Bagged salads are a time-saving way to get the benefits of salads, from package to plate in seconds. There is a bagged salad for every taste, from simple lettuce like romaine to arugula. These packages are even available as an all-in-one salad kit. It’s estimated that 83% of households were using bagged salads in 2015.
One concern some consumers have is that bagged salads may not pack the same vitamin and nutrient filled punch as a home-made salad does. Read on for the verdict.
Bag vs Fresh: Nutrients
Produce begins to lose nutrients from the minute they are harvested. Bagged salads seem to be at risk for losing even more nutrients compared to a single head of lettuce because they need so much additional work before being placed on the produce shelves.
Bagged salads may lose nutrients because they are washed, chopped and packaged. Manufacturers state that they still try to keep the turnaround time of their packaged salads to 24 hours. The packaging process itself saves nutrients, though. Modified atmosphere packaging involves reducing oxygen, a process that keeps the leaves of packaged salads green and slows the loss of vitamins and nutrients like folate and vitamin C. The result is a longer shelf life of the bagged salad.
With these packaging techniques, nutrient losses in both whole lettuce heads and packaged salads are similar. In fact, bagged salads may maintain more nutrients depending on how they are stored and how quickly they are eaten.
Bagged vs Fresh: Safety
With all of the recalls of romaine lettuce due to E. coli, people are questioning just how safe bagged salads are. While human contamination of foods happens when food is handled too much, it can also happen by exposure to other contaminated foods.
Bacterium lives on lettuce before it is harvested. Being stored properly reduces the risk of becoming ill from the bacteria, which are already usually at levels that wouldn’t make a human sick.
Trevor Suslow was a food safety expert from the University of California at Davis. In an NPR interview, Suslow explains that there isn’t any real evidence that packaged salads pose any more of a risk of illness than fresh salads. “Detectable contamination in both whole head lettuces and mixed salad greens are very, very low.”
Bagged vs Fresh: Which is Best for You?
Because many of us are far below the recommended daily allowance of veggies, we need all the help we can get. The US has shown an improvement in eating leafy greens, with a 2014 average of over 22 pounds consumed per person. It’s a huge jump from the 1970 average of just over 1 pound of greens consumed per year.
Packaged, bagged salads make it easier for the average consumer to serve up the leafy stuff with meals. The health benefits of bagged salads far outweigh any possible risks, according to food experts. Nutrient loss and the risk of foodborne illness isn’t any higher than in whole produce.
- To keep your bagged salads, follow these tips:
- Buy your bagged salads as far from the “use by” date as you can
- Toss the salad if the color no longer looks fresh, the lettuce is slimy, or the “use by” date has passed
- Keep the bagged salads refrigerated, between 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit
- Eat the bagged salad as soon as possible after purchase