The reason bagged salads get hit with recalls

One food safety expert says pre-washed and chopped produce is not always as clean as it looks

A Fresh Express salad kit is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency

A Fresh Express salad kit is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Bagged salad is a quick and easy way to get your greens but a series of recalls is highlighting a not-so-appetizing fact — prepped produce also carries a greater risk of bacterial contamination.

Amid yet another salad recall falling in the midst of holiday season, health experts say there’s no need to drop the fresh fruits and veggies from your holiday spread, but there are ways to mitigate the risk of food-borne illness.

The first thing is to understand that pre-washed and chopped produce is not always as clean as it looks, says food safety expert Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor in the agricultural and environmental sciences faculties at McGill University

“We know that bagged lettuce is inherently more problematic for contamination than the not-bagged lettuce (or) just buying a head of leaf or iceberg or romaine or whatever,” says Ronholm, noting the bagged stuff occasionally includes juices that are a very good medium for bacterial growth.

“When you cut leafy greens up for one of the bagged salads, the bacteria can actually go and enter the wounds of the plant and hide out inside of the leaves…. These leaves are washed in chlorinated water to surface-decontaminate them, (but) once they’re cut you could have bacteria inside the leaves.”

Meanwhile, a head of iceberg or romaine gets a single cut at the root, which consumers should trim again when they bring the head home, in addition to shedding the outer leaves, she says.

Several big recalls and warnings in the past few weeks have raised extra concern about leafy greens in particular.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled a specific variety of Fresh Express brand Sunflower Crisp Chopped Kit on Dec. 8 after their investigation into an outbreak of food-borne illness found E. coli. As of Dec. 11, the Public Health Agency had linked the particularly nasty strain to 24 illnesses, including six people who were hospitalized. One person developed a type of kidney failure.

READ MORE: Second warning on romaine from California region with another case of E. coli case

The agency warned consumers to throw away affected products and sanitize containers used to store it, since this strain of E. coli is especially harmful to pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults.

That recall came on the heels of another on Dec. 3 in which the CFIA recalled a specific variety of President’s Choice brand coleslaw after detecting possible salmonella contamination.

Then there is the expansive warning in the United States and Canada to avoid all romaine lettuce grown in or near Salinas, Calif., due to an E. coli outbreak, including salad mixes, whole heads, and romaine in salad wraps.

The CFIA says it requires all romaine imports from California to prove it does not come from the Salinas region.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A ambulance drives past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
9 Lower Mainland hospitals to postpone non-urgent surgeries as hospitalizations surge

Record number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across B.C.

Film crews took over Hawthorne Square Dec. 14 to shoot scenes from the TV series Flash. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
UPDATE: Cloverdale ‘Flash’ episode airs

TV series ‘Flash’ transported 176th Street back to 1998

Surrey forest trail, on Surrey Mound. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
OUR VIEW: Surrey should celebrate Earth Day every day, every week

Today – Thursday, April 22 – is Earth Day

Softball BC has renamed its volunteer-of-the-year award in honour of longtime Canada Cup volunteer Zeone Andrijaszyn (inset), who passed away last year. (File photo)
Longtime Canada Cup volunteer honoured by Softball BC

Provincial organization’s volunteer-of-the-year award renamed for Zeone Andrijaszyn

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Verdict to come down today in Surrey crash that killed Travis Selje

Accused testified she has no recollection of the crash and believes she had an epileptic seizure that caused the collision

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 more COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Sgt. Frank Jang of IHIT spoke Thursday morning at the press conference about three recent gangland murders, including the killing of UN Gang member Todd Gouwenberg at the Langley Sportsplex on April 21. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Langley man gunned down at Sportsplex was long-time gang member

Todd Gouwenberg was affiliated with the UN Gang, police said

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

(File)
Two injured in rollover crash near Agassiz

One treated for serious, non-life threatening injuries

Most Read