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

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

Mount Cain planning a modified winter season for north Island ski and snowboarders

Skiing is a COVID-friendly activity, but shared public spaces require adjustment

Remote B.C. tourism lodge staffed for coastal clean up instead of wilderness tours

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to exotic wildlife — and international trash

BC Hydro responds to all-day North Island power outage complaints

Dear Editor, I understand the frustration an all-day power outage like the… Continue reading

Report Card: North Island Secondary School named fourth fastest-improving school by Fraser Institute

NISS is listed among a total of 22 schools that have shown improvement in the annual report.

Town of Port McNeill’s annual Halloween fireworks show cancelled

‘This has been a horrible year for having to cancel many things that are near and dear to us’

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Long-term care need pressuring acute care in Comox Valley, Strathcona

Region could use a couple of large facilities for seniors on the north part of the Island

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Most Read