Keeping Lettuce and Other Greens Safe

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Leafy Green Recalls

When we talk about food safety and foods that have been recalled in the past, one item that pops into our heads right away is lettuce and other leafy greens. When I planned this series for National Food Safety Education Month, the safety of these foods was one of the topics on my list to include.

I just didn’t expect it to be so timely. 

As I began to write this column I became aware of another recent recall that involved a leafy green. This time it is kale. The recall includes 1-pound plastic bags of kale. The potential contamination is a pathogen called Listeria monocytogenes.

bundle of kale held in someone's hand

This kale was distributed in eleven states including North Carolina. The best-by dates on these products is September 18. Even though it’s past this date, some folks may still have some of this kale in their fridge. If you do, don’t eat it. You can check the Food and Drug Administration website for recalls to see the specific brands. The contamination was found during testing and fortunately there have been no reported illnesses.

I know hearing about this recall causes continued concerns about the safety of all of these products. But, I hope that it doesn’t stop you from buying and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. We all know that these foods are an important part of a healthy diet. There are some things being done and that you can do to protect yourself and your family from a foodborne illness and still get these healthful foods into your meals.

Lettuce Info

I found a lot of info on this topic on the Lettuce Info website. This website was developed by a group called the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). This organization was developed as a response to previous foodborne illnesses associated with lettuce and leafy greens. Their role is to ensure that farmers are following a set of science-based food safety practices to prevent foodborne illnesses. 

One statement on their website: “no one wants to put an end to lettuce recalls and outbreaks more than the farmers who grow lettuce” really hit home to me. These farmers are committed and work hard every day to make sure their products are safe. Some of these procedures involve regular visits from government officials and auditors. These checks include water testing, the safety of fertilizers and compost, sanitation of equipment, and worker hygiene. Check out their website for details and also consumer tips.

Consumer Tips

Us consumers play a role, too, by safely handling lettuce and all leafy greens from the store to the table.

  • When buying greens, look to see that the leaves are fresh and free from damage. Greens should be refrigerated at the store or market.Two shoppers observe lettuce in grocery store
  • Keep the greens away from raw foods such as meat, fish, and poultry in your shopping cart and bags.
  • Chill the produce as soon as you get home.
  • Wash hands and countertops before beginning to prepare these greens.
  • Rinse greens in cool water and pat dry with a clean towel or paper towel or use a salad spinner to get rid of moisture. There is no need to use a chemical, soap, or commercial wash product on greens. Researchers at the University of Maine found that these products were no more effective than simply a good wash with water.
  • Throw away any bruised, damaged, or potentially cross-contaminated produce. Read and heed the “best-by” dates on bagged produce.
  • It’s not necessary to wash greens labeled “ready to eat” or “triple washed.” You may actually cause more problems through cross-contamination if you do. 
  • To avoid cross-contamination, throw away any fruit or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. Use separate cutting boards.
  • Throw away any fresh fruit and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling, or cooking.

The safety of our food supply is everyone’s responsibility. Thank you for taking some time during Food Safety Education Month to learn about what is happening and what you can do to keep our food safe


US Food and Drug Administration

Lettuce INFO

Food Safety News and Partnership for Food Safety Education

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at