Packaged lettuce arouses a lot of controversy. On the one hand, buying washed, sliced, and portioned lettuce or a mix of lettuce seems like a godsend and life improvement if you’re looking to save time in the kitchen. On the other hand, some warn that the lettuce in the package is a bomb of bacteria, “chemistry itself” or that it contains poisonous chlorine residues. We check how it really is.
There is a lot of controversy around pre-packaged salads. Many people consider them artificial and unhealthy, which is why they avoid buying lettuce in foil. Others treat lettuce in packages as a great convenience and even a must-have in a quick fit kitchen. Who is right? What is the right approach to lettuce in foil and are they healthy? Here are the answers to these questions.
Pre-packaged lettuce – advantages
Pre-packaged lettuce is becoming more and more popular in Poland and throughout Europe. Lettuce in foil packaging or packages offers a variety of greens. In salad mixes you will find: iceberg lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, spinach, beetroot, kale, carrots, watercress (the healthiest vegetable in the world) and many other types and species of greens.
Washed, portioned lettuce ready to eat it immediately after taking it out of the package, is certainly a convenient product. The most important advantages of pre-packaged salads are:
Time saving (you do not need to cut and clean lettuce);
convenience in the takeaway option (you can take a closed pack of lettuce with you and create a healthy lunch at a picnic or at work);
facilitating healthier eating (lettuce in packs is relatively cheap and easy to integrate into any menu);
the ability to mix different types of salads (you do not need to buy a head of lettuce or a large pack of arugula, you can bet on a mix of vitamins in a salad mix).
Packaged lettuce in foil – controversies
Packaged lettuce has a lot of advantages, but they also do not bypass the controversy. Some use them every day, others say that it is healthier than to buy lettuce in a plastic bag, it is not to eat a vegetable at all. Who is right? Here are the most common complaints about pre-packaged lettuce and greens.
Packaged lettuce: a habitat for bacteria?
The main complaint that is most often made against lettuce in plastic packaging is the fact that they are a habitat for bacteria. This is partly true, moisture and difficult access to oxygen are actually favorable conditions for the development of some bacteria.
There are known cases of detecting E. coli bacteria in packs with lettuce. In the UK, there was even a massive poisoning of more than 150 people who were given contaminated lettuce from a pack in a hospital.
In fact, the conditions in tightly closed plastic bags are conducive to the multiplication of bacteria. This is confirmed by the research of scientists from the University of Leicester, who recreated the conditions prevailing in foil packaging for lettuce. They confirmed that the atmosphere in the packaging promotes the growth of bacteria. Undesirable Salmonella bacteria even formed a special biofilm, that is, a structure that causes them to stick to the leaves and become especially difficult to remove. In some samples, the bacteria clung to the leaves even after thorough washing.
German scientists examined 24 lettuce bought in supermarkets in plastic packaging and found the presence of E. coli bacteria, but also Salmonella, on most of them. Even some antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria have been detected.
Indeed, prepackaged lettuce is more likely to multiply bacteria, but this is no exception: food products are not sterile. Food contaminants also happen in many other cases, and unwanted bacteria can also appear in chips, in dry products and on other vegetables and fruits. This is pollution at the production stage, but not a reason to demonize green vegetables sold in foils.
However, it is worth especially applying yourself to washing lettuce from foil. Also, make sure that the pre-packaged lettuce is stored well. If you want to prevent the most dangerous biofilm from forming, put the lettuce in a paper bag or open the package and place a paper towel in it, which will absorb some of the moisture.
Scientists’ discoveries about the presence of bacteria sound very dangerous and in fact it is better not to underestimate them. After all, the same bacterial strains live, for example, in the soil, so they are also found on vegetables from the greengrocer’s shop and your home garden.
Pre-packaged lettuce: bleached with chlorine?
When washing and cleaning lettuce, certain disinfecting compounds are used, which are designed to get rid of unwanted bacteria. However, everything proceeds in accordance with the planned and desired technological process. Substances authorised in food production are used here to ensure the safety of consumers.
Are you afraid that the lettuce in the package has been “soaked in chlorine” and is therefore less healthy? At the same time, you season the salad with salt and do not have such fears? After all, table salt is half made up of chlorine! The mere fact of the presence of chlorine salts in preparations used to purify various vegetables does not indicate poor quality of food.
Packaged lettuce: the chemistry itself?
The term “chemistry itself” used to refer to food is colloquialism. Of course, food is chemistry: every fruit and vegetable is made up of chemical particles, just like the human body! However, when it comes to residues of unwanted, toxic chemicals on the leaves of prepackaged lettuce, you don’t have to worry about them. Allowed lettuce does not have any harmful compounds that can cause poisoning if consumed in moderate amounts.
Packaged lettuce: soaked in plastic?
Does eating lettuce from plastic packaging cause food to contain more microplastics? Microplastics are undoubtedly an unfavorable ingredient for health, the effect of which on the human body is not fully understood. Many experts agree that it can, for example, predispose to hormonal disorders and even insulin resistance and obesity.
However, it turns out that every food is contaminated with microplastics. This has been confirmed by scientists. It does not matter if it is food from BIO crops or not. The method of packaging also does not strongly affect the content of microplastics. Plastic particles enter food much earlier: they are taken from water and soil. In today’s world, it is impossible to effectively avoid contamination of food with microplastics at the level of consumer choices, and the way of packaging is not very important here.
Is pre-packaged lettuce healthy?
If you are faced with a choice: eat the greens from the package or not eat it at all, the right choice is simple – eat lettuce from the package regardless of the type of packaging. However, if you have access to organic vegetables grown and packaged in paper, probably buying them carries a little less health risk (especially in terms of microbiological contamination of lettuce from foil).
Pre-packaged lettuce is therefore healthy, but it is worth preemptively treating it with greater caution and washing it thoroughly. The biggest disadvantage of lettuce (and other greens) from plastic packages is the potential microbial contamination. You will protect yourself from it if you follow the tips for preparing pre-packaged lettuce for consumption.
How to prepare pre-packaged lettuce for consumption?
Follow a few rules, and lettuce and other greens purchased in a package will be healthy and will serve to improve the quality of the menu.
Always wash lettuce and other greens before consumption, even if the packaging suggests that it is already washed.
If you are going to store lettuce for several days, pull it out of the package and transfer it to a container lined with towel paper, which will absorb excess moisture.
Do not buy greens in a plastic package if you see that part of the leaves is wet, wilted or rotten.
Discard the pre-packaged lettuce if you notice mucus on it, which may indicate the presence of bacteria and the biofilm they produce, which is difficult to get rid of.
Take precautions when choosing pre-packaged lettuce, however, remember that the digestive system of healthy people can cope even with food contaminated with bacteria. Stomach acids are designed to “disinfect” food and reduce the risk of poisoning. Of course, it is not worth the risk if you have suspicions about the quality of food. However, be aware that the mere presence of bacteria on the lettuce you eat does not indicate that you will be poisoned. Food consumed by humans is not sterile.