There are few meals more healthy and delicious than a crisp, homemade salad — and you don’t have to be a professional chef to put one together. Pre-washed bags of leafy greens and salad kits make preparation easier than ever. Still, contaminated food recalls cast doubt on whether those factory-rinsed fruits and vegetables are clean enough to eat straight out of the bag. So can you trust the pre-washing, or should you still wash it yourself at home?
How the Pre-Washing Process Works
Produce manufacturers follow protective guidelines to lessen the risk of foodborne illness. Pre-washing at these facilities can be as simple as running the produce under clean water or as complex as a multi-step rinsing process to eliminate dangerous bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.
If your bag of lettuce has been “triple-washed,” it was first placed in a water-filled agitation tank to dislodge and remove soil and other debris. Then, the greens were submerged in a cleaning agent to kill harmful bacteria, such as chlorinated water. Finally, the produce was washed with non-chlorinated water to remove any remaining chlorine and bagged.
Is Pre-Washed Produce Safe to Eat?
In short, yes. Pre-washed produce is safe to consume straight out of the package. Food manufacturers take extra care to minimize product contamination between rinsing and packaging. While food can be contaminated in that short window, it’s very unlikely, with less than 5% of listeria outbreaks found in pre-washed salad kits. Even though pre-washed greens are safe to consume, remember to check for tampered packaging and expiration dates, as these could affect product quality and safety.
Re-Washing Can Do More Harm Than Good
Believe it or not, washing pre-washed produce at home may actually increase the risk of cross-contamination. For example, if you wash lettuce in a sink where you just prepared raw chicken, you increase the chance that the product becomes contaminated with salmonella. If you plan to re-wash produce at home, be sure to do so in a sterile environment away from dirty kitchenware and raw foods.
Whether your produce has been pre-washed or not, it’s important to practice food safety. Be sure to refrigerate your sliced, peeled, or cooked vegetables within two hours of use to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria developing on them. Be sure to thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables before slicing to remove germs. Experts recommend washing unwashed produce for at least 20 seconds to remove dirt, bacteria, and germs.
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