Salad lovers have found more reasons to be cautious when stocking up on greens within the last few years. Contamination from dangerous bacteria has led to recalls on leafy greens and to consumers reevaluating how many of their meals include lettuce. New research has shown how worry over contaminated greens is even more justifiable than we might think.
A study from Purdue University revealed how the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can lurk inside the tissue of romaine lettuce, putting conventional cleaning practices in question as to their ability to actually protect consumers from infections. Listeriosis creates symptoms in those who are infected between 1-4 weeks (but also up to 2 months) after eating contaminated food.
Pregnant people can experience flu-like symptoms, as well as increased risk for miscarriage, premature birth and life-threatening infections for the baby. Non-pregnant people may see a wider variety of symptoms, including headache, confusion, feeling off balance, muscle aches and convulsions. Those whose immune systems are vulnerable may face a deadly risk from the bacteria.
Most consumers are well-versed in the importance of thoroughly cleaning fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking with them. However, this new research suggests that bacteria lurking on external surfaces of produce is not the only way to be at risk for infection. L. monocytogenes bacteria can live inside romaine lettuce tissue throughout every stage of the growth process. In fact, infection of the plant tissue can happen in as little as 30 minutes! “Knowing this can happen, we need to keep it on our radar as we continue to follow good agricultural practices,” Amanda Deering, study leader and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Food Science, told Science Daily.
Continued research is taking place to find “pre-harvest control strategies” to help reduce the risk of plants becoming contaminated, seeing as typical washing methods may not keep consumers entirely safe. Washing produce before you consume it is still a recommended practice and it is possible that growing your own lettuce can reduce risk of contamination.
Here are some tips in making your greens as safe as possible:
- Don’t write off greens as unhealthy! Lettuce, including romaine, has great health benefits and can be an excellent addition to our daily meals.
- Wash your produce thoroughly. Cleaning leafy greens is different than cleaning other types of produce, so follow instructions according to each fruit or veggie.
- Try your hand at growing lettuce at home. It can even be done indoors, if you have a spot where your plants can get enough sun.
- You can easily regrow romaine lettuce in a cup of water using the bottom of an old romaine heart. Follow these instructions to see how!
- Pay attention to recall notices for the food you bring into your home.