Friday, February 11, 2011
WHAT'S REALLY IN BAGGED SALADS?
Most of us eat bagged salads at least once in a while - me included. But I have decided to eat them less. Here's why.
First, it's that bacteria issue. Those bagged greens are not as clean as they look. In fact, outbreaks and recalls have persistently plagued the bagged salad industry. The research I have reviewed suggests that maybe at least 5% of pre-washed, bagged greens carry some bacteria. Maybe in half of these cases it's just some relatively harmless E.coli or Listeria (not the dangerous ones). The rest of the time, it's a few, or more than a few bacteria such as one of the Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, or E.coli 0157, which can harm us, particularly if we are more vulnerable (like pregnant women, older adults). So much for triple washing!
I'm not saying that the fresh head of lettuce won't have microbes on it too, but at least it won't carry an added dose from sick plant workers or from badly sanitized equipment that may have got in during the washing, shredding and bagging process. I'll just stick to those "bad bugs" (and the not-so-bad ones) that were there when my lettuce was in the field.
There are also two other reasons that I am not too happy with the bagged stuff. First, those salad greens are usually washed in chlorinated water - a pretty strong solution, much stronger than our tap water. Personally, I'm not overly worried about chlorine, but my general philosophy is "the less chemicals the better." Besides, I have read a couple of opinion-pieces (note - I am not saying these are based on reliable research) about potentially unhealthy chlorination by-products. I also wonder why some European countries don't allow washing of fruits or vegetables with the high-chlorine solutions that U.S. and Canadian industry uses. Maybe they know something that we don't.
Then there is that "air" that's inside the bag. No - not normal air, it's Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP). The oxygen level has been lowered, and nitrogen or carbon dioxide has been added. This extends shelf life and prevents the salad leaves from turning brown. Alright, a little bit more of nitrogen or CO2 won't hurt us - at least as far as we know and it's for a good cause. I just don't like the idea. It's a personal preference. I want my salads to breathe normal air just like I do.