There have been plenty of news reports recently about people getting sick from a virulent strain of E. coli in lettuce and other leafy greens. This sparked the food-safety experts at Consumer Reports to test a variety of greens in the marketplace. The team found a potentially dangerous type of listeria in several samples. Here’s who is most vulnerable and some advice on how to keep greens in your diet while minimizing your risk.
New Consumer Reports tests of 284 samples of fresh greens found six of the samples tainted with Listeria monocytogenes, potentially deadly bacteria.
The tainted samples included red and green leaf lettuce, spinach, and kale. They were conventional and organic greens sold packaged and loose.
Be aware that listeria can’t readily be washed off with water. Washing greens can get rid of dirt and some pesticides, but not all bacteria. That’s because bacteria can adhere to the surface of leaves and get stuck in microscopic crevices.
Scientists at Consumer Reports say it’s important to know that not everyone exposed to listeria will get sick. But some people are more vulnerable, including pregnant women, older adults, infants and young children, and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Leafy greens are super nutritious, and for most people, the benefits far outweigh the potential contamination risks. But if you’re in an at-risk category, the safest thing to do is to stick with greens that are cooked or avoid them entirely.
Experts also advise consumers to eat leafy greens soon they’re bought, before bacteria has a chance to multiply.
While Consumer Reports’ lab tests did find listeria, they didn’t find other bacteria that cause food borne illness, such as salmonella and E. coli, in any of the 284 samples tested. Consumer Reports says the study underscores how much the industry still needs to do to improve the safety of leafy greens.