If you’re like many people, you love incorporating leafy greens into your diet. Whether you’re making salads, adding greens to smoothies, or sautéing them as a side dish, there’s no doubt that leafy greens are a healthy addition to any meal. However, recent outbreaks of E. coli and other foodborne illnesses have raised concerns about the safety of lettuce and other greens. In this article, we’ll explore which lettuces are safe to eat, along with some tips for keeping your greens as safe as possible.
Is There Really a Lettuce Recall?
If you’ve been following recent news stories, you may have heard that there have been numerous lettuce recalls due to E. coli contamination. In fact, the CDC has reported that there have been several multi-state outbreaks of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce in recent years. This has understandably led many people to wonder whether it’s safe to eat lettuce at all.
The Truth About Lettuce Safety
While it’s certainly true that there have been recalls due to E. coli contamination, it’s also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of greens are perfectly safe to eat. According to the CDC, most greens are low-risk foods when it comes to foodborne illness. In fact, the majority of E. coli outbreaks are caused by other types of food, such as ground beef and raw milk. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take precautions when handling and preparing lettuce, but rather, that there’s no need to avoid it altogether.
How to Keep Your Greens Safe
So, what can you do to make sure that the lettuce you’re eating is as safe as possible? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Wash Your Greens Thoroughly
The most important thing you can do in terms of food safety is to wash your greens thoroughly. This will help to remove any dirt or potential contaminants that may be on the leaves. It’s important to note, however, that washing alone may not be enough to eliminate all potential pathogens, especially if the greens have been contaminated at the source.
Choose Your Greens Carefully
It’s also important to choose your greens carefully. Look for heads of lettuce that are crisp and fresh-looking, with no signs of discoloration or wilting. Also, consider the source of the lettuce. Some growers may have better food safety protocols in place than others, so it may be worth doing your research and selecting greens from a producer with a good track record.
Store Your Greens Safely
Finally, it’s important to store your greens safely. Keep lettuce and other greens refrigerated as soon as possible after purchasing, and make sure to use them within a few days. If you’re not planning on using your greens right away, consider freezing them to help maintain their freshness.
Which Lettuces Are Safe to Eat?
While any lettuce has the potential to become contaminated, some types of lettuce may be more risky than others. Here are some of the lettuces that are generally considered to be low-risk in terms of foodborne illness.
- Red or green leaf lettuce
Some other types of lettuce, such as iceberg, have a higher water content and may be more prone to contamination. However, even these lettuces are generally considered to be low-risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I get sick from eating lettuce?
A: While any food has the potential to cause illness, including lettuce, the majority of greens are considered low-risk in terms of foodborne illness.
Q: What type of lettuce should I choose if I’m concerned about food safety?
A: While no lettuce is completely risk-free, some types of lettuce, such as romaine and leaf lettuce, are generally considered to be low-risk.
Q: How can I make sure my lettuce is safe to eat?
A: Keep lettuce and other greens refrigerated as soon as possible after purchasing, choose heads of lettuce that are fresh-looking and free of wilting, and wash your greens thoroughly before eating.
Q: Should I avoid lettuce altogether?
A: No. While there have been recalls due to E. coli contamination, the vast majority of greens are perfectly safe to eat. Taking precautions such as washing your greens thoroughly and selecting fresh-looking lettuce can help to minimize your risk of foodborne illness.
Q: Are there any long-term health effects of eating contaminated lettuce?
A: While most people who contract foodborne illness from lettuce recover without issue, there can be some long-term health effects in certain cases. These can include kidney failure or death, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.
While recent lettuce recalls may have left some people concerned about the safety of their greens, the truth is that the majority of lettuce is safe to eat. By taking a few simple precautions, such as washing your greens thoroughly and selecting fresh-looking lettuce, you can help to minimize your risk of foodborne illness.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). E. coli.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2021). Lettuce and Food Safety.