Prepared by Adair Hoover, Program Assistant, Food Safety and Preservation, Clemson University HGIC and Rhonda Matthews, Senior Extension Agent, Food Safety and Nutrition, Clemson University (New 4/12.)
Safe handling practices are crucial when preparing fresh lettuce and proper washing is fundamental to this process. Fresh lettuce may be picked from a garden, purchased at farmer’s markets, produce stands and in grocery stores. The washing method that you use depends on how you obtain the lettuce and the type of packaging. When working with unpackaged lettuces washing is always required. If you are working with pre-packaged lettuce and salads you must carefully read the label to determine whether a product is one that should be washed before consumption. The following guidelines will help you determine how to properly wash and prepare various lettuces and leafy green salads.
If you choose to wash “ready to eat” lettuce or salad before use, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before handling and rewash hands as necessary. Clean the sink, colander, salad spinner and any utensils that will contact the lettuce with hot soapy water. Use cold running water to wash lettuce/leafy green salads to reduce the potential for cross contamination. Dry in a clean salad spinner or wipe dry with a paper towel that has not been previously used for another purpose.
Unpackaged lettuces including, produce grown conventionally or organically at home, produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market, and pre-packaged lettuces that are NOT labeled "washed", "triple washed" or "ready-to-eat" should be washed before consumption. For a thorough cleaning, fill a clean sink or bowl with lukewarm water, swish for 30 seconds, drain the water from the sink and rinse the sink free of any grit. Refill with clean cold water and repeat procedure two more times until no grit remains in the bottom of sink, when water is drained. For iceberg lettuce, remove the core, either by cutting around the core using a sharp knife or by pounding the core quite hard on a cutting board, and twist loose for easy removal. Hold upside down under running water and invert to drain. Dry lettuces by letting them drain in a colander and then wipe with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to reduce any bacteria that may be present.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.