Is There Sh*t in Your Salad? 39% of Bagged Salads Have Too Much Fecal Bacteria
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First the soda fountains at fast food restaurants, and now this-- Consumer Reports has just published an investigation revealing that 39% of the packaged salads tested contained "bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination." And this despite the fact that such bagged salads often display claims of 'prewashed' or 'triple-washed' and attract customers who consider them cleaner and safer.
Consumer Reports tested 208 different salads from 16 brands, and they note that they didn't find any seriously dangerous pathogens like salmonella or E. coli--though they do mention in passing that the Dept. of Agriculture typically finds traces of salmonella in 2 out of every 4,000 salads tested.
Instead, CR was looking for "total coliforms and for other bacteria, including enterococcus, that are better indicators of fecal contamination." The reason for the test was that currently, while there are federal limits on the amount of "indicator" bacteria that can be legally found in water, milk, raw meats, and processed foods, there's no such standard for produce. And so, CR set out to discover whether there was sh!t in your salad (or at least, bacteria that commonly, though not necessarily, forms in feces). Here's what they found:
Several industry experts we consulted suggested that for leafy greens, an unacceptable level of total coliforms or enterococcus is 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) or a comparable estimate. In our tests, 39 percent of samples exceeded that level for total coliforms and 23 percent for enterococcus.
Some samples registered up to 1 million CFU/g. Which is a lot of bacteria per gram of greens.
To clarify, just because a sample contains coliform bacteria, this does not mean there is literally feces in your salad--nor does it mean that this bacteria necessarily grew in crap. But high levels of such indicator bacterias like coliforms and enterococcus mean that there's a higher chance there was some fecal contamination or poor sanitation practices.
Naomi Starkman over at the Huffpo Green quotes Dr. Michael Hansen, the publisher of CR: "Although these 'indicator' bacteria generally do not make healthy people sick, the tests show not enough is being done to assure the safety or cleanliness of leafy greens."
The last of the bad news is that there's no one brand that tested particularly highly--all tested pretty much the same in their range levels of coliform bacteria, from high to low.
There is good news to all this, in my mind--it might help dispel the myth that bagged salads are somehow 'cleaner' than loose salads. There's really no reason to be buying salad wrapped in plastic, though I'm sure there are extenuating circumstances I'm not thinking of at the moment. It might be high time to forget about bagged, plastic-wrapped salads.
Brian Merchant is a freelance writer, blogger, and editor living in Brooklyn, NY.