Can leafy greens make you sick? If it’s contaminated with Salmonella enterica, it sure can. That’s right – raw eggs and meat aren’t the only things to look out for. During harvesting and packaging, Salmonella can find its way onto pre-bagged greens. Thankfully, with the right habits, you won’t have to worry.
Veggie contaminations are surprisingly common. From 1998 to 2008, nearly 25 percent of foodborne illnesses were traced back to leafy greens. That’s more than any other food! The reason makes perfect sense: Bacteria in meat and eggs are killed off after cooking, but salad greens are eaten raw. It’s a set-up for infection.1
Even worse, the vegetable’s natural juices boost Salmonella growth by 110 percent. Those same juices also help the bacteria hold on to the plastic packaging. Plus, within five days of storage, even a light trace of fluid increases Salmonella growth 280-fold.2
Does that mean you should avoid bagged salads and greens? Not really. They’re a convenient, tasty source of vitamins and minerals. Follow these five tips to enjoy them safely.
How To Eat Bagged Leafy Greens And Avoid Salmonella
1. Check Expiration Dates
Always look at the “use by” date. Only buy bags that are stamped with a future expiration date, not today or even tomorrow. Apply this practice to any pre-packaged food.
2. Avoid Mushy Leaves
Don’t just look at the date. Check out the contents of the bag, too. Any packages with mushy, wet-looking leaves should be avoided. Lettuce may look brown, while spinach will seem practically black.
3. Avoid Swollen Bags
Skip any containers or bags that look swollen. Bacteria contamination tends to make packaging swell up, so examine it carefully. It also shouldn’t be puffy.
4. Eat It Immediately
Even if the expiration date is in a few days or next week, eat the bagged greens as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit around for too long. You’ll have to plan meals and grocery shopping accordingly, but it’ll be worth it.
5. Wash It Again
While most bagged greens are pre-washed, it doesn’t hurt to do it again. You can never be sure how well the manufacturer washed the greens – if at all. Make sure your hands are clean, too. Handling other raw foods beforehand can increase the risk of contamination.
Symptoms Of Salmonella Infection
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with Salmonella poisoning. But it helps to know the signs! The symptoms typically show up within 12 to 72 hours an infection, and last for 4 to 7 days. Most healthy people recover without treatment.
- Stomach cramps
Make sure to drink lots of water. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so try your best to prevent it. Staying hydrated will also help the body heal.
Salmonella tends to be more severe in kids, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. In these cases, visit a doctor ASAP. Loose and “free” leafy greens might seem dirtier, but they’re the safest bet. These veggies aren’t packed and stored for long periods of time. Better yet, buy from a farmer’s market or grow your own. It’ll limit the handling and transport from ground to table.
|↑1||Painter, John A., Robert M. Hoekstra, Tracy Ayers, Robert V. Tauxe, Christopher R. Braden, Frederick J. Angulo, and Patricia M. Griffin. “Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, United States, 1998–2008.” Emerging infectious diseases 19, no. 3 (2013): 407.|
|↑2||Koukkidis, Giannis, Richard Haigh, Natalie Allcock, Suzanne Jordan, and Primrose Freestone. “Salad leaf juices enhance Salmonella growth, colonization of fresh produce, and virulence.” Applied and environmental microbiology 83, no. 1 (2017): e02416-16.|