Hinterland Green

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Consumer Reports Study: Bagged Salads Aren't as Safe as You Think

Consumer Reports' releases results of study, find bagged salads aren't as "clean" as they claim to be. High levels of fecal bacteria found.

SHOCK: Consumer Reports, via its Consumers Union, has recently released the findings of tests on packaged leafy greens and the results are shocking. The study found high levels of bacteria, which are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal matter. The study appears in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports and is also available online. Consumers Union has also issued a report urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set safety standards for greens. There is a sense of urgency to move this legislation through Congress because so many people, including children, eat green leafy vegetables on a daily basis. The legislation, pending in the Senate, passed last summer in the House of Representatives and would require the FDA to create safety standards for such vegetables.

The tests were conducted with financial support from the Pew Health Group and assessed several types of bacteria, including total coliforms and enterococcus which are "indicator organisms" found in the human digestive tract and in the surrounding environment that can indicate inadequate sanitation and a high risk of the presence of disease-causing organisms. What's equally disturbing is that there are no existing federal standards for indicator bacteria in salad greens, while there are standards for these forms of bacteria in milk, drinking water and beef. This is unacceptable and we should all work tirelessly to effect change in this arena. Several industry consultants have reportedly suggested that an unacceptable level in leafy greens would be 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g).

In our tests, 39 percent of samples exceeded that level for total coliforms and 23 percent for enterococcus. Results varied widely among samples, even within the same brand, from undetectable levels of those bacteria to more than 1 million CFU/g. Packages with higher bacteria levels had similarities. Many contained spinach and were one to five days from their use-by date. Packages six to eight days from their use-by date fared better. Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included "baby" greens, or were organic made no difference.

Brands for which we had more than four samples, including national brands Dole, Earthbound Farm Organic, and Fresh Express, plus regional and store brands, had at least one package with relatively high levels of total coliforms or enterococcus. Our tests were conducted at an outside lab over two weeks in August and September with financial support from the Pew Health Group, which is working to improve food safety.

Consumers Union supports Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, that would, among other things, require the Food and Drug Administration to set stronger produce safety standards. Those should include performance standards for indicators of fecal contamination, such as generic E. coli and enterococcus. Source: Consumer Reports
What can you do to prevent ingesting harmful bacteria? The first thing is to wash the vegetables thoroughly, even if they "claim" to be pre-washed. It will help get rid of any residual soil matter. Visit Consumers Union for more tips: www.ConsumersUnion.org/safefood. In the meantime, please contact your elected officials in the Congress to get a move on passing this legislation.

Photo credit: Consumer Reports
blog comments powered by Disqus