Many people, myself included, will tell you that buying bagged, pre-washed lettuce mixes makes it easier to eat more salad. More organized folks will point out that washing and drying your own lettuce isn't that difficult and that bagged lettuce isn't always that safe. What's the best way to go? Well, the answer is complicated.
I picked up the bag of lettuce pictured above at Happy Boy Farms, one of my favorite stalls at my local farmers' market. I was first attracted to the lettuce because of the pretty scattering of edible flowers they sprinkle into each bag, but it's the actual lettuce mix that keeps me coming back for more. The lettuce greens change with the seasons and are always fresh, crisp and full of flavor. I trust this farmer to produce safe, healthy greens and love the convenience of the pre-washed lettuce.
The bagged lettuce found in most grocery stores is another, more complicated matter. The lettuce leaves, even those labeled organic, are likely to have been washed in a weak chlorine solution. This is both good and bad news. The good news is that the chlorine is there to destroy any harmful bacteria that can lead to sickness. The bad news is that most folks would prefer not to eat something that has been washed in chlorine, no matter how diluted.
Would rewashing your bagged lettuces help? Well, besides the fact that it defeats the reason for buying the pre-washed lettuce to begin with, there is also the possibility of contaminating the lettuce in your own kitchen. It's very possible that your kitchen is not nearly as clean as a lettuce processing plant, which uses industrial strength cleaners and has rigorous cleaning protocols.
The bottom line is that many foods, and especially raw foods like lettuce, aren't sterile, and for the most part that's okay. While no one wants to buy contaminated lettuce, you can find a middle ground. I recommend buying your lettuce from a smaller producer whose farming practices you trust. Keeping them refrigerated and using them up quickly are also good ways to keep bacteria at bay.
Don't assume, though, that just because you purchase your lettuce at the farmers' market that it isn't washed in the chlorine solution. Many organic famers use this method to assure that no harmful bacteria is making its way into your salads. If this practice is a concern for you, be sure to engage one of the people at the stall about their washing and testing practices.
For More Information:
• Food Poising Bulletin on the safety of pre-washed lettuce
• Growing Produce on alternative ways to decontaminate lettuce.
• Happy Boy Farms on their lettuce mix.
Related: Loving Right Now: Earthbound Farm Fresh Herb Salad
(Image: Dana Velden)