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?

Let’s talk about the TRUTH regarding the lettuce you buy. I’ve often wondered myself 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 can be purchased. You may purchase lettuce in various states or forms from the time it is pulled from the ground, including 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 these options?

Does it REALLY matter? Well, yes, it could matter. Sometimes, sickness can be traced to a particular form of sold lettuce. For example, in 2013, several 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?

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 on 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 definitely some negatives 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 for 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. With this, 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!! 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. You could wash the lettuce again before you eat it. With bagged lettuce, there is also the potential for bacterial growth. Dreaded 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 eye may not readily notice. However, if observed under a microscope, a multiplying action of the enclosed bacteria may be noticed over time. This can be a significant DISADVANTAGE for both bagged and boxed lettuce.

What can you DO? 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 whether 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 process occurred, the chances that the enclosed bacteria could multiply are high.

boxed lettuce

After hearing the negatives of bagged lettuce, you are probably aching for some good news or some reasons to purchase this convenient item. The most common reason bagged lettuce is popular is reduced prep time. CONVENIENCE! It can reduce the time and energy required to prepare lettuce and get it ready for consumption. If it is purchased in a properly pre-washed and bagged state, you usually do not need to wash it again. 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. Great, right!! Yes, for people who are extremely busy or just too tired to bother with washing the lettuce themselves, this can be quite the TIME SAVER!!! Also, bagged lettuce is usually pre-cut, saving you even more time and energy.

You can also reduce the likelihood of cross contamination. Ideally, a lettuce packaging plant should not also be washing meat, which incidentally is a common way that cross contamination occurs. When done properly, bagged or packaged lettuce should provide a sterile enclosure for your vegetables. Cross contamination can still occur with bagged lettuce, especially if the opened bag is handled with dirty hands. With lettuce that is not bagged, you may be spending time washing and massaging these veggies in a sink, but could still introduce some contaminants. You need to think about food safety, whether you’re consuming lettuce that is bagged or not.

handwashing

Although we’ve discussed some of the advantages and truths 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 simply been lucky enough to avoid the bad stuff. Remember that we can still do something about some of the disadvantages of bagged lettuce as mentioned above.

What DO I mean?

If we think about it, we can often find ways to minimize risks, like early consumption of fresher lettuce or re-washing bagged lettuce. 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, this inflammation and pain is connected to other types of foods such as those made from man-made trans fats or hydrogenated fats [4]. With this in mind, it is recommended that you eat foods that make up the superfoods list including vegetables like lettuce [5].

It’s important to understand the TRUTHS about bagged lettuce! Some nasty bacteria and parasites can be present, 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. There are guidelines and legislature such as the Food Safety Modernization Act 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 14-Day Digestive Health

Rick Kaselj, MS

14-Day Digestive Health Quick Start Program