Life seems to get busier as the years goes by, or so we think! Industrialization has brought many good things, but with it, it has created the concept of “no time”. It created a need and then created a solution to help us “simplify” everyday tasks.
For example, nowadays due to work and crazy schedules, we have “no time” to cook. So, what do we do? We buy fast food, or pre-packed or pre-cooked products. We “need” an easy fix to save time, and the market has been good to us by satisfying this “need”.
As convenient as it is, have you stopped to think about all the processing and chemicals that go into creating these products? Have you taken the time to think about how these products last so long on your grocery store shelves?
With the new year, many of us are making the conscious decision to eat a bit healthier. But with time constraints, we probably select “convenient” salads that are pre-packed and/or pre-washed. The other day as I was about to purchase one of these pre-packed/pre-washed salads, I had to stop myself for a moment to ask myself how clean are these pre-washed products, really? How do they stay so crisp and fresh-looking for so long?
If you think about it, the obvious procedure is that, first, the produce needs to be picked and transported to a processing plant, where it is sorted, washed and packaged. Then it travels to a warehouse where it’s divided out into boxes and transported to various supermarkets. Ultimately, it takes one more trip when it travels again to your kitchen. So, how does it stay looking fresh? How can we be sure bacteria is not growing in these packages?
Let’s start by stating, lettuce is already susceptible to bacteria. Contamination can occur from just one farmworker not washing their hands to birds flying and defecating on crops, dried manure drift, or even animals roaming into the field.
When salads are packaged, they are usually washed with Chlorine to kill pathogens. However, studies have shown that these sprays are only partially effective. Leafy greens were responsible for 22 percent of food-borne illnesses in the last decade. A small Consumer Reports study found that nearly 40 percent of pre-washed salad greens are contaminated with bacteria. In 2015, the University of California in Riverside concluded a study that showed that only 10 percent of bacteria is removed with this bleach solution used to clean the spinach.
I’m not suggesting to stop buying these products, but do make sure you give them an extra wash before consuming (wink). You could also take into consideration that it takes just 2 minutes to wash and cut fresh lettuce, not to mention that it’s cheaper to buy a head of lettuce. If you are a planner and like to prep your food for a couple of days, you can prepare your salads without making them soggy. Marin Mama Cooks recommends the following to significantly extend the life of your salad greens: simply wrap them in a clean paper towel or cloth to absorb excess moisture before you store them in a plastic bag. I was a bit skeptical about this trick, but I tried it, and it worked!
At the end of the day, the fact is that pre-washed/pre-packaged produce has traces of the pesticides and chemicals that were used to grow them. In the EWG dirty list, lettuce, spinach, kale, and collard greens all score in the top 16 for chemical load. In addition to already having traces of chemicals, leafy greens are prone to develop and produce bacteria while waiting for someone to purchase it at the grocery store.
Pre-washed and ready-to-eat bagged salad definitely offers convenience, but is risking your health and safety worth a bag of lettuce?
You may be interested in our thoughts on on sustainable food and healthy eating, from the archives: