Do you really need to wash bagged salad?

When you decided to pick up your next meal from the supermarket and settled on a bag of salad from the produce section, chances are you might have heard some of the horror stories about what people might have found lurking among their mixed greens. There was the lady with the frog, the person with the slug, or someone else who found a reptile (via The Washington Post). Given all unwanted add-ons you may find in your salad, would it be wise to give your greens another swish before you eat them?

You'd certainly have good reason to wash your greens if that's what you want to do. Even as American diners were discovering animals in their produce, British researchers were conducting experiments on bagged salad by exposing raw greens to the liquid that is released when salad leaves are damaged (aka 'salad juice'), then leaving the bag of greens sitting in the fridge over a five-day period. The leaves emerged with a bacteria count of between 100 to 100,000 cells, which Berkeley Wellness says is high enough to cause a food-borne illness, which you should always take great pains to avoid.

Health experts actually advise against washing bagged salad

While there is some level of risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says greens which are labelled "triple-washed" or "ready-to-eat" can be eaten without being washed after they are taken out of the bag. Their reasoning is simple: because salad greens grow so close to the ground, the leaves are likely to be covered in dirt when they are harvested and as such, they need to be washed and sanitized as soon as they are harvested — and before they are packaged. 

Michelle Annette Smith, a food-safety expert with the USFDA, says (via Business Insider), "It is unlikely that consumer washing of such products will make the product cleaner compared to a commercial triple wash. It is possible that the additional handling may contaminate a product that was clean."

If you do decide to wash that bagged salad, Berkeley Wellness suggests you make sure you thoroughly clean your hands and prep surfaces so the chance of cross-contamination is diminished. Before paying for the bagged salad, make sure that the greens look dry, crisp, and fresh; and there is no sign of slime or wetness, keep the greens in your refrigerator and consume as soon as possible. Or better yet, consider buying unbagged salad greens, so you get the chance to look through the produce up close before you make your purchase.