How Clean Is Bagged Salad?

It seems like bagged salads are taking over the produce aisle. According to Mintel, a company that tracks consumer spending, almost three-quarters of all women buy prepackaged salads.

They are convenient. Consumer Reports tested to see how clean they are. Testers examined 200 packages to find out.

The salad greens were bought in the New York metro area and covered 16 brands, including Dole, Earthbound Farm Organic, and Fresh Express.

The tests-done at an outside lab-didn't find disease-causing bacteria like E. coli, listeria, or salmonella, but did detect other bacteria.

Kim Kleman of Consumer Reports says, "Our tests found total coliforms and enterococcus-bacteria that are indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination. There are no federal standards for these organisms in salads, but there should be."

Of the 208 bags tested, there were relatively high levels of total coliforms in 39% of the salads, and enterococcus in 23%.

Most brands had at least one package with elevated levels. But even within the same brand, results varied widely.

Kleman says, "It didn't matter whether the salads came in a clamshell or a bag. But the ones with higher levels of bacteria tended to contain spinach, or be within five days of their use by date."

Even rinsing them at home won't get rid of all the bacteria, though it will remove dirt. Your best bet-buy the freshest produce you can.

Consumer Reports found the cleanest greens were at least six days away from their use by date."

Stricter produce safety standards may be on the way.

The Senate is considering a bill that would require the Food and Drug Administration to set standards for the types of bacteria that Consumer Reports found in its tests of bagged salad.

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