I’ve always either grown or bought fresh salad leaves, cleaning and chopping them as needed, but after listening to recent reports sharing the news that thousands of pre-packed salad bags were being thrown away from supermarkets and household fridges, as well as hearing comments that salad bags are pumped full of chemicals, I bought a couple of bags to see what the fuss is about. Are pre-packed salads really that bad?
They’re quick to use, usually pre-washed and contain a pretty and tasty mixture of fresh edible leaves, providing consumers with a mixed variety they might not grow or usually buy. Because they’re so convenient, salad bags offer busy people the opportunity to eat at least one of their recommended five a day and there’s no doubt they can transform the whole salad preparing experience, giving us the opportunity to eat fresh greens every day without too much fuss.
Are they too good to be true? There’s certainly a few things to think about if you’re buying salad bags regularly.
Contaminants: various amounts of research have been undertaken on pre-packaged food. Consumerreports.org noted that the chances of contracting Salmonella or E coli were very low (though thousands of bags have been recalled over the years following Listeria contamination). However their tests did find an alarming amount of “bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination—in some cases, at rather high levels.”
Low cost labour: salads and vegetables have to be sorted, washed, cut and packed. In the UK the Gangmasters Licencing Authority has been instrumental in uncovering several cases where migrant workers have been underpaid and exploited in the industry. This has resulted in licences being withdrawn and the arrests of unscrupulous employers.
Pesticides. Unless organic salad bags are chosen, various pesticides are used by farmers to make sure the consumer only see perfect leaves and not holey, nibbled ones.
Global warming. Out of season salads are either grown and processed abroad and shipped to local supermarkets, or they’re grown intensively under lights and/or heat, all negatively contributing to global warming.
Chlorine. Salad leaves are often washed in chlorinated water to remove traces of soil or other bacteria or contaminants. Chlorine levels are strictly set but if not adhered to can cause harm to our health and the environment.
Packaging. Gases (mostly C0²) are added to fruit and vegetables in permeable film bags in a process known as modified atmosphere packaging to keep the salad leaves fresh for up to ten days. Tight quality assurance has to be maintained by packers to ensure standards are adhered to, which may not ways be possible if labour is forced.
Waste. Once opened the salad bags tend to go off within a day or so. The best way of keeping leafy vegetables fresh is to place them uncovered in a stainless steel bowl in the fridge but even so, bagged salads won’t last long once the bags have been opened.
There’s no doubt that growing your own chemically free vegetables or buying fresh organic leaves is best, but buying prepackaged salad bags is the ultimate in convenience and as a result, a popular way of buying fresh salads.
If you do buy pre-packed bags always wash the leaves thoroughly under running cold water, even if the packaging says they’re pre-washed. If you don’t you may be eating more than you bargained on.