In this post-Chipotle e.Coli world, we may have all become a little bit more aware and wary about the produce we put in our bodies. As you go down the packaged salad isle in your local grocery store, you may notice a little certification-type statement declaring the greens in that package are “triple washed.” Is it a safety assurance, a marketing ploy, or maybe a combination of the two?
Produce is grown in a garden setting for most variations of lettuce and its cousins. They grow low to the ground, meaning as it is pulled from the ground for harvesting, it usually brings some of the ground with it – dirt, small rocks, even living critters. The triple wash helps ensure that when you take a nice big crunchy bite of salad, you don’t get the after bite of grit.
The washing process at the commercial level isn’t done with water. But, most of it is done with cleansers and chemicals and on the surface, they could claim a 90-99% cleansing of microbes from the food too. Sound good? Unfortunately, the triple wash, even washing away 99% of microbes still can leave behind a host of the tiny critters including e.Coli. And giving it a good fourth washing once you get it home might sound like a step toward further safety, but since your home has numerous microbes, it’s more likely a fourth wash will actually add more of them back into the mix.
Most of the food “poisoning” problems faced by companies lately have not been about triple washing, but rather about how clean the process is in each step along the way. Beginning with the original place of planting. But, in the case of Bluebell creamery products, they ended up shutting down several of their plants and giving them a thorough sanitizing – applying the process to every possible location in the factories where food would touch.
For most people, the grocery store is the option for their food. We suspend doubt as we trust in the assurances given by companies selling their products. And the assurances must be pretty good because the outbreaks seem few and far between, and well-publicized when they happen. Since the only way to make your salad safer would be to heat it up, most won’t take safety to that extreme, after all, a big bowl of hot lettuce isn’t really what you want when you crave a nice fresh bowl of salad.
So a triple wash on the lettuce is good, but it may be as much about telling customers in a subtle way that precautions have been taken to make your salad safe and that their company is reputable. Of course, you might be safer if you grew your fresh produce, but that’s probably not happening for most people, so kick back and enjoy your next salad from a bag, it’s likely safe.