Lettuce warn you
Special Report: Lettuce warn you
Shopping, chopping, slicing and dicing -- it takes a whole lot of work to make a salad. That's why prewashed, bagged salads are flying off grocery store shelves.
"As far as salads, I like to eat bagged lettuce," Juancarlos Gutierrez, a salad eater, said.
This busy businessman is either crunched for time or doing crunches at the gym.
So when it's time to eat, he reaches for a bag. But is prewashing good enough? We decided to find out.
We bought and tested a caesar salad kit, a bag of iceberg lettuce mixed with carrots and cabbage, a triple washed spinach and another spinach that clearly says the buyer should "rewash."
"The findings were very interesting," Dr. Pete Kmieck, Microbiologist, said.
Microbiologist Dr. Pete Kmieck says a certain amount of bacteria can be expected. But the levels in some of the salads we tested gave him cause for concern!
"In two of our samples, it exceeded the upper limits of our test range to measure it, and these samples would be considered high in coliform bacteria," Dr. Kmieck said.
Coliform bacteria are common in the environment, but some can cause physical problems.
"Gastroenteritis is a kind of illness where you get nausea and vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes fever and chills and cramps," Dr. Gary Luckman, Internal Medicine, said.
And sickness from contaminated food can be deadly.
"That's what we suspected -- bad spinach," Jeff Allgood, a father, said. "We didn't use it anymore after that."
Last October, an E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach left more than 200 people sick, killing four people, including a two-year boy in Idaho.
"I think we're going to see many more outbreaks and more deadly outbreaks from these bagged salad products," Caroline Smith Dewaal, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. "What the industry needs to do is ensure that animal waste and human waste is kept off these leafy green products."
But, the industry insists their products are safe.
"The fresh cut produce that's triple washed or ready to eat has been handled in a state of the art facility that cleans it better than anybody can do in their own kitchen, " The United Fresh Produce Association said.
Still, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed "serious concern with continuing outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with fresh and fresh cut lettuce."
Luckily, none of the salads we tested were positive for E. coli.
The bags with the highest coliform bacteria were the iceberg mix and the spinach you're supposed to rewash.
As for this salad eater, after hearing our test results, he says he'll think twice before going from bag to bite.
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