Which Is Better: Bagged Greens or Bulk?

What's the best way to buy leafy green vegetables like lettuce, spinach and kale? While some people prefer their greens unbagged and straight from the ground, others go for the triple-washed, pre-cut brands packaged for everyday convenience. Both have their pros and cons.

Unless you grow your own food, you never really know what happens on the way from the farm to your table. Safety issues can arise at any stage of harvesting, transporting and purchasing fresh food. Unless an outbreak of food poisoning occurs, it is likely that no one along your food's travel route is aware of specific problems, especially when normal safety precautions are taken and food appears to be handled properly. Given that most of the fresh food sold in the United States is very safe, there's no general cause for concern.

But fresh greens—both bulk and bagged—are susceptible to contamination, as evidenced by numerous recalls in years past, specifically of bagged lettuces and spinach. When they occur, outbreaks of food poisoning from bacteria such as E. coli and listeria can be widespread, thanks to the efficient mass distribution system in place that helps ensure fresh food is readily available to everyone in the county. It's so efficient, in fact, that fresh food is picked, transported, set out on supermarket shelves, purchased, and consumed before anyone even knows there's a problem.

How to Eat Your Greens Safely

Since leafy greens are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants, they should be included in almost everyone's diet on a regular basis. But there's no point in buying fresh greens and then watching them rot in your refrigerator because you don't have the time or desire to prepare them.

The reality is this: Bulk greens are usually fresher, often less expensive, and carry fewer documented safety concerns. But the convenience of bagged greens can help encourage you to include more of these nutrient-rich foods in your diet on a regular basis.

No matter where or how you buy your greens, there are steps you can and should take to ensure they are as safe as they are nutritious.

"There's always a chance that bacteria is lurking, even in pre-washed greens," says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Better to be safe than sorry (and sick)!"

Here are seven food-safety strategies:

  1. First and foremost, make sure you wash all greens-bagged or loose-very well under cold running water before preparing and eating, even if you are going to cook them.
  2. Choose both loose and packaged greens that are displayed on ice or in the refrigerated section of your supermarket.
  3. Check the "sell by" date on bagged greens.
  4. Keep greens covered and held separately from meats and other raw animal products in your shopping cart, in your refrigerator and on your counter while preparing meals.
  5. Wash your hands before and after preparing fresh foods.
  6. Always use a clean cutting board and utensils.
  7. If you are preparing bulk lettuces or other greens, separate the leaves for individual cleaning, and use a clean salad spinner for drying.




Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://marjorienolanrd.com/

Colorado State University Extension: Salad Greens: Keeping E. Coli Out of the Mix. 2007 Web Feb 2013. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/safefood/newsltr/v11n2s01.html

Consumers Union: Consumer Reports: Packaged Salad Can Contain High Levels of Bacteria. Feb 2010 Web Feb 2013. http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/015723.html