I don't buy bagged double- or triple-washed lettuce, or any other variety of prepared salad greens in a plastic clamshell or bag. But not be for the reasons you might assume.
It's not because I'm overly concerned that bacteria might make it through all that prewashing in a chlorinated bath, although tests conducted by Consumer Reports did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination when they tested 4,000 samples of all kinds of packaged greens, including baby greens, spinach and organic greens. As creepy as that is to think about, the report assures that the contamination falls within the Food and Drug Administration's accepted levels.
It's not even my concerns about how long ago these greens were cut and washed. Granted, I am not a fan of limp, tired-appearing romaine, iceberg lettuce or cabbage. And even though I am a believer that once you wash, cut and prepare any kind of fresh produce — be it fruit or vegetables — the flavor and quality begin to degrade, that's not it either.
Nope, it's not any of those things that cause me to just walk on by that section in the supermarket produce department.
The reason I don't buy salad in a bag is the cost. I can't bring myself to pay at least three times more to get my salad greens cut up, prewashed and sealed in a plastic bag or box.
At my local supermarket, the Fresh Selections 10-ounce bag of romaine lettuce mix is $2.99. A head of romaine lettuce is 99 cents, or 62 cents for 10 ounces.
As I've queried readers and friends on the question of bag versus bulk, the overarching reason so many people go for the prepackaged option is time. Bagged salads are convenient and so easy to just grab and go. (Ironically, nearly everyone I've chatted with admits to rewashing the greens just to be on the safe side. Where's all the convenience in that?)
Last weekend, I did my own test. I shredded an entire head of green cabbage using a sharp knife. I was done start to finish in seven minutes. I ended up with a bowl of beautiful bright-green crunchy fresh cabbage for our favorite coleslaw. It took another five minutes to make the awesome dressing. And the cost? About $1.30. Yum.
SWEET RESTAURANT SLAW
—1 head green cabbage, shredded
—2 tablespoons diced onion
—2/3 cup mayonnaise
—3 tablespoons vegetable oil
—1/2 cup white sugar
—1 tablespoon white vinegar
—1/4 teaspoon salt
—1/4 teaspoon black ground pepper
Combine shredded cabbage and onion in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over cabbage mix, and toss to coat. Chill for two hours before serving. Serves six.
If you still prefer to purchase prewashed salad greens, follow these tips:
—Buy packages as far from their use-by date as you can find.
—Even if the bag says "prewashed" or "triple-washed," wash the greens yourself. Rinsing won't remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil.
—Prevent cross-contamination by keeping greens away from raw meat.
Question: Do you buy prepackaged greens that come in a bag or a box? If so, do you rewash?
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.