In a news release by Consumer Reports, lab analysis of packaged leafy greens found that coliform and enterococci bacteria; common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination, were isolated in the samples tested, sometimes at high levels.
The indicator organisms can also determine the potential for the presence of disease causing organisms like E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Currently there are no federal standards for indicators organisms in salad greens like there are for other foods like milk, beef and drinking water. The indicator organisms themselves generally do not cause illness in healthy people.
Pathogens like E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella were not found in this lab analysis.
According to the release, Consumer Reports had an outside lab test 208 containers (plastic clamshell or bags) of 16 brands of salad greens bought in stores in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York and found out the following:
• 39 percent of samples exceeded 10,000 CFUs (or another similar measure) per gram for total coliforms and 23 percent for enterococcus, the levels industry consultants deemed unacceptable.
• Many packages containing spinach, and packages which were one to five days from their use-by date, had higher bacterial levels. Packages six to eight days from their use-by date generally fared better.
• Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included “baby” greens, or were organic made no difference in bacteria levels.
As a result of this study, Consumers Union had issued a report urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set safety standards for greens.
Consumer Reports recommends the following actions to avoid getting sick from packaged leafy greens:
• Buy packages far from their use-by date.
• Wash the greens even if the packages say “prewashed” or “triplewashed.” Rinsing won’t remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil.
• Prevent cross contamination of greens by keeping them away from raw meat and poultry.