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What’s Really In Your Spinach?

Dorathy Gass

It’s enough to even scare Popeye away his favorite leafy green! Still, according to a study recently presented at the American Chemical Society, spinach can contain bacteria, like E. coli … even pre-washed variations.

While food poisoning seems more like a worry when it comes to chicken or fish; the Centre for Disease Control reports 48 million in the U.S. suffer from foodborne illnesses annually, thanks to fresh produce. Yes, you read right … produce!

After experts linked the 2006 California E.coli bacteria outbreak to pre-washed spinach, an outbreak which resulted in three deaths and over 200 illnesses; Sharon Walker, Ph.D, professor, University of California-Riverside, took matters into her own hands and conducted a study.

With the help of a microscopic technique that provides a closer look at the the surface of spinach, a count was conducted on the amount of bacteria cells on and detached from the leafy green. While the spinach was washed with a variety of bleach rinses at differing strengthens, the results were incredible. A high-end concentration rinse that is generally used commercially was able to kill the bacteria on the spinach studied; alas Walker did realize that there was an uneven distribution of the rinse, thanks to the spinach leaves’ nooks, bumps, and crannies. As such, there was up to 90% of bacteria still on areas of the spinach that were cleaned. When bacterium isn’t completely removed, it can spread through growth on surfaces of processing facilities or cross-contaminate other produce prior to getting to the grocery store.

Benjamin Chapman, Ph.D., a food-safety specialist, chimed in on this issue and notes that this falls into line with what is understood about leafy greens; and other research has revealed that food does carry bacteria that might not wash off even after a triple cleaning at facilities or at home. Chapman also commented, saying this should not deter anyone from eating spinach or other leafy greens, as the industry does its best to keep produce as clean and minimize risk.

On a side note, after purchase, keep leafy greens as clean as possible. They should be stored in the fridge 41°F or under; and consumed by three to four days after opening the package.

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