Packaged Salad May Contain BacteriaPackaged Salad May Contain Bacteria
February 3, 2010
YONKERS, N.Y.Bacteria are commonly served alongside packaged leafy greens, according to Consumer Reports' latest tests. They report these bacteria are found in rather high levels in some packaged salads. The story appears in the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports and is also available free online.
Consumer Reports' tests, which were conducted with financial support from the Pew Health Group, assessed for several types of bacteria, including total coliforms and Enterocccous "indicator organisms" found in the human digestive tract and in the ambient environment that can signal inadequate sanitation and the potential for the presence of disease-causing organisms. While there are no existing federal standards for indicator bacteria in salad greens, there are standards for these bacteria in milk, beef and drinking water. Several industry consultants suggest that an unacceptable level in leafy greens would be 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g).
An outside lab tested 208 containers of 16 brands of salad greens, sold in plastic clamshells or bags, bought last summer from stores in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Consumer Reports found 39 percent of samples exceeded this level for total coliform, and 23 percent for Enterococcus. The tests did not find E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella sometimes deadly pathogens which can be found in greens, although it was not expected given the small sample size.
"Although these 'indicator' bacteria generally do not make healthy people sick, the tests show not enough is being done to assure the safety or cleanliness of leafy greens," said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Unions, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "Levels of bacteria varied widely, even among different samples of the same brand. More research and effort is needed within the industry to better protect the public. In the meantime, consumers should buy packages of greens that are as far from the use-by date as possible."
Other findings of the tests include:
2 percent of samples exceeded French and 5 percent exceeded Brazilian standards for fecal coliform bacteria.
Many packages containing spinach, and packages which were one to five days from their use-by date, had higher bacterial levels. Packages six to eight days from their use-by date generally fared better.
Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included "baby" greens, or were organic made no difference in bacteria levels.
Brands for which there were 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 Enteroccocus.
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