Last week, the New York Times reported that the nation’s leading producer of bagged salads, Fresh Express, had found a new, more effective way to clean the fresh spinach and lettuce mixtures sold in supermarkets. Fresh Express will be
“abandoning the standard industry practice of washing leafy greens with chlorine and has begun using the acid mixture, which it claims is many times more effective in killing bacteria. The new wash solution, called FreshRinse, contains organic acids commonly used in the food industry, including lactic acid, a compound found in milk.”
In case you didn’t know, most bagged salad sold in U.S. grocery stores is washed in a chlorine bath. It’s hard to know with certainty which companies use chlorine baths, the concentration of the chlorine bath (it can be up to 50ppm), or even how much chlorine is left on produce after the wash. What is certain is that the chlorine baths used to sanitize non-organic greens have higher concentrations than drinking water (which is mandated to have less than 4ppm chlorine). The organic seal affords some protection, as the National Organic Program sets a 4ppm concentration limit for chlorine-based sanitizing. In contrast, the U.K. doesn’t allow chlorine sanitizing allow in organic production; Germany and Denmark prohibit the practice completely.
It is commendable that we now have a safer (for ourselves and the environment) method for removing bacteria from fresh produce, but we should recognize that this is only a bandaid for the deeper problems that lie within our food system. The fact that we need to be using such strong techniques to clean our produce should raise a red flag. Why is our produce so contaminated in the first place? What are the conditions on the farm, in processing facilities, and in transit that require us to have such practices in place?