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Monday 23 May 2022

'Lettuce is the most common cause linked with food poisoning - How you can lower that risk'

Here in the Northern Hemisphere the summer months are on the horizon and for many of us that means looking forward to
salad days. I know Eddie and I enjoy eating them and there are so many different salad ingredients you can use. However, unfortunately, with salad and lettuce being such a basic ingredient of them comes the worry of food poisoning, and with that in mind I share an article from Cathe Friedrich which I'm sure you will find interesting and helpful.

She writes:
"Lettuce is a basic ingredient of a salad and you have so many varieties to choose from! Once you’ve made your selection, add an array of fruits and vegetables, toss them in dressing, and get your five a day in short order. Yet, there’s something about that salad that might surprise you and take your appetite as well. Lettuce is the most common food linked with food-borne illness. In fact, leafy greens have been linked with 22% of the outbreaks of food poisoning in the last ten years.

It hasn’t always been this way. Years ago, leafy greens were involved in far fewer outbreaks of food poisoning. If there is a bright spot with regard to greens and food poisoning, leafy vegetables, including lettuce, aren’t linked with the most deaths due to food poisoning. Poultry holds that distinction. Still, falling ill after eating veggies, even if they don’t die, isn’t something most people want to experience.

Just recently, a national outbreak of food poisoning was traced to romaine lettuce. During the outbreak, about 200 people became ill and 5 died. The source of the outbreak was irrigation water contaminated with bacteria.

Is Bagged Lettuce a High Risk?
Why are lettuce and leafy greens a potentially high-risk food? The biggest risk comes from bagged lettuce, the type neatly packaged into clear cellophane bags and sold as ready to serve. Often these packages contain a variety of types of lettuce and some are mixed with other ingredients like herbs.

According to British researchers, lettuce in bags may be at particularly high risk for harbouring bacteria that cause food-borne illness – but why? Once you cut and chop lettuce leaves and place them into plastic bags, the damaged leaves continue to release moisture and the moisture accumulates in the bag. The researchers found after testing the liquid in these bags that, over time, the water becomes a breeding ground for Salmonella bacteria. What’s more the water coats the lettuce leaves, and this creates sticky conditions that make it harder to wash off the bacteria.

You sometimes see packages of lettuce and leafy greens that say “triple washed.” These give a false sense of security that you’re getting lettuce that’s free of harmful bacteria. Even if the lettuce was washed beforehand, the water released from the damaged leaves encourages the growth of any bacteria that are remaining. It’s almost impossible to remove all bacteria even if the lettuce was washed before it was packaged.

Lettuce is at High-Risk Food in Terms of Food Poisoning Risk
The problem with lettuce and leafy greens is there are so many opportunities for it to become contaminated with bacteria. Lettuce can pick up bacteria from the soil, the water used to irrigate it, or during harvest. While still on the farm, animals, birds, and farmers themselves can contaminate it.

Once lettuce arrives at the factory and workers prepare it for packaging, there are other opportunities for contamination. As the lettuce is cut, prepped, and packaged, water is released and some of it sticks to the inside of the packaging, creating a fertile environment for bacteria to grow and flourish.

What about those “triple washed” packages? Some sources say you should wash them again at home, despite the triple washing, but the FDA recommends NOT doing that as they’ve already been washed in an approved facility that’s likely cleaner than the inside of the average kitchen. Washing them in an unclean environment might contaminate them if they weren’t already.

Tips for Lowering Your Risk
Avoid buying pre-packaged leafy greens and lettuce whenever possible. The risk is higher with these than with loose leafy greens. If you buy pre-packaged greens, look for ones that have no moisture in the bag and aren’t damaged or discoloured.

Keep leafy greens dry and refrigerated, although this won’t necessarily stop the growth of all bacteria. If the package has a “use by” date, toss it at that time if you haven’t eaten it. Even better, eat it before its expiration date, so there’s less of a chance for bacteria to grow.

Take measures to prevent cross-contamination. If you prepare salad and meat in the same area, it’s easy for bacteria from the uncooked meat to get into the salad you’re making. Always use a separate chopping board and utensils for each.

Be as cautious with organic greens as with conventional ones. Just because something was grown organically doesn’t mean it’s not contaminated with bacteria. Many people somehow think organic food is “cleaner” but the evidence doesn’t support this.

If you’re pregnant, over the age of 65, pregnant or have a weakened immune system, avoid buying bagged lettuce and greens as your risk of developing food poisoning complications is greater.

Also, keep your gut microbiome as healthy and diverse as possible. Some studies suggest that a diverse microbiome may lower the risk of food poisoning. Healthy gut bacteria compete for the same resources as bacteria that cause food poisoning. If you have a large population of “good guys” in your gut, bacteria that cause food poisoning are less likely to gain a foothold in your gut. The best way to keep your gut microbiome healthy and diverse is to eat a variety of foods high in fibre, particularly non-starchy fruits and vegetables.

Avoid eating lettuce from salad bars and at restaurants where you don’t know how the greens were handled or whether they came from a package or not. Also avoid eating sprouts, as they’re a common cause of food poisoning outbreaks. If you become ill after eating lettuce or greens, report it to your local health department, so they can trace the source.

The Bottom Line
Keep eating those leafy greens! They’re too healthy not too. But, take precautions to lower your risk of food poisoning. A brush with food poisoning can do more than make you sick to your stomach. Some people develop serious complications or die. So, be cautious about where the greens you’re putting on your plate come from.

Berkeley Wellness. “How Safe Is Your Bagged Salad?” “E. Coli Outbreak Tied to Romaine Lettuce Grows”"

~~ xxxx ~~

Although concerning I will certainly keep the tips and information in mind but will continue to enjoy salad days and leafy greens ... how about you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Dear reader, you will find a variety of articles, studies and recipe ideas within this blog, and not all may be suitable for you. If you may have any food allergies, or underlying health issues please take these into account. If you are a diabetic and not sure how certain foods may affect your blood sugars, test is best, i.e. use your meter. If you have any concerns about your health it is always advisable to consult your Doctor or health care team.

All the best Jan


William Kendall said...

I'm not really one for lettuce actually.

peppylady (Dora) said...

Avocado is anther one. Even they grow on trees. they can be plenty dirty. Wash one and see.
Coffee is on and stay safe.

Tom said...


Christine said...

Scary as many of us do buy prepackaged greens

J.P. Alexander said...

yo siempre lavo muy bien la lechuga para utilizarla. Te mando un beso.

Practical Parsimony said...

Growing Romaine is a no-brainer. Put it in the ground and it grows and grows when you cut some and eat it.

Practical Parsimony said...

I forgot to say, I have two heads growing in a flower pot on the front porch.

Lori Miller said...

I love salad and grow my own lettuce in the summer. I pick it fresh!

Jeff said...

I love a variety of greens, but thankfully am able to grow lettuce about half the year... I have tried to grow it inside, too, but that doesn't work as well.

Lorrie said...

I love lettuce and leafy greens and we eat a lot of them. I rarely, if ever, purchase them in a bag - they are so much better to buy whole, then wash and cut them myself. I don't believe I've ever become ill from salad, and I eat it in restaurants and at salad bars.

Elephant's Child said...

Interesting. I didn't realise that leafy greens posed such a risk.

Margaret D said...

Good article. I rarely purchase lettuce of any description in bags rather buy loose. Wash it well the lettuce that's called Iceberg down here.

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Thanks for sharing that thought-provoking information. Off the top of my head, I can't argue with any of it.

eileeninmd said...

Thanks for the information and tips. I have heard the romaine lettuce and spinach being recalled and removed from the shelves. Recalls happen too often lately. Take care, enjoy your day and the new week ahead.

CJ Kennedy said...

Good to know.

R's Rue said...

Thank you for sharing. I appreciate it.

My name is Erika. said...

I wouldn't have guessed that,but you do always hear about big outbreaks and a trace back to lettuce. Thanks for sharing this informative article. Happy new week too!

Valerie-Jael said...

Interesting, I'm happy I've never been ill after eating lettuce! Have a great week, Valerie

Victor S E Moubarak said...

"Avoid buying pre-packaged leafy greens and lettuce whenever possible."

This is very worrying. Does it mean that (some) of the pre-packed "washed and ready to eat" is not safe? How about other "ready to eat" products like already sliced apples, water melons and fruits?

I think it is safer to just eat the packaging and throw away the food stuff. We get so many FSA alerts of food recalls it is very worrying.

God bless.

happyone said...

This was good to learn. We do buy the packaged lettuce but I won't anymore.
Thanks for the advice.

Jeanie said...

This is bad news! I almost always buy the packaged lettuces and sometimes they sit a bit in the fridge before I use them. If they look fresh still, I'll use past the date, although I think I'll be rethinking that whole mode of lettuce in the future. It's my favorite veggie, too!

DVArtist said...

Fabulous post. It is the same in the US. I receive a weekly email form the CDC on what is being recalled. Almost every week some sort of bagged lettuce is on the list. I grow lettuce year round so we don't have to buy it. Have a great day today.

Divers and Sundry said...

I buy the packaged spinach in the 5-ounce plastic tubs. I try to be careful with it, but sometimes I think I oughta just switch to frozen and canned :(

carol l mckenna said...

Good information ~ caution is always best ~ thanks ~ Xo

Wishing you good health, laughter and love,

A ShutterBug Explores,
aka (A Creative Harbor)

Fun60 said...

Quite an alarming article. I have never given bacteria on lettuce leaves any thought whatsoever.

Rose said...

I found this an interesting read. I did not know it was the cause of that much food poisoning. I have long thought the bagged lettuce was not a good idea. I do enjoy a good salad, though. This won't detour me. Though I will probably think about it every time I have a salad.

sandy said...

Never thought about this - we buy bagged spinach all the time for our salads.

Creations By Cindy said...

I have a friend who got so very sick from bagged lettuce and ever since then I surely keep a watch on any bagged greens. Thanks for the information. Hope your week is wonderful. Hugs and blessings, Cindy

Christine said...

I got all your comments Jan, anonymous and otherwise, I have been sending a few anonymous myself and add my name, that is a good workaround for now I think.

Lowcarb team member said...

Hello Christine

So pleased my comments came through on your blog.
Blogger is still playing up when it comes to leaving them!
I know there are many of us experiencing glitches.

Take care, and enjoy the rest of your week.

All the best Jan

Iris Flavia said...

I got sick in Perth from salads in a plastic bowl from... The Freshfood People (Woolworths). Yikes.
Back then I thought it must´ve been something else, now I know and will avoid such salads. said...

I buy bagged spinach for salads and sometimes it is very soggy and did wonder if it could cause a problem.

Teresa said...

Una lectura muy interesante. Un beso.