Parasites in Red Lobster and Olive Garden Salads: Wash Salad Properly

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Cyclospora, a parasite, has contaminated bagged salad and made many people sick. Image by CDC

Cyclospora, a parasite, has contaminated bagged salad and made many people sick. Image by CDC

Washing Salad & Other Produce

Before and after handling produce, wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.

According to the FDA, you should wash all produce under clean running water before eating or cooking. Don’t bother spending money on special vegetable washes, soaps, or detergents – water is sufficient to clean off contaminants.

Washing lettuce for salad? Separate the leaves and soak in a bowl of cool water. Then, drain the leaves using a colander and repeat the process.

According to the University of Maine, you can presoak the greens by using a mixture of 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar and two cups of water for five minutes, then rinsing thoroughly. However, this may change the taste and texture of the your lettuce.

For produce that is pre-cut in the stores, like half watermelons, pre-cut vegetables, and bagged lettuce, make sure that the produce is on ice or refrigerated.

For produce like bagged lettuce that may say “pre-washed” or those labeled “ready to eat” then the FDA says it is not necessary to have to wash the lettuce again. However, if you chose to wash again, follow the same rules as above.

After washing, dry your produce with a clean dry cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria.

Commercial Veggie Washes vs. Water

The FDA does not recommend using the produce soaps and detergents that you can find in many stores. But why? Do these products not work? The University of Maine’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition conducted a study on three of the popular produce washes and compared them to distilled water.

Researchers tested Fit, Ozone Water Purifier XL-301, and JO-4 Multi-functional Food Sterilizer on low bush blueberries. Researchers compared these washes to distilled water, where the blueberries soaked for one to two minutes.  These are the results:

  • Fit wash got rid of nearly the same amount of microbes as the distilled water. Fit wash and distilled water both removed the residual pesticides compared to unwashed samples. 
  • Both of the ozone systems, Ozone Water Purifier XL-301, and JO-4 Multi-functional Food Sterilizer, both removed microbes, but the distilled water removed more microbes.

The researchers concluded that since these produce washes are expensive, consumers can use distilled water instead. And why distilled water? Researchers said that distilled or bottled water has been purified to remove contaminates. However, researchers also said that you can use very clean, cold tap water instead.

Washing Lettuce With Water: Enough To Avoid Illness

These produce tips and recommendations not only apply to the fruits and vegetables that you buy in the store, but those that you find nin farmer’s markets and those you grow at home. With proper handling, washing, and storing, you can eat those healthy fruits and vegetables safely.

Resources:

New York Times. Outbreak of Stomach Illness is Traced to Salad Mix. (2013). Accessed August 5, 2013.

University of Maine. Best Ways to Wash Fruits and Vegetables. Accessed August 5, 2013.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables. (2011). Accessed August 5, 2013.

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