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The TRUTH About Bagged Lettuce

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Filed Under (Food, General) by Rick Kaselj



The TRUTH About Bagged Lettuce

Let’s talk about lettuce!

Yes, you know it’s good for you and you are most likely doing something healthy if your meals include this vegetable. But, HOW do you BUY lettuce?

Indeed, let’s talk about the TRUTH regarding the lettuce you buy. I’ve often wondered myself regarding whether I am doing the right thing by purchasing the type of lettuce I buy. There are different ways in which various types of produce and vegetables such as lettuce could be purchased. You may purchase lettuce in various states or forms from the time it is pulled from the ground and these forms include the unwashed and unpackaged form, washed but still unpackaged form and then there is also the washed and packaged or washed and bagged form of lettuce.

What are the pros and cons of either?

Does it REALLY matter? Well, yes …. could does matter. Sometimes, sickness could be traced to a particular form of sold lettuce. For example, in 2013, states in the United States reported the occurrence of parasite cyclospora outbreaks affecting 397 people and spreading to many states [1]. Honestly, lettuce could be infected long before the lettuce is put in bags. However, could bagging make the spread of such outbreaks worse? Hmmm …. ponder on that for a moment.

States_Reporting_Cyclospora_Infections

“BUT, I have been eating one type of purchased lettuce for YEARS and I am still here”, you might say. Indeed, I hear you loud and clear. It is helpful to note that any type of lettuce or salad blend including bagged salads could make people sick if contaminated with various parasites.

However, sometimes, these infections and outbreaks are more prevalent with the bagged variety of lettuce. Why? Well … let’s discuss some information that will be beneficial to you regarding bagged lettuce. The MORE we know about these things, the better equipped we’ll be to keep moving in a healthy direction. So, do we want the good news first or the bad news first. Usually, it is best to deliver the bad news first, so let’s do just that. There are disadvantages regarding bagged lettuce including issues regarding improper washing and the potential of increased bacterial activity on the lettuce while in a bagged state.

Washed lettuce. Really? Well, the advertisements regarding bagged or “ready to eat” lettuce can be quite subjective. In reality, “washed” could mean a variety of things and although some lettuce brands may claim that their products are ready to eat, some of these bags or boxes of washed lettuce might not be washed as well as you think!! While the lettuce producers and packagers may want to provide truly washed and clean lettuce, some lettuce washing plants are just not located in areas where abundant supplies of water exist. Hence, the washing process may be a bit bleak in areas where water is scarce. So, if you think you’re ALWAYS getting clean, washed, bagged lettuce, THINK AGAIN! It might be better to simply buy the non-bagged lettuce and do the washing yourself, at home.

lettuce

Thus, in some cases, I wouldn’t be too quick to believe claims of double or triple-washed lettuce!! NO! NO!! This may not be reality and if the lettuce was washed three times, there is no guarantee that the water used to wash the lettuce three times was of the best quality. If you don’t believe me, let others confirm this as well. Consumer reports also indicate that pre-washed lettuce may not be entirely clean [2]. Still, you could do something about the potential for improper washing of this type of produce. You could wash the lettuce again before you eat it. With bagged lettuce, there is also the potential for bacterial growth. Deaded E. coli outbreaks and infections have been linked to lettuce [3]. Such breakouts of infection typically begin at the farm or source of cultivation of the lettuce. Indeed, when produce and vegetables get contaminated, this could happen right from the farms where the produce grows. However, with bagged or boxed lettuce, the potential for increased bacterial growth could be more profound. Just imagine packaging bacteria in a damp enclosure. Not a pretty sight but perhaps something the naked eyes may not readily notice. However, if observed under a microscope, a multiplying action of the enclosed bacteria may be noticed over time. Thus, this can be a significant DISADVANTAGE for both bagged and boxed lettuce.

What can you DO? Well … luckily, there are ways to avoid distress that could result from INFECTED bagged lettuce. You could MINIMIZE your risk for bacterial infection by seeking lettuce bags or boxes that have been recently packaged. For example, if a bag or box of lettuce is approaching its “best by” date, it may have stayed in the bag or box a little TOO long. Still, this would depend on if the enclosed lettuce had any bacteria on it to begin with. If the bagged or boxed lettuce is entirely clean, then you’ll have nothing to worry about. However, if there was any chance of bacterial infection as the bagging processed occurred, the chances that the enclosed bacteria could multiply are high.

boxed lettuce

On the bright side, these are the advantages of bagged lettuce and you are probably aching for some good news or some validation regarding WHY you purchase bagged lettuce. Some of the reasons bagged lettuce is popular include reduced prep time. CONVINIENCE! Yes, this is probably one of the most popular advantages of purchasing bagged lettuce. It could reduce the time and energy required to prepare the lettuce or get it ready for consumption. So, if it is already purchased in a properly pre-washed and bagged state, you usually do not need to wash it again. Hence, you’re able to benefit from the convenience of taking the purchased bagged lettuce directly from the grocery store or market and placing it on your table for consumption. Neat, right!! Yes, for people who are extremely busy or just too tired to bother with washing the lettuce themselves, it can be quite the TIME SAVER!!! Also, the bagged lettuce is also usually pre-cut as well, saving you more time and energy.

You may also be able to get away with the advantage of reduced likelihood of cross contamination when bagged lettuce is used. If washed properly and ideally, a lettuce packaging plant is less likely to also be washing meat, for example, which incidentally is a common way that cross contamination occurs. In reality, when done properly, bagged or packaged lettuce could provide a sterile enclosure for your vegetables. Yes, it is not impossible for cross contamination to occur with bagged lettuce too, especially if we handle the opened bag or box of lettuce without properly washing our hands. With lettuce that is not bagged, you may be spending time washing and massaging these veggies in a sink but could also risk the possibility of introducing some contaminants as well. Hence, think about food safety, whether you’re consuming lettuce that is not bagged or the bagged variety.

handwashing

Although we’ve discussed some of the advantages and truth regarding bagged lettuce, I have a feeling that the bad stuff we mentioned is still playing back in your mind and you are wondering if you have just been lucky to avoid the bad stuff happening to you. Remember that more GOOD NEWS is that we can still do something about some of the disadvantages of bagged lettuce as mentioned above.

What DO I mean?

Well … if we think about it, we can usually find ways to improve or minimize bad side-effects of certain things and the IDEAS about early consumption of fresher lettuce or re-washing bagged lettuce could go a long way in minimizing risks. The foods that you eat are very important to your energy levels, mental clarity and vitality. Infected or low quality foods could lead to chronic inflammation and possibly pain in your joints and other parts of the body. Typically such inflammation and pain is connected to other types of foods such as those made from man-made trans fats or hydrogenated fats [4]. Thus, it is recommended that you eat foods that make up the superfoods list including vegetables like lettuce [5].

If the lettuce you buy is bagged, then you’ll be glad that you read these TRUTHS about bagged lettuce! Some nasty bacteria and parasites exist such as the parasite cyclospora and you do not want these microorganisms in your body! There is some good news too in terms of possible food regulation activities that could help to promote proper guidelines for food safety, especially for packaged, bagged and boxed produce such as lettuce. There are guidelines and legislature such as the Food Safety Modernization Act -that could specify how foods such as vegetables are produced and stored.

If you are looking for other foods to help you, then you need to check out 101 Superfoods That Stop Your Joint Pain & Inflammation here:

101-Superfoods-for-Joint-Pain

Rick Kaselj, MS

References
[1] Experts: Health risks higher from packaged greens
[2] Consumer Reports Magazine – Bagged Salad: How Clean?
[3] CDC – Multistate Outbreak of E. coli
[4] The Superfoods News Daily
[5] 101 Superfoods That Stop Your Joint Pain & Inflammation

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