Bagged salads are a great way to get greens on your plate. So easy to pick up in the supermarket then pop the pre-washed leaves on any meal to make it look healthy.
Unfortunately, they aren’t as healthy as they appear as many contain very little nutrition due to the processing.
Wilting Before Your Eyes
Pre-packaged salad leaves can stay looking fresh for 5 days in the fridge. However, appearances can be deceptive as the moment something is picked it begins to lose nutritional value.
In some foods, the nutrients can stay around for months like apples and carrots. Others like thin delicate salad leaves once separated individually lose a significant amount of nutrients every hour after being picked.
Pre-bagged salads are packaged along with a mixture of gasses known as modified atmosphere. This keeps them looking fresh and giving a shelf life of up to a week.
If you check the back of a packet of leaves it will say something like “packaged in a protective atmosphere”. While that sounds nice and helps keep the leaves looking great it doesn’t protect the nutrients.
Once you open a salad bag the leaves often wilt very quickly, this is a true indication of just how much nutrition remains.
People think a few salad leaves on their plate is healthy, whereas it can be more damaging for people to think they are getting nutrition when there’s next to no value in lots of prebagged salads. Only dark green leaves, like rocket or spinach, contain any notable amounts of nutrition.
It’s nice to think when something is prewashed it’s done exactly as you would at home. With fresh water for a few seconds. However the reality is factories that make salad leaves dunk them in an industrial bath of water mixed with chlorine that isn’t changed for hours.
This only applies to airtight salad bags. Kale is often sold in bags but if you have a choice get unwashed and still on the stem that’s packaged with normal air in bags with holes. The kale that’s been chopped and prepared will have been gassed and washed in chlorine.
Pre Bagged Salads Are The Most Dangerous
There’s a good reason why salad leaves are washed in chlorine. Salads can contain bugs that cause food poisoning including E coli, salmonella and norovirus. Two were killed in the UK from an outbreak of pre-washed rocket that contained E coli.
The advice following the E coli salad bag outbreak was for all salad leaves, even those pre-washed, to be washed again at home.
As salad leaves aren’t cooked it can be pretty dangerous just opening a bag and putting a few leaves directly on your plate. Some studies have shown that dangerous pathogens can become more virulent once refrigerated.
Professor Pennington is an expert of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen and has warned that pre-washed salads are one of the products most likely to give food poisoning. His famed quote on bagged salads is “It is generally safer to eat a burger than the salad that goes with it.”
If you’re eating out the vast majority of restaurants in the UK and the US use prebagged salads. Some do make their own from whole leaves, but if it’s a fast, convenience food or a chain then it’s often straight out of a bag.
The Healthy Solution To Pre-Bagged Salads
If you have a local grower they often sell washed and prepare salad leaves without any gasses or chlorine. Growers usually select varieties of salad leaves that will naturally last longer without any chemicals. They will be far fresher and more nutritious.
Cut and grow again salad leaves can be grown on a windowsill with very little effort. Make sure to water them and you can have salad leaves in seconds for months.
Choose a good variety that matches where you have the space to grow. Then enjoy really fresh salad leaves while also saving money, plastic and transportation emissions.
Eat some green leafy weeds from the garden like nettles or dandelions. They are full of nutrients as they have to fight to grow and are picked and eaten within minutes. I use some when making a green juice like above.
If you can’t grow leaves then you may want to make a few swaps in order to get vitamins. Frozen peas, frozen spinach or fresh broccoli are almost guaranteed to have way more nutrition per gram than prebagged salads. Eating 20g of green vegetables is far easier for those that struggle with vegetables.
Photo: broccoli with a tip to make it last longer
Final Thoughts On Pre-washed Salad Bags
- They’re packaged in gas to last longer on shelves, but the nutrients are lost while they still appear to look fresh.
- Once opened salad leaves wilt very quickly as they are often a week old.
- It’s advisable to still wash prewashed salad leaves at home due to the risk of poisoning.
- Eating green vegetables like broccoli or peas are a far better source of vitamins.
The sad truth is salad leaves that stay looking fresh and healthy for a week in a bag are too good to be true. Like so many other things in life.
I often buy reduced fruit and veg to save money. But would never consider buying a reduced salad bag as by then it will have been picked over a week ago and have next to no nutrition. Don’t be surprised if a salad bag past its date is just slimy and smells like pond water once opened.
Let me know what you think of this article, I know it can be difficult being told that all these healthy foods aren’t that great. But I like to share information to empower people to make better choices.
I do still sometimes have watercress from a bag as it’s now impossible to get it without the bag but I’m aware it may not be as healthy as it looks.