Studies wash produce notions clean

Leafy, green produce was recently tagged the riskiest food under FDA regulation.

by Maureen Landsverk

As college students, our needs and wants are at times indistinguishable. If we need a jacket, we want The North Face; we need food, but we want the dining-out experience over a to-go Happy Meal. Frustrating and trying are our circumstances âÄî should we save or splurge? How do we keep the proverbial âÄúbudgetâÄù without sacrificing the more important aspects of our lives âÄî namely, health? These questions have been tormenting collegiate generations as long as money itself, though no hard-and-fast solution has been found. âÄúFood,âÄù âÄúsustenanceâÄù âÄî whatever you call it âÄî ranks among the top priorities on the typical studentâÄôs agenda and one of the highest as far as expenditures go, taking a massive $11 billion toll on the general college population each year. One of the easiest ways to keep up with the Joneses in the way of health-conscious food choices is to purchase low-calorie, nutrient-rich greens such as lettuce or spinach. And pre-packaged versions are ever more popular. âÄúBoxed lettuce is the way to go,âÄù says design undergraduate Jessica Wolleat. âÄúThe package keeps [the produce] fresh longer.âÄù Pre-packaged and pre-washed produce may be convenient, but is it safe? Although it sounds promising, âÄútriple-washedâÄù in the title is no indication of cleanliness, âÄúConsumer ReportsâÄù has found. The rapid growth in the popularity of bagged greens has been accompanied by a not-so-coincidental growth in the number of food-related illnesses. Recent outbreaks due to the consumption of prepackaged leafy greens include the E. coli and salmonella contaminations in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Both ultimately required recalls. Contamination with harmful bacteria may originate as far back as the produce farm, where greens are especially susceptible to polluted water runoff. Another source is within the preservatives with which manufacturers regularly shower prepackaged produce to prolong shelf life. These chemicals have been proven to be detrimental to the consumerâÄôs health. In a âÄúConsumer ReportsâÄù study of over 200 samples of pre-packaged lettuce and leafy greens, including brands such as Dole and Earthbound Farm Organic, 39 percent were found to exceed the acceptable limits of coliform bacteria, such as E. coli. In response to food contamination outbreaks, the FDA has begun distributing grants to state and local regulatory agencies to support food protection efforts. âÄúThe grants represent an important step in the FDAâÄôs continued efforts and integrate and improve the effectiveness of food safety systems at the federal, state and local levels,âÄù said Michael Chappell, the FDAâÄôs acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. The National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota was granted $20 million on a six-year installment plan last week. The money is coming from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be utilized in projects to reduce vulnerabilities to intentional contamination in the nationâÄôs food supply. Currently, University research teams are working on various research projects to detect chemical and biological toxic agents and their inactivation. As science advances, so will the quality and healthiness of the worldâÄôs food. New, more sanitary methods of cultivation are being developed on a regular basis. For the time being, however, buying fresh, unpackaged produce seems to be the safest and most health-conscious option, if slightly more time-consuming. Fresh, bulk produce is cheaper, pound-for-pound, than bagged alternatives. In the end, personal priority reigns; saving on preparation time at the risk of your well-being may not be the wisest decision. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]