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To wash or not to wash? Recommendations for fresh produce

In recent years we've heard about foodborne illness outbreaks from lettuce, spinach and other fresh produce. The impact of these outbreaks is felt by the growers and distributors, by grocery stores and by food establishments like yours. As a provider of fresh produce, what steps do you take to serve safe food?

Washing fruits and vegetables video.

Follow the most current recommendations

Bulk produce

For bulk produce remember that all bulk leafy greens, whole heads, and other bulk produce with edible skin and skin of melons should be:

  • Washed at the restaurant or foodservice establishment before serving.
  • Wash vigorously under cool running water.

Bagged or ready-to-eat, fresh-cut produce

For bagged or ready-to-eat, fresh-cut produce such as lettuce, spinach, and leafy green salad mixtures, there has been conflicting information. For example, do you re-wash bagged, ready-to-eat lettuce? In Food Protection Trends, November 2007, a panel of 13 scientists with expertise in microbial safety of fresh produce reviewed research and guidelines for foodservice establishments; here's what they recommend:

Determine if its a raw agricultural commodity or RTE food product

Carefully read labels to determine whether a product is a raw agricultural commodity (e.g. hearts of romaine) that should be washed before consumption or a ready-to-eat (RTE) food product (e.g. pre-washed lettuce/leafy green salad).

  • If the product is not labeled "washed," "triple washed," or "ready-to-eat," it must be washed before eating.

Sealed bags of leafy green salads labeled "washed," "triple washed," or "ready-to-eat"

Leafy green salads in sealed bags labeled "washed," "triple washed," or "ready-to-eat" that are produced in a facility inspected by a regulatory authority and operated under "Good Manufacturing Practices" (GMP):

  • Do not need additional washing at the time of use unless specially directed on the label.
  • Additional washing of ready-to-eat leafy green salads is not likely to increase safety. The risk of cross-contamination from food handlers and food contact surfaces used during washing may outweigh any safety benefit that further washing may do.
  • Should be shipped, stored, and displayed under refrigeration.
  • Inspect cartons or bags upon receipt and reject any that show evidence of mishandling. Shipping containers may become contaminated during transport and storage.
  • Wash hands thoroughly for 20 second with soap and warm water before handling. Rewash hands as necessary.
  • Use a barrier like single use gloves or an appropriate clean, sanitized utensil to handle and dispense.

Did you know?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food producers of fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce to use irradiation to kill micro-organisms like E.coli and salmonella, which cause foodborne illness in humans.

Kathy Brandt, Extension educator and Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2021

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