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. After the final rinse with tap water, the remaining chlorine residue meets government standards (less than 4 parts per million). – Nicole

  1. My family no longer eats ANY bagged greens, triple prewashed or not (nor salads from restaurants because they use them, too). They are one of the most recalled items for food safety. Last spring, my 5 year old and I ate the Romaine lettuce infected with EColi. This strain of EColi was a Shiga toxin-producing EColi which makes it potentially deadly. My 5 year old developed Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and almost died. Buying at a farmer’s market isn’t a guarantee of safe food, either. We now eat only what we can grow ourselves (thank you AeroGarden). Convenience should never outweigh safety, especially the safety of your children. Check out Bill Marler’s blog. He is a food poisoning attorney. Very informative. Our food supply is NOT as safe as we’d like to think it is, but knowledge is power – the power to protect your family.

  2. Well before reading this article, I NEVER washed my prewashed veggies. But after reading this, I am definitely going to be team Rewash! This grosses me out. I think I’ve been a little too trusting with the food I buy. Not anymore!

    1. I’m totally confused. Should I eat organic brand spring mixed greens sold in plastic boxes & labels washed & ready to eat without rinsing again in cool water or eat right out of container? Also now the corona virus is in a pandemic, posted date March 2020
      Is this safe with a pre-existing condition?

      1. It’s always good to be on the safe side and wash even though it says pre-wash. – Nicole

  3. I don’t rewash bagged greens when I eat them. I do however feel better about it when I buy local hydroponically-grown greens. They are grown in water in a greenhouse so there’s no dirt or runoff and I don’t have to wash them and can feel safer. Bonus: they come right to my door!

    1. Barbara Forsyth

      Same thing, in a cleaned sink or large bowl, soak, shake them in water with baking soda gently, raise off with water, toss in with meals, salads.
      Arms & Hammer baking soda (cheaper) or vinegar when you soak & raise fresh produces often.

  4. Well, honestly, i seldom take the time to wash them. I take off the outer leaves and consider that “washed”. The only time i go the “extra mile” is when i think i’ll be keeping my produce longer than normal. It does help fresh produce stay fresh longer, in my experience. I like the vinegar bath method.

  5. GREAT article LOL I am for sure part of the “triple wash” team. Unless it is the greens from my own backyard (I used raised planting tables just for greens). Shared! Thanks for posting!

  6. Thanks for posting. I usually rewash because I have opened up containers before, fresh from the grocery store and found a dead flying insect of some kind in the salad. Recently I found an actual dirty piece of kale in a container of pre-washed baby kale. Always rewash.

  7. Thanks for this! This is one of those questions where conventional “mom knowledge” hasn’t had time to catch up with technology.

  8. Frankly, I prefer not to buy bagged greens. I use vinegar in the wash water of the loose greens I buy to kill bacteria that may exist on them.

  9. I’ve always washed pre-washed greens. I vividly remember my middle school Home-Ec. teacher talking about food borne illness and I scared myself into it. A large salad spinner makes it so much easier! I also once had a client who swears by a “salad sac” to keep greens fresher, longer. It’s a terry cloth bag that absorbs moisture. I haven’t tried it, though.

  10. NOOOO!! I wish I never read this! I just had this discussion with my MIL the other day. She is a major germa-phobe/clean freak (I mean this in a positive way as my own mother was NOT) and I defer to her on all things cleaning related. When she saw me re-washing my triple-washed spinach, she confessed that she NEVER washes it and always buys the triple-washed specifically for that reason. I was so happy to hear this! We put spinach in our smoothies every day and I just can’t bring myself to wash it. Lettuce I don’t mind as much and we eat it less often.

    Thank you for the investigation and information as I have been wondering the same, but I think I might try to pretend I never read this lol…

  11. Lisa, thanks for the informative post (as always)! I just read in the Wall Street Journal:

    “The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into Dole Food Co. over a listeria outbreak linked to four deaths in the U.S. and Canada and multiple other illnesses.”

    I’ll be scrubbing my triple washed greens from now on! I’ll be honest, I hate washing and DRYING greens…but better safe then sorry right? Thanks again!

    1. I wash my triple washed greens. I am a nurse and feel safer that way. It is a pain, plus, once lettuce gets wet again, it seems to not last as long. My sister is a chef…she told me to put a paper towel in the Ziploc baggie or veggie bag to absorb the excess water. It seems to help the lettuce last longer.

  12. I believe a strong immune system does wonders! the thing that freaks me out is the chlorine they use when they triple wash it! I have a whole house water filter at home that takes chlorine out. Now I have to decide about the chlorine they use in washing. Is it absorbed by the greens just as it is absorbed by our bodies in a hot unfiltered
    shower?

  13. I totally rewash prewashed greens. After cleaning my hands and sink, I wash them in water and a little hydrogen peroxide, then rinse them again with clean tap water. I used to have tummy trouble when I did not rewash prewashed greens, but now that I do, no trouble whatsoever.

  14. If you are going to rewash these packaged greens, then I recommend growing your own (which you mentioned!) or buying your greens unpackaged. It is much cheaper to buy the whole unwashed head of lettuce than the treated and packaged kind. Plus, it’s better for the environment!

  15. After finding live creepy-crawlies in my organic RTE boxed salad TWICE in 2016 alone…I’m now officially in the rewash camp.

  16. I was taught, by my Mom, to clean green leafy veggies in a cold salt water bath. If there are insect eggs or small insect, they will die pr flat to the top. Rinse with cold water, dry and refrigerate to crisp. Have used this techique for 50+ years, and especially with.bagged RTE. There isno way of knowing how long its been bagged.

  17. I admit I don’t normally wash pre-packaged greens… only wash local/unpackaged greens to literally get the bugs and dirt off. Sounds like a lot of us are wondering if we’re overthinking the whole thing! Good to be thorough though. ;)

  18. I have two holistic / naturopathic doctors who both discourage use of tap water for consumption. Here in SC there is chlormine in the water, a combination of chlorine and ammonia. In addition to that there are parasites in the water.

    I began feeling sick when we moved here from Utah. We had pure and clean well water in Utah and was never concerned about drinking it.

    When we moved here I continued to wash my produce as I used to, but continued to get sick. My doctor said I wash washing my foods in contaminated water. We now use filtered water for all our food prep including washing and rinsing food. We also had skin reactions to the water when we washed dishes and also when we showered. So we have a filter in the shower as well. Our skin is the largest organ on the human body after all.

    I have witnessed over the years, people I know who found foreign objects, previously alive in their triple washed produce. I’m not referring to just a bug or fly.

    We are hopeful to begin a garden again now that I am better and perhaps then we will purchase much less and eat from our own produce much more.

  19. I have often wondered about the effectiveness of my rinsing of fruit and vegetables. I am food-safety certified and during the certification process was taught (as you have mentioned) to wash my hands frequently with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. We even did before and after testing of each of the hand washing techniques below:
    1. hands rinsed under cold water with no soap
    2. under hot water with no soap
    3. under cold water with soap.
    4. under hot water with soap.

    The results:
    1. Washing hands without soap did not remove bacteria at all. Hot or cold made no difference.
    2. Soap made all the difference. Though warm or hot water was more effective than cold, you could conceivably get your hands clean with cold water and soap if you were thorough enough in your scrubbing.
    3. The “20 second” rule is not the important part. The important part is to scrub palms, between fingers, top of hands, thumbs, finger nails, and wrists. By the time you have washed each of those parts of the hands you will easily have spent 20 seconds cleaning and scrubbing. The point is to make sure you thoroughly scrub all the areas of your hands, and not just count to 20, or recite “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

    So, that brings me to my question: If we have to go to all that work to make sure our hands are clean enough to handle food, is subjecting my fruit and vegetables to a quick rinse under the cold water tap really doing anything besides making me feel a little better about what I am about to eat?

    1. I have always suspected just what you said here! I wash all fruit and veggies that have a skin (i.e. apples, avocado (before cutting as to not drag bacteria into the meat when I do cut it), tomatoes., etc. with soap and warm water. I can’t imagine just rinsing does a whole lot. Of course, I don’t wash those without a skin with soap, but have always wondered how much the rinse really does for it. What do you think about a vinegar/water rinse or soak though?

  20. There is also a lot of research showing that humans miss out on a ton of beneficial bacteria by washing it off produce. I don’t have quick access to studies but have read several published ones. As such some (many) functional medicine doctors who feel that a lot of disease comes from poor gut and immuno health recommend not washing organic produce (conventional often has harmful pesticides) but instead just removing visible dirt via quick rinse thereby preserving good bacteria. I eat tons of greens- often from boxes- and never rewash. There is nothing my washing will add to the equation and I may take away bacteria that’s good for me too.