Tossing triple-washed spinach into a weeknight pasta recipe or using bagged lettuce as the base for your lunch salad makes meal prep a lot more convenient. But with several recent recalls linked to these kinds of products, I found myself wondering if they really are safe to eat without rinsing. Just this past spring, for example, a company in Georgia pulled salad kits due to Listeria concerns, and last summer, mixes in Minnesota were recalled for the same reason. So I decided to ask food safety experts their thoughts: Does washing them yourself add an additional layer of protection against illness? Or is it a waste of time? Here’s what I learned.
First, “triple-washed,” “ready-to-eat, ” and “no washing necessary” salad mixes are exactly what they sound like: Greens that are cleaned before packaging, meaning you can (supposedly!) dig into them safely straight from the bag. More specifically, these terms describe any type of produce that’s undergone a complex commercial rinsing process, Ghaida Havern, MS, a food safety specialist at Michigan State University Extension, tells SELF. Think of the tool like a large, industrial version of a salad spinner that gently cleans and dries the produce, Martin Bucknavage, MS, a food safety specialist at Pennsylvania State University Extension, tells SELF. This method of rinsing works to remove germs, and goes above and beyond what you’d be able to do at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All ready-to-eat produce is rinsed in facilities that follow Good Manufacturing Practices and a Food Safety Plan. These guidelines, which fall under the umbrella of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), advise businesses to implement proactive protective measures—like sanitizing wash water or guaranteeing the equipment is clean—to reduce the chances of foodborne illness, Bucknavage says.
This is important because produce can contain germs that can make you sick. According to a report from the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, 58% of E. coli. infections in 2020 came from vegetable row crops, which include leafy greens. Illnesses from those bugs, as well as from other common contaminants like Salmonella or Listeria, can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
It’s reasonable to want to avoid this, and you may think that rinsing everything again at home is the solution. But Havern says the industrial washing process is enough to keep you safe. Not only does she think it’s unnecessary to clean her pre-washed greens, but she also cautions that doing so can actually be a riskier move.
“Do not rinse leafy greens labeled prewashed, triple-washed, or ready-to-eat because you will risk the chance of recontamination from your kitchen,” Halvern says. The other experts who spoke to SELF echo this advice, which also lines up with the CDC’s guidance: By cleaning them again, you might be doing more harm than good.
For example, if you wash your ready-to-eat greens in the basin of your sink without cleaning it first, bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella can transfer from a dirty cutting board you used for raw chicken to the produce, ultimately making you ill.