6 On Your Side: Consumer Confidence, How to Have a Safer Salad

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(ABC 6 News) – A big green, crisp, salad is a healthy diet staple, but it doesn’t come without risks.

Within the last decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 80 foodborne disease outbreaks linked to leafy greens.

Consumer Reports food experts say don’t give up lettuce, just take a few extra precautions.

Lindsay Kirtlan with Lindsay’s Kitchen makes about 200 salads every week.

“Restaurants, we don’t set out to make people sick. So we have to do our due diligence to make sure that our customers are well cared for because all we are trying to do is serve the community,” says Kirtlan.

James Rogers with Consumer Reports says, “Salad is something that we eat at room temperature. Because it’s not heated, there’s no chance to kill off the bacteria.”

Most recent romaine lettuce recalls are linked to E. coli and listeria.

Contamination can happen anywhere from farm to table. Cattle can carry deadly strains of E. coli. Their manure which has the bacteria, can seep into irrigation water and contaminate crops.

No single type of leafy green is risk-free. But hydroponic lettuces, which are greenhouse-grown without soil, are less likely to be contaminated by bacteria from animal droppings.

“Even when leafy greens are grown free of harmful bacteria, contamination can still occur during harvesting, processing, or packaging. That’s why it’s so important you take extra steps to protect yourself,” says Rogers.

Whole heads of lettuce, instead of bagged greens, might be safer. Whole heads don’t necessarily have lower bacteria levels, but their inner leaves are less exposed to sources of contamination and are handled less than bagged greens.

“Refrigerate bagged lettuce right after you buy it. It won’t prevent foodborne illness but will slow spoilage,” says Rogers.

Buy packages with expiration dates as far in the future as possible. Don’t buy more than you can eat in a few days.

Another strategy: opt for leafy greens that can be cooked, like spinach or kale.

The heat will kill bacteria. This is particularly important for people who are more susceptible to the ill effects of food poisoning, such as those who are immunocompromised, pregnant, or elderly.