Yonkers, NY — A study conducted by Consumer Reports shows that packaged salad greens may have bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination.

The sample size consisted of 208 containers of packaged greens—all of which were within their use-by date—representing 16 brands purchased at stores in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Samples were tested for total coliforms and for other bacteria, including enterococcus, that are indicators of fecal contamination.

Industry experts involved in the study suggested that for leafy greens, an unacceptable level of total coliforms or enterococcus is 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) or a comparable estimate. Thirty-nine percent of samples exceeded that level for total coliforms and 23% for enterococcus. Results varied widely among samples, even within the same brand, from undetectable levels of bacteria to more than one million CFU/g. Whether the greens came in a clamshell or bag, included “baby” greens or were organic made no difference.

Federal action limits exist for indicator organisms in water, raw meat, milk and some processed foods, but not produce, a topic of major concern for food safety.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2010