Should We Rewash Pre-washed Greens?

Years ago I posted something about pre-washed bagged/boxed lettuce on my Facebook page (back when I could easily reach all my “likers” on that platform – but that’s a whole other story!). There were a surprising amount of commenters on that post who said they would NEVER eat pre-washed lettuce – even the triple washed stuff – without rewashing it again first.

One of those commenters even knew someone who worked at a lettuce washing facility and based their opinion on those first-hand experiences. Needless to say, this has been bothering me ever since!

So after years of uncertainty, and likely unnecessary guilt when I don’t have time or frankly just don’t feel like rewashing bagged lettuce, I’m hoping to get to the bottom of this issue with today’s new post!

Should we rewash pre-washed greens / lettuce on 100 Days of Real Food

How Organic Greens are Commercially Washed

In a statement from Earthbound Farms

“We lab-test freshly harvested greens for pathogenic E. coli, salmonella and shigella, and we destroy any greens that show signs of these bacteria. Only cleared greens enter our processing lines. All plant employees wear protective clothing to prevent unshielded contact with produce as equipment inspects, washes, and dries the delicate greens. Optical sorters remove stray pebbles and twigs, and the greens are passed through metal detectors as well. Then the salads are pre-washed in cold, lightly chlorinated water before packaging. At this point, the greens are lab-tested again. Salads shipped to store shelves have been food safety-tested twice.”

I also spoke to one of their representatives and learned the water they use for the pre-washing contains more chlorine than your average drinking water, although he could not tell me exactly how much (one source states it could be 50 to 200 parts per million). But the greens are then rinsed again in regular tap water and after the entire process is completed the remaining chlorine residue meets government standards (less than 4 parts per million).

I asked the representative if he personally rewashes his pre-washed greens (he works there after all!) and he said no he eats them right out of the box. He’s been in the washing facility and says he has a lot of confidence in the process. Hmmm…

The Case for Not Rewashing

Here are some convincing reasons I found to not rewash …they do have some good points.

  • “In my experience, contamination is much more likely to happen in your own home than in a factory,” says Jeff Nelkin via Real Simple magazine, a registered dietitian and a food-safety coach in Woodland Hills, California.
    (See the proper way to wash lettuce below.)
  • According to an NPR article, “There’s a good chance that if bacteria managed to survive commercial-scale washing with chlorinated water in the processing plant, a lot of them will survive your home washing, too.”

The Case for Rewashing

And, yikes, this is what I found from the rewash camp …not looking so great unfortunately.

  • It may not be deadly, but “bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination—in some cases, at rather high levels” were found in a 2010 Consumer Reports test of salad greens. No! I have heard that runoff from nearby feedlots can sometimes (unintentionally) infiltrate nearby large-scale produce farms. Double yikes.
  • Researchers at the University of California-Riverside found that nooks and crannies on spinach leaves keep out the disinfectant, “leaving live bacteria present on the leaves and the possibility of an infection from those.” Based on the statement above I have to wonder how much rewashing at home would even help with this one.

The Proper Way to Wash Greens*

Whether you buy local, grow your own, or go with the bagged stuff these steps are the sanitary way to wash lettuce and other greens at home.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before handling ready-to-eat (RTE) lettuce/leafy green salads. Rewash hands as necessary.
  2. Clean with hot soapy water, the sink, colander, salad spinner and any utensils that will contact the lettuce/leafy greens salad.
  3. Use cold running water to wash RTE lettuce/leafy green salads to reduce the potential for cross contamination.
  4. Dry RTE lettuce/leafy green salad with a clean salad spinner or paper towel not previously used for another purpose.
  5. Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.

*Courtesy of the California Department of Public Health

The Verdict

The slight “germaphobe” in me is a little freaked out by the fecal matter findings statement. It looks like I should probably try harder to rewash, and if for some reason I don’t (or I forget) a lot of cringing may be involved.

But even more so I want to continue to try to buy – and grow – my greens locally whenever possible (and of course spend time washing those greens as well). It’s a good thing I’ve got a decent salad spinner on hand!

The bottom line is, as with any fresh uncooked foods, there is a slight risk, but the benefits obviously outweigh the risks big time. I’d love to know – where do you stand? Team Rewash or Team Prewash?

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86 thoughts on “Should We Rewash Pre-washed Greens?”

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  1. I usually don’t rewash when I buy lettuce, but have found it much safer and better tasting to grow my own in my home in my Tower Garden (www.mt.towergarden.com) with grow lights! The lettuce grows quickly and is very tasty and nutritious! I have pictures if you want to see how it grows.

    1. @Jennifer, Sure you can use peroxide it is only a 3% peroxide agent we are not talking i would not sit and drink it however my grandmother, my mother, aunts and I have all used it for a mouthwash and gargle as have several others i know. There are lots of good books and information about it. Directly on the peroxide bottle it reads, “Oral debriding agent” swish around in the mouth for at least 1 minute, gargle and spit out, rinse mouth with water for fresher feeling, may use up to 4 times daily after meals and at bedtime …. That is on the bottle! No matter how hard you try you are going to swallow some … so they would not put on the bottle of 3% if it were not safe. Also from various reliable sites are these Examples:
      Hydrogen peroxide can be used as an oxidizing mouthwash. It kills anearobic bacteria, and also has a mechanical cleansing action when it froths as it comes into contact with debris in mouth. It is often used to treat acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis.
      Also,
      As an alternative treatment option, H2O2 serves as a disinfectant that sanitizes through oxidation as well, making it the world’s safest sanitizer. It also fights infection, eliminates toxins, cures bacteria and viruses, and neutralizes germs. With all of these properties, it can be utilized to treat a wide array of common illnesses. Some of the most common ways it is used is in treating sinus infections, cleansing wounds, eliminating parasites, reducing toothaches, detoxing the body, and treating cancer.
      Also,
      Even the 35% Food grade states: How to Use Food-Grade Hydrogen Peroxide

      Prolong the life of your produce with a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide. Add 4 oz. 3 percent H2O2 to 1 quart water. Spray the liquid on fresh fruits and vegetables to kill bacteria and preserve them naturally.

      Although you do not want to ingest/drink the 35% it is still safe enough to wash/spritz your fruit and vegetables in and still eat them!

  2. I used to wash my RTE spinach while I was pregnant after there were several outbreaks back to back. Now I buy it for the luxury of not having to wash it.

  3. I believe part of the pleasure and purpose of cooking one’s own food is to have maximum food safety. With organic pre washed and non pre washed, I do the following: In each of 2 new spray bottles I pour hydrogen peroxide and food grade vinegar. I put the greens into the colander, spray with each solution, toss with clean hands, and wait the recommended 5 minutes. Rinse and dry in the salad spinner. I also spray avocados, whole onion, etc., wait, rinse because this produce sits on the checkout conveyor belt, child seat, etc. and one slice with the knife and I’ve dragged bacteria through the produce. At risk of sounding paranoid, I learned this from a food health inspector who has seen it all. This process is really emotionally gratifying because I feel I am taking good care of everyone at my dining table. Thanks for your work, Lisa!

    1. I really like that … My grand mother use to wash her collards and turnips in the washing machine … not sure i would go that far …. I have use just a few drops of dawn in the sink, however the peroxide and vinegar sound better and safer .. Thanks for that tip! I always wash off my lemons, oranges or any thing else that i cut into … I like you feel that them being handled by lord only knows who and on the conveyor belt, etc… that i need to wash properly before cutting and spreading the germs! Again thanks for the great tip!

  4. This is interesting. I sometimes don’t eat salads because I don’t have the energy to wash greens and don’t want prewashed. If I do get them, I still want to wash again. So I may be more apt to buy prewashed now; maybe not rewash them. Following the comments will, no doubt, help me be more comfortable with all this. ;-)

  5. I agree with Lauren B.! I have lived a fairly long time, (almost 58 years) without a hitch. I believe if it hasn’t killed me yet, I should be alright.

  6. Every time I open a bag of pre washed lettuce, I briefly think, I should probably wash it again. However… the “risky” side of me says, “Oh well, I will take my chances.” It feels like a small victory to trust that the food you are eating, is OK! ha!

  7. I buy the prewashed to save time. The not prewashed looks very dirty and I don’t feel I get it clean enough. I rarely rehash and my family is rarely sick. If anything, perhaps it’s building up our immune e system.

  8. The whole reason I buy bagged lettuce is because I want to SKIP the whole washing part due to time, convenience, and sheer laziness! I’ve never had an issue with food poisoning *knock on wood!* and anyway, consuming small amounts of bacteria and dirt is supposed to be really good for your immune system!

  9. I always rewash any fruit or vegie and especially salad greens. I too use a bowl of bottled jug water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar, then a bowl of just bottled water to rinse, then salad spinner and then pat dry on clean paper towels. and yes, washed hands and bowls and anything else used in the process. And I always Clorox my counters first. I thought I was the only one that was this picky. Love this site!

    1. Hi Sharon, you are extremely thorough…. I’m curious what your cleanup/prep would be with chicken? I hate raw meat. Thx!
      Erin

    2. Hi Erin, I always wash my hands then Clorox my counter, sinks and faucets first, then rinse them off and dry with clean paper towels. Then I wash 2 meat platters and lay plastic wrap on the counter then a layer of clean paper towels & place the meat platters on the paper towels. I then lay double layer of paper towels on one platter and lay the chicken on the other platter. I then cut the chicken up & wash each piece under running tap water & lay on the platter with the paper towels on it. Then Dab each piece dry. Then remove the first platter that the chicken was on to the sink that has soapy Clorox water in it. Then I cook the chicken how ever I decide to make it. While it is cooking, I throw all the paper towels and saran wrap in the trash. Then wash, rinse & dry the platters. Then Clorox counter, sinks & faucets & wash hands. Lot of steps, but, I read somewhere that chicken splashes when washing it under your running water, so, this is how I do it.

  10. With the stuff we grow at home, I wash with a vinegar/water mix and then rinse. But this is a small portion of the year and honestly makes it hard to find time to harvest and use the greens. For the pre washed stuff, I don’t bother. To be honest, with a 3 month old and 2 year old, if I had to wash it again, I would eat it way less often. Many times I’m scrambling to get meals together in the few minutes when no one is screaming or needing anything. I’m willing to take the risk in order to continue to eat greens during this chapter in my life when I have so little time. Hopefully once the kiddos are bigger, and maybe can help (!) I can revisit the issue if I want. It’s the same reason I still buy certain foods that I could and would like to make myself (like granola, condiments, tomato sauce). I’m sure other people in busy seasons of life can relate :)

  11. Always, always, always soak your lettuces in produce wash AND the right amount of apple cider or white vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar) to KILL PARASITES! You can wash greens till you’re blue in the face, the parasites are invisible and hide in the tiniest of areas. You want parasites multiplying and causing problems in your gut and blood stream. I don’t think so! And who hand dries leaves of lettuce. Ridiculous!

    1. P.S. I use a separate bowl to soak my greens, not the sink. But the extremes mentioned under Proper Way about is kind of ludicrous and a waste of time and energy. It’s not a surgery where all utensils have to be sterile. And after soaking them in produce wash and vinegar for 20 minutes while I’m working on something else, I keep them in the same bowl, pour off the water, and keep rinsing them in clean water till done. Then I pop a lid on the bowl and put what I don’t need at that moment in the frig. By the way, I use my antibacterial Dawn dish soap to wash peppers. So what? Rinse them, that’s all!

  12. thefinalprecinct

    I have always washed because I could taste whatever chemical was used to “clean” the lettuce. Thanks to your article I now know that is chlorine. In addition, i have found bugs, both alive and dead, in my bagged salad. So washing happens any time I buy bagged.

  13. I feel much better about the times that I don’t rewash, and will probably not even bother now. I trust Consumer Reports but that’s a 6-year-old study and I already only buy organic bagged stuff…so I guess there’s some blind hope in there. Going with the idea that if it can survive washing in the plant, the germies will survive my cursory rinse as well. All bets are off if I find a bug (which I know is natural, I wouldn’t toss, but I would wash the bejeezus out of the item cuz I’m phobic).

  14. I buy organic prewashed, and have never rewashed, and (knock on wood) no one has ever gotten sick. I always say, that is why we say grace before we eat to hopefully kill off any missed ickies. LOL. I just don’t have the mental capacity to worry so much about the possibility that a minute organism slipped through my already pricier organic prewashed greens. I got more important things like getting an organic clean meal prepared and on the table in the 30 – 45 minutes I have from the time we all get home from work/school till we need to be eating and off to bed.

  15. We have a small farm and grow our own veggies, including lettuces. I don’t worry much about the little pre-bagged stuff I buy because I don’t worry much about washing lettuce. Yes, I wash it carefully and dry it with a spinner when it comes in the house, but I frequently nibble veggies out in the garden — pick ’em and pop ’em in my mouth.

  16. I put greens in spinner, fill with cold water + vinegar, let sit about 10 minutes, then rinse & spin. May be a little overkill, but I’m a bit of a germaphobe when it comes to food prep.

    1. I’m blessed to live in a climate where I can grow greens pretty much all year long. Even though I don’t use pesticides of any kind, I still double wash my greens, once in a light vinegar bath and once in plain tap water. I get lots of little bugs and the occasional bird dropping on my plants but that’s about it.

  17. I go back and forth – on my ‘rewash’ phase, I did find a small flying insect in the wash water when I went to drain it – so then i became obsessed with rewashing.. but after watching the process on some documentary, i thought i was being ridiculous…. so i jumped make to my ‘pre-wash is good for me’ phase. Of course after reading this post, I am worried that I am not cleaning my salad spinner well enough and all the pre-washing or re-washing isn’t going to help with that! We can get so worked up over this stuff.. honestly my favorite greens are organic romaine hearts, which are not pre-washed so let me go disinfect that salad spinner…

  18. I do not always re-wash my pre-washed greens. I have not been sick from those. My husband and I did however get very sick from pre-washed broccoli that I did not re-wash and then made a broccoli salad out of. We were the only two to eat it in the house and the only two to get sick. Like really sick for about 48 hours. I bet if I had cooked it we would have been fine. That being said, it has only happened to me once in my 20 years of cooking for myself.

  19. I rewash — and it’s amazing how much grit and little insect corpses I get. However, i don’t use soap. They go into a bowl with just enough tap-water to cover, with a dash of salt and lemon juice–cleans the greens very thoroughly. Then they go into a spinner and get dried off.

  20. I buy the organic salad mix in plastic boxes at Costco and must admit that I have never washed it once I got it home. We have never gotten sick from eating this product but I also have to say that this is the only product I buy precut/bagged/packaged. The rest of the time I just think it’s worth the effort to clean and cut/tear/prep the food myself.

  21. I feel more certain there is bacteria in the seams of re-useable lunch bags than there is in a box/bag of triple washed lettuce. Life is a risk. Do the best you can.

    1. I just don’t have that kind of time which is precisely why I purchase the more expensive prewashed lettuce. I too am worried more about the chemicals they wash the lettuce in than the potential of fecal contamination (which I worry about of course) but it can happen with prewashed or non-washed lettuce. Overall, I feel that as long as I’m eating greens, I’m better off than not eating greens and I’m more likely to eat them if it takes less time and less bowls and utensils that I have to get out of the cupboard and then worry about washing and getting off my kitchen table as I’ve come home from work and I need to eat NOW.

      1. Mara, I agree. I eat more greens now than I did before the pre-washed were available. I feel that eating more greens as a result of not having the hassle of washing is worth the risk.

  22. Team wash again. I simply don’t trust any process I can’t see. Yes, paranoid, but better safe than sorry. I do prefer to buy heads of lettuce and prepare it myself, it always tastes fresher to me. Supporting local producers is always the best!

  23. Over time I have found many caterpillars and small bugs in my greens. Personally, this doesn’t worry me per se as I do not fear them–just wouldn’t want to serve them to anyone.
    Also, animal contamination as mentioned above can happen on any farm that grows outside–it is not necessarily run off from large scale farming.

  24. Thanks!! I have wondered about this issue. Personally, I only buy greens that are labelled as organic. and triple washed from grocery stores. When I buy fresh from local farmers I know their procedures (vs govnmt labelling), and I soak them w my filtered water and white vinegar. It isn’t the bacteria I worry about. I’m more concerned with the quality of the water and the amount of chlorine and other chemicals used in the prewashed greens. I don’t wash them again because I value my filtered water too much and I eat a lot of greens. If I were to use my tap water, it would likely be no better that the prewash already performed. I sustain my healthy gut flora to be in line with bacteria that is unavoidable and is often actually helpful. It’s the man-made chemicals, for example toxic fluoride added in the water that worry me. We can only try to maintain our immunity to be able to survive the toxins in our air and water and supplement for the loss of nutrients in our soil by industry practices re our food products, It’s best to make peace w nature and avoid as much man made poison as possible. Epigenetics and biosphere. If only we had pure water, air, and food (including bacteria that we are mostly friends) we’d be in sync with the world.

  25. Here in California with a drought, I’ll not be washing my pre-washed greens again! I do wash the ones where they aren’t pre-washed ( like from my CSA box) and love my salad spinner!

  26. I only occasionally buy bagged salad greens as my husband doesn’t like them and I can only get away with using them when we have company. I have never washed them and we have never had a problem.

  27. I will start rewashing my greens when I buy the prewashed ones. The thing people have to realize if they don’t have a water filter is that tap water has junky chemical and anti-nutrients like chlorine and fluoride in them (just to name two — there are dozens). So buy a good water filter, not the ones you hear about on the television. Then, wash your fruit and veggies.

  28. Unfortunately a little fecal matter can really hurt you! My son ate bagged salad 4 years ago that I didn’t rewash, and he ended up hospitalized for a week with shigella. This highly contagious bacteria comes from human fecal matter and caused him to go into renal failure. Somewhere in the food picking, handling and packaging phase, the salad was exposed to this harmful bacteria, even though it was “triple washed”. The CDC and my county health department explained that washing your hands and washing your food can prevent a lot of illnesses. He now has stage 2 kidney disease. It was a horrible experience for him as well as a huge learning opportunity for food safety for our family. I now wash everything, got educated on food borne illnesses and preventative measures, and I especially don’t take our health for granted! And after doing a lot of research, I learned that bagged salad is at the top of many food recalls!

  29. I do not buy bagged greens. They are disgusting…. think about this. That greenery is picked… quite awhile before it’s processed. THEN it gets shipped to the store, where it is stored in the cooler until someone puts it out in the coolers that are the sale display.
    There it sits… until you purchase it and take it home. After that… it MIGHT sit in your refrigerator for a day or two until you eat it.
    You are going to EAT THIS???
    OMG, get fresh greens at a farmer’s market… or build a little box in your living room and grow your own. To grow your own all you need is a container, some decent dirt, some lettuce seeds, and a grow light… and this is if you live in a CAVE… if you have a window with a decent amount of sunlight you can skip the grow light.
    Fresh greens… all year round… without worrying about contamination from a processing plant.
    Of course, neither the dog nor the cat will eat the processed greens… there were negotiations involved when I was growing lettuce in a container on the floor….
    The negotiations failed… and now the container is out of reach of the thieving varmints :) Don’t worry, they get some… but not the entire crop… LOL

      1. The only way to buy spinach where I live is bagged like this. Farmer’s market doesn’t even open until this weekend.

  30. I also rewash pre-washed greens. And I always wonder how come that ready to use green salad mix stays fresh for few days whilst when I buy entire iceberg lettuce or romain lettuce, wash them and tear in smaller pieces, or if I buy excess of arugula and don’t use it all after washing it is almost always withered and not nice to eat next day. Is it really only the fact that producers use chlorined water?

    1. The bagged greens stay fresh for so long because the bag has been pumped full of gasses (!) that keep it fresh. Once you open the bag the greens wilt very quickly. Yuck.

      1. That explains a lot, thanks! I’ve wondered, too, how it stays fresh until you open it while the whole product starts wilting after a couple of days.

      2. I usually buy organic greens in cartons. After opening, I always put a paper towel in the carton with the leftover greens, it soaks up the excess moisture and they last MUCH longer. Also, I do not re-wash grocery store greens, as it saves time and salad dressing better coats the greens. Honestly, we wouldn’t eat as many greens if I had to wash them. I try to put spinach in everything (salads, smoothies, frittatas, sandwiches, etc.)

  31. Although I “know better”, I have never washed a bag of fresh greens of ANY kind before eating. And after taking that approach for more years than I care to disclose, I can attest to having NEVER EVER gotten sick for eating any of it. Neither have any of my family members who have also shared those greens with me. So from what I have found from personal experience, I don’t think the threat of contamination happens that often to be concerned with it.

  32. Jill Randy Chong

    I’m with SMARTALEX. I can honestly state that I have NEVER washed pre-washed, bagged lettuce/salad and no one in our family has ever been sick from this (2 adults, 1 senior, 2 children, 1 toddler). I also barely rinse apples or other skin on fruits. I suppose one day we will have some sort of repercussion, but it hasn’t happened in the last 10 years.

  33. I do not rewash prewashed lettuce. If possible I avoid washing my fresh picked lettuce. I pick it clean. I keep it clean. And yes I’m positive there is some fecal matter attached now and then due to the amount of rotted horse manure I use and it hasn’t grossed me out yet.

  34. I really think you will be interested in this article/post in which the bacteria in bagged lettuce is tested before and after washing and compared to the bacteria in heads of lettuce. http://www.stopthestomachflu.com/Home/what-is-the-best-way-to-wash-fruits-and-vegetables

    The short answer is that there is a LOT more bacteria in bagged, pre-chopped lettuces than in their uncut versions and that washing does little good.

    I decided that buying precut lettuce wasn’t worth it.

  35. 1. I do not buy produced in plastic bags, but if it were to happen, I would certainly wash it.
    2. The produce I buy comes from small farms, sold at the local French market, and usually is full of dirt and even snails and slugs (proof that they don’t use a ton of chemicals). Wash well.
    3. I lived in Africa for a couple of years (no electricity, no running water) and despite orders not to eat anything that wasn’t well-cooked, I ate salad. Regularly. And lived.

  36. Thank you! I eat this brand of lettuce every day, and every evening as I pack my lunch, I have this question on my mind. Now will have the whole conversation. I wish I could confidently say, “A little fecal matter never killed anyone.” That’d clear a lot up in the personal conversation, wouldn’t it? And yet, I don’t want to increase the already astronomical carbon footprint of my salad, nor do I want to consume that much more water and plastic with a salad spinner. Hmmmmm.