As recently as late January, we wrote that listeria on fresh produce is more dangerous than food past its sell-by date. Sell-by dates are a guide to when food will be its freshest, not when it’s safe to eat. Unfortunately, listeria doesn’t come with a printed label. The potentially deadly bacteria lurk on produce. Our advice has always been to wash your vegetables well and eat them when they are fresh.
Some produce isn’t intended to be washed. In fact, it prides itself on the fact that you don’t need to wash it. Ready-to-eat salads make big promises, with brands proudly proclaiming to be triple-washed. Those are actually the cleanest greens you can buy.
“Leafy greens in sealed bags labeled ‘triple washed,’ ‘washed’ or ‘ready-to-eat’ are produced in a facility inspected by a government regulatory authority and operated under Good Manufacturing Practices,” said Neva Cochran, a dietitian, nutrition communications consultant and an advisory panel member to the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. “Washing them again [at home] can actually increase the risk for leafy greens to pick up bacteria from your sink, countertops, cutting boards, knives, colanders, salad spinners, bowls or other items or surfaces in your kitchen the greens might come in contact with during the washing process.”
We should be able to trust them. A voluntary recall has been issued for several brands of bagged salads with chicken and ham that also may hold listeria. Originally just Fruit Ridge Farms and Bell’s Bistro salads sold in some states on April 5 were recalled. That has now been expanded to all Revolution Farms salads. The contaminated salads from Revolution Farms were sold in some retailers in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. You can find the recalled lot information here. The Revolution Farms recall includes salads the store brand Meijer.
Fresh Express has also recalled some salads just to be safe. Their potentially dangerous salads were sold in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia.
“Consumers need to know that there are no illnesses reported and that the salads [from Fresh Express] are no longer available for sale, so they’re not on store shelves. Additionally, the salads are expired by several days,” said company spokesperson Barbara Hines. “The recall is really being done out of an abundance of caution — in case a consumer might still have an expired salad at home in their refrigerators.”
Listeria is the third leading cause of death from foodborne illness. It kills about 260 people a year.
“Even with adequate antibiotic treatment, the disease has a [20 to 30 percent] mortality rate,” said the FDA.
It’s essential to take food recalls seriously. While we might have written that a sell-by date on crackers is meaningless, that doesn’t mean warnings like this are trivial. Even now, with antibiotics, contaminated foods can kill you. So, if you have a premade salad in your fridge from about two weeks ago, make sure it’s not on the list.