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WalkerSpeak: Salad Greens – To Wash or Not to Wash

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When Consumer Reports recently reported that those bags of triple-washed salad greens are really not pristine, cooks find themselves split into two camps: Those who believed and didn’t wash and those who always felt that “triple washed” didn’t necessarily mean clean.

I’m not as fastidious in the kitchen as some, including a friend of mine. She uses a fork or spoon while cooking, then stops in mid-action to take the utensil to the sink, wash it with dish soap and put it into the dishwasher.  I feel this interrupts the creative flow.

But I do always wash those triple-washed salad greens. Not that I think the packer is lying, that the greens weren’t really washed three times — I just can’t imagine that washing and packing something as delicate as lettuces on such a major scale offers too many opportunities for the unwanted to happen.

The report didn’t find pathogens such as E. coli, listeria or salmonella. But other bad bugs turned up.

“Several industry experts we consulted suggested that for leafy greens, an unacceptable level of total coliforms or enterococcus is 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) or a comparable estimate. In our tests, 39 percent of samples exceeded that level for total coliforms and 23 percent for enterococcus,” said the report.

I wash salad greens in a roomy, stainless steel colander, splashing them around in cool water and shaking them as dry as I can by hand. Some use a salad spinner and that’s fine. I like to shake as much water off as possible, then repackage the greens in a clean, zip-lock bag. The few drops of water remaining on the lettuces seem to help keep them crisper — at least when you use them in the first couple of days.

That brings us to one of the suggestions in Consumer Reports. In addition to washing the salad greens or spinach, you should look at the “use by” dates and pick up a box where that date is as far in the future as you can find. (I do this with dairy products, too, even though I always have the slightest feeling that I’m cheating by taking the containers further back on the shelf.)

Also, and this is just common sense, try to keep the greens away from raw meat, or unwashed counters or cutting boards. In fact, I’d say that where salad and raw meat are concerned, one might wish to be as meticulous as my friend.

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