who usually doesn’t have access to a freaking bathroom, and so is left to relieve him/herself in the fields.

    Put the blame of unsanitary field conditions where it belongs–the employers, not the farmworkers. And in the case of the spinach, blame the manufacturing facility that allowed water from cow waste to mingle with the water used for the spinach.

  42. cgi5877 says:

    During the last eee-cow-lie incident, it didn’t matter if you washed, chopped, tore, sprayed with 50/50 water-urine. The shit was IN the spinach–like, you couldn’t wash it off.

  43. @Sandtiger: “Grow your own”

    Sing it!

    Lettuce is dead easy to grow and comes up very fast. And Holy Guacamole, it is the tastiest thing on the planet to eat lettuce fresh from the garden. Or from the pot on your balcony. Or from the elaborate and expensive Aerogrow thingie. :)

    @medalian1: 10% bleach is probably sufficient. That’s what the extension tells us to use in the garden to prevent transmission of bacteria and virii between veggies. (Extension being responsible for disseminating latest science-backed horticultural and agricultural data and methods.) 50% bleach has to be getting up to the “tasting gnarly” stage.

  44. Dervish says:

    I’m suprised that people seem to have so much trouble keeping their home-washed-and-chopped lettuce from spoiling. I buy romaine almost every time I go grocery shopping. I chop it and wash it 2x when I get it home, then give it 2-3 runs in a salad spinner. Then I put it in a sealed tupperware bowl and it keeps for usually up to 2 weeks – longer if I’m not picky about wilted greens. It’s a really easy way to keep fresh greens on hand. Does it keep longer than noted in above comments because I tend to buy romaine where others buy iceberg?

  45. Plasmafire says:

    A head of lettuce last a lot longer in the fridge than a bag of salad, same can be said of the other ingredients in bagged salads. bagged salads usually go bad in less than a week. nuf said.

  46. etfe says:

    Um, this is theft. It’s illegal! It also makes consumer prices rise. How can anyone encourage this?

  47. etfe says:

    Very few people here actually listened to the entire segment. This statement was taken out of context. Here we have folks responding to a partial truth. Educate yourselves and don’t just follow others!

  48. Brad2723 says:

    For a lot of us who prefer the variety of greens provided in what is commonly known as “Spring Mix”, bagged is the only way this is available.

    To reduce the browning of your lettuce, instead of cutting it with a knife, tear it into pieces with your hands.

  49. AcidReign says:

    …..@dustbunny: Probably way late on this thread, but…

    …..I’m from the southern USA. Cooking vegetables to death is the way here. 10 minutes is a serious compromise, round these here parts! Greens (spinach, collards, turnip, mustard, etc.) are typically boiled hard for at least an hour. And probably, the stock for the veggies was created out of pork fatback, a cup or two of salt, and a chopped onion, and boiled/reduced for an hour prior to adding the greens.

    …..If it’s any consolation, I do steam broccoli and asparagus for five minutes or less!

  50. Zarggg says:

    As someone who lives alone, I find that a head of lettuce tends to go bad before I have used it up. Sorry, Consumerist, but your suggestion just seems smug to me.