Tossing triple-washed spinach into a weeknight pasta recipe or using bagged lettuce as the base for your lunch salad makes meal prep a lot more convenient. But with several recent recalls linked to these kinds of products, I found myself wondering if they really are safe to eat without rinsing. Just this past spring, for example, a company in Georgia pulled salad kits due to Listeria concerns, and last summer, mixes in Minnesota were recalled for the same reason. So I decided to ask food safety experts their thoughts: Does washing them yourself add an additional layer of protection against illness? Or is it a waste of time? Here’s what I learned.
First, “triple-washed,” “ready-to-eat, ” and “no washing necessary” salad mixes are exactly what they sound like: Greens that are cleaned before packaging, meaning you can (supposedly!) dig into them safely straight from the bag. More specifically, these terms describe any type of produce that’s undergone a complex commercial rinsing process, Ghaida Havern, MS, a food safety specialist at Michigan State University Extension, tells SELF. Think of the tool like a large, industrial version of a salad spinner that gently cleans and dries the produce, Martin Bucknavage, MS, a food safety specialist at Pennsylvania State University Extension, tells SELF. This method of rinsing works to remove germs, and goes above and beyond what you’d be able to do at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All ready-to-eat produce is rinsed in facilities that follow Good Manufacturing Practices and a Food Safety Plan. These guidelines, which fall under the umbrella of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), advise businesses to implement proactive protective measures—like sanitizing wash water or guaranteeing the equipment is clean—to reduce the chances of foodborne illness, Bucknavage says.
This is important because produce can contain germs that can make you sick. According to a report from the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, 58% of E. coli. infections in 2020 came from vegetable row crops, which include leafy greens. Illnesses from those bugs, as well as from other common contaminants like Salmonella or Listeria, can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
It’s reasonable to want to avoid this, and you may think that rinsing everything again at home is the solution. But Havern says the industrial washing process is enough to keep you safe. Not only does she think it’s unnecessary to clean her pre-washed greens, but she also cautions that doing so can actually be a riskier move.
“Do not rinse leafy greens labeled prewashed, triple-washed, or ready-to-eat because you will risk the chance of recontamination from your kitchen,” Halvern says. The other experts who spoke to SELF echo this advice, which also lines up with the CDC’s guidance: By cleaning them again, you might be doing more harm than good.
For example, if you wash your ready-to-eat greens in the basin of your sink without cleaning it first, bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella can transfer from a dirty cutting board you used for raw chicken to the produce, ultimately making you ill.
So, what’s the deal with the recent recalls, then? Well, even though triple-washed produce undergoes an intense cleaning process, it still carries a slight risk of foodborne illness, Bucknavage says. It’s not so much that the industrial washing is inadequate, but more that bugs like E. coli, norovirus, and Salmonella can land on triple-washed bagged produce after the rinsing process occurs but before the packages are sealed, according to Havern. It’s also possible that contaminants can get in during shipping and transportation if the bags are damaged or torn. But keep in mind that less than 5% of Listeria outbreaks involve ready-to-eat salads, according to estimations from a 2022 study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology.
Also! If your produce doesn’t have a label or sticker that says “triple-washed,” “ready-to-eat,” or “no washing necessary,” these rules don’t apply because the food hasn’t undergone any type of mandated cleaning to remove possible germs before packaging, Bucknavage says. In that case, make sure you rinse the greens under running water for at least 20 seconds to help remove dirt and bacteria that may be on them.
Ultimately, if you’re still skeptical about ready-to-eat produce, there are a few things you can do to stay extra safe. You can follow @FDArecalls on Twitter to see the latest news about potentially contaminated products, and pay attention to any emails you get from online grocery stores about recalls of items you’ve purchased. Also, make a point to examine your packages for any tears that could have allowed germs to climb on board after processing; if you see any, toss the entire bag just to be safe (or, if you’ve got the time, you can return it to the store for an exchange or refund), Bucknavage says. That way, you can get back to tossing grocery gems like bagged spinach in your favorite salads or smoothies without worry.
Originally Appeared on SELF