Pre-Washed Leafy Greens: A Food Safety Investigation
Even if you’re not a stickler for food safety, I would guess most of us at least wash fresh fruits and vegetables before cutting into them. I used to assume that was a good practice for most foods, but after writing about the hazards of rinsing raw chicken recently, I figured I should do some more research into similar topics, starting with pre-washed lettuce and greens.
We all want to ensure the food we eat is clean and healthy, so you may wonder whether pre-washed lettuce and triple-washed greens are truly safe to eat just as they are. So I did some research to get to the bottom of things, and I’ve got all the important answers you need to know below!
Do I Have To Wash Pre-Washed Lettuce?
In short: no!
According to the CDC, pre-washed lettuce and greens are safe to consume right out of the package. Not only is the process of commercial pre-washing quite safe, but the facilities themselves are held to strict standards of cleanliness and sanitization. (Apparently, you can end up contaminating pre-washed greens with more bacteria by attempting to wash them at home!)
Pre-washed leafy greens — including lettuce, bagged salad, spring mix, kale, and other greens — are indicated as such somewhere on the packaging. If the package includes one of these descriptors, you can safely assume it doesn’t need to be washed or rinsed:
- Triple washed
- No washing necessary
Do You Need To Wash Lettuce That Isn’t Pre-Washed?
In short: yes.
Any leafy greens that have not been pre-washed or aren’t labeled as such should be rinsed under running water before you eat them. There’s no need to use any additional cleaners or detergents (especially not bleach; you should never use bleach to wash produce!)
Rinsing in running water is safer than soaking, because soaking can introduce bacteria if your tools and equipment are not clean.
4 Essential Food Safety Tips
When preparing food in your own kitchen, following these 4 tips can help prevent foodborne illness:
- Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before handling food, and rewash them as needed to prevent cross contamination.
- Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat, poultry, or seafood, and after preparing produce you’re not planning to cook.
- If possible, use two separate cutting boards: one for fresh produce, and one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- After using plastic and other non-porous cutting boards, wash them in your dishwasher.
BONUS: Know The Signs Of Foodborne Illness
The symptoms of foodborne illness can include:
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, and body ache
If you think that you or a family member has a foodborne illness, contact your primary care provider immediately. You can find more information about how to handle and prepare produce safely at FDA.gov.
I hope this information is as useful to you as it has been to me. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’m always pleased when I learn that I can do away with any chore, no matter how small — even washing bagged greens!
What’s your favorite way to use pre-washed lettuce or greens?