The reason bagged salads get hit with recalls

One food safety expert says pre-washed and chopped produce is not always as clean as it looks

A Fresh Express salad kit is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency

A Fresh Express salad kit is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Bagged salad is a quick and easy way to get your greens but a series of recalls is highlighting a not-so-appetizing fact — prepped produce also carries a greater risk of bacterial contamination.

Amid yet another salad recall falling in the midst of holiday season, health experts say there’s no need to drop the fresh fruits and veggies from your holiday spread, but there are ways to mitigate the risk of food-borne illness.

The first thing is to understand that pre-washed and chopped produce is not always as clean as it looks, says food safety expert Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor in the agricultural and environmental sciences faculties at McGill University

“We know that bagged lettuce is inherently more problematic for contamination than the not-bagged lettuce (or) just buying a head of leaf or iceberg or romaine or whatever,” says Ronholm, noting the bagged stuff occasionally includes juices that are a very good medium for bacterial growth.

“When you cut leafy greens up for one of the bagged salads, the bacteria can actually go and enter the wounds of the plant and hide out inside of the leaves…. These leaves are washed in chlorinated water to surface-decontaminate them, (but) once they’re cut you could have bacteria inside the leaves.”

Meanwhile, a head of iceberg or romaine gets a single cut at the root, which consumers should trim again when they bring the head home, in addition to shedding the outer leaves, she says.

Several big recalls and warnings in the past few weeks have raised extra concern about leafy greens in particular.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled a specific variety of Fresh Express brand Sunflower Crisp Chopped Kit on Dec. 8 after their investigation into an outbreak of food-borne illness found E. coli. As of Dec. 11, the Public Health Agency had linked the particularly nasty strain to 24 illnesses, including six people who were hospitalized. One person developed a type of kidney failure.

READ MORE: Second warning on romaine from California region with another case of E. coli case

The agency warned consumers to throw away affected products and sanitize containers used to store it, since this strain of E. coli is especially harmful to pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults.

That recall came on the heels of another on Dec. 3 in which the CFIA recalled a specific variety of President’s Choice brand coleslaw after detecting possible salmonella contamination.

Then there is the expansive warning in the United States and Canada to avoid all romaine lettuce grown in or near Salinas, Calif., due to an E. coli outbreak, including salad mixes, whole heads, and romaine in salad wraps.

The CFIA says it requires all romaine imports from California to prove it does not come from the Salinas region.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Most Read