Packaged Salads Need Cleaning, Studies Indicate
Pre-washed and packaged salads might not be so pre-washed so says a study. Despite the fact that most bags say pre-washed, results from a study by Consumers Union, stated that there were high levels of bacteria. These high levels are commonly linked to poor sanitation. In addition, fecal contamination was discovered in many of the sampled packaged salads.
The testing do not find serious bacteria, such as E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes or salmonella however, a broad class of bacteria that can include human or animal feces; and enterococcus were found by industry consultants to be "unacceptable."
"I would say there is cause for concern," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives with Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports. "It's not like we found stuff that will make you throw up, and we're not saying you should immediately throw out all of your bagged salads ... but there is cause for concern."
Ready Pac spokesman Steve Dickstein said the company's procedures regarding cleanliness are thorough. Ready Pac's food-handling standards, are particularly stringent, involving a "triple-wash" process. "This sanitation process is far better than any restaurant or homeowner can do themselves," he said. "We're proud that some of the people in our technical department have been with us for over 20 years. We helped write the book on food safety in the produce industry."
The study which was just released this week had an outside lab test 208 containers of 16 brands of salad greens. The packages that were one to five days from their use-by date had much higher bacterial levels, and packages six to eight days from their use-by date fared better, according to the report.
Halloran said people should wash packaged salads when they open them, although they need to guard against cross contamination. "If you're working with raw chicken or ground beef, you need to wash your hands before you begin handling the salad," she said.
Halloran said the presence of coliforms or Enteroccocus often means more serious bacteria could be present. "Where you find one you often find the other," she said. "Right now the FDA has very limited authority in this, but we're supporting a bill that's moving through Congress that would require the FDA to set performance standards."
The FDA is to step in when there is a product that contains bacteria and that could possibly create a threat to consumers, Halloran said, but they currently don't have the budget or manpower to proactively monitor the industry. The FDA needs to make certain that farms that grow produce have sufficient restroom facilities and sanitation standards, she said.