If you think you can’t go wrong eating leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach, you’re mostly right.
They’ve been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
But behind their star-studded benefits lie risks that can be dangerous.
Between 2006 and 2019, greens like romaine, spinach, and bags of spring mix were responsible for at least 46 national outbreaks of E. coli, causing many hospitalizations and even some deaths.
So here’s the challenge: We want people to eat these green vegetables but they’re easily contaminated by bacteria.
Bacteria that come from animal feces can get onto the food we eat.
Many greens, especially romaine lettuce, are grown in California and Arizona.
For farmers, keeping fields free from dangerous bacteria is a challenge.
They’re always worried about contamination from animals. If you’re growing leafy greens outside, even wild birds flying overhead increase the risk of contamination by salmonella and E.coli.
It’s important for farmers to take steps such as keeping animals away from fields, sanitizing equipment and boots, and wearing gloves.
But even with these precautions, it’s still possible for contaminants to end up on produce.
So should you stop eating leafy greens?
Consumer Reports says that for most people, the nutritional benefits far outweigh the potential contamination risks.
Not everyone who is exposed to salmonella or E.coli gets sick, but people who are most vulnerable – that includes pregnant women, older adults, infants, and young children, and anyone with a compromised immune system––should carefully consider whether to eat raw greens.
One of the best things you can do is cook them to the point where they’re wilted.
And Consumer Reports says don’t be fooled by labels saying greens have been tripled-washed.
Even the most thorough washes are primarily designed to remove dirt and grit; they can’t ensure that greens are bacteria-free.