DNC News

Ready-to-eat spinach in a bag may pose health risk
July, 2005
That ready to eat prewashed and bagged spinach may not be as healthy for you as you might think.

Researchers have found that some of these ready to eat salad makings contain a significant number of bacteria, many of which are resistant to common antibiotics.

I confess I've been thrilled with some of these products, buying 3-pound bags of washed spinach at Costco on a regular basis.  The ease of preparation, is irresistible.  Making a salad with these fixings is far easier and faster.  That's why I find this report so disturbing.

Sonia Walia of Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan tested the assumption that "ready-to-eat means clean" and free of bacteria.   She and her colleagues tested this assumption on several bags of Dole Ready-To Eat Baby Spinach.

They pureed the spinach in a sterile mixer and then spread the mixture on Petri dishes containing nutrients that encourage bacteria to grow.  Within days they had identified, Staphylococcus, Enterobacter, and Escherichia colonies, all of which can infect people. They then challenged these bacteria with common antibiotics such as ampicillin and ciprofloxacin.  The researchers were alarmed to discover that 95 percent of the colonies tested were resistant to two or more antibiotics.

The one time food scientist in me is also alarmed.  My assumption is that something in the processing, some sterilization or cleaning technique either in processing the spinach or cleaning the machinery, is selectively breeding these resistant bacteria.

How big a deal is this?  At this point I've seen no reports of food borne illness linked to these salad products.  It makes sense to be cautious nevertheless.

People who are immune-compromised, people undergoing chemotherapy, people taking immune suppressing drugs or who have illnesses that lower resistance to infection should not consume ready-to-eat spinach and by extension other salads. Cooking the spinach will render it safe to eat.  For the rest of us, don't trust the prewashed label.  Wash these greens thoroughly before eating. 

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