They’re the ultimate in convenience – those pretty, pre-packaged salads in plastic bags and clamshell containers in the produce section. But there’s something you may not know about them. If you don’t store pre-packaged salads at the appropriate temperature, you could end up with a bad case of food poisoning
Food Poisoning From Salad: A Growing Problem
A freshly prepared salad with its vitamins and antioxidants is certainly good for you, but not if it’s a Petri dish for bacteria that cause food poisoning. In 2006 alone there were three major outbreaks of food poisoning linked to salad greens, and the number of cases of food poisoning from packaged greens continues to rise.
To Reduce the Risk of Salad Food Poisoning, Store Pre-Packaged Salads Properly
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Food Science, the risk of food poisoning from salad can be reduced if packaged salads are stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below – a temperature cold enough to keep bacteria from multiplying.
Packaged Salads: What a Study Showed
Researchers inoculated pre-packaged salads with E.coli bacteria and stored them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or 53 degrees Fahrenheit until they were past the expiration date stamped on the package.
After opening the packages and quantifying the amount of bacteria in each salad, they made some interesting observations. The E. coli in the pre-packaged salad stored at 53 degrees Fahrenheit had multiplied in number – beyond what would be considered safe for human health. The other salad package held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit had very limited bacterial growth – not enough to be harmful to most people.
Food Poisoning from Salad: It’s Hard to Tell When There’s a Problem
Unfortunately, you can’t simply look at a packaged salad and tell whether or not it’s contaminated with bacteria. When Consumer Reports examined over 200 packaged salads, almost 40% contained unacceptable levels of fecal-derived E.coli bacteria. Packages that were within five days or less of their “use by” date had the highest levels of bacteria – and it didn’t matter whether the packaged salad was organic or conventional. Both contained bacteria. Doesn’t make for a very pleasant lunch, does it?
Preventing Salad Food Poisoning: The Bottom Line
If you buy packaged salads, store them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below and use them at least six days before the date stamped on the outside of the package. Even if the package says the product is pre-washed, wash it again anyway. Taking these precautions won’t eliminate the risk of food poisoning from salad, but it will help lower the chances.
Food Production Daily website. “Temperature abuse of packaged salads raises food safety fears – study”
WebMd website. “‘Prewashed’ Salads May Need Another Rinse”