In our world of pre-packaged/prepared/prewashed convenience, there is one strange phenomenon that has always made me go hmmm. Why does prewashed lettuce/salad mix seemingly stay fresh for inordinate amounts of time? I mean if you really think about it, that stuff has to be picked, travel to a processing plant where it’s sorted and washed and packaged, travel to a warehouse, then travel again to your supermarket, then travel again to your kitchen. With all that time elapsing, how can salad greens appear as though they were picked this morning once I open the plastic container or bag?
In the early days of our conventional to organic transition, we lived in an extremely cold, northern climate that didn’t allow for many months of fresh vegetational growth. To compensate, we, like many others, found it extremely convenient to waltz into our local Costco and buy the big tub of organic salad greens, all the while ignoring the little voice in the back of my head screaming at me to question this WAY too convenient addition to our meal.
In my search for answers I began with what seemed like the most logical starting point: Earthbound Organics, the mothership of prewashed, organic convenience! They supply to huge chains like Costco across the US and Canada and that alone raises red flags for me. In scouring their website, they definitely want it known that they test their seeds, fields and water for Ecoli, Salmonella etc… A clear attempt to calm any public concerns in light of recalls and E Coli outbreaks that have gone on in their industry in recent memory. They go on to say that harvested plants are then tested once again for pathogens….so far so good! Wait! Apparently their salads are kept in an “unbroken cold chain” that includes washing in cold, chlorinated water. The chlorine works in synchronicity with the cold water to keep the bacteria and pathogens at bay. Hmmmm Is this the magic ingredient that keeps the lettuce so fresh? Chlorine is definitely something we avoid, so naturally I had to find out what ratio of chlorine to water is used. Is it simply just your run of the mill tap water or is it more ‘enhanced’ with chlorine? As of post date, I have not received a response, so this still remains a mystery.
Perhaps a more important consideration to eating this ‘fast food’ is the environmental foot print created by this large scale producer and others like it. According to Cornell ecologist David Pimental, growing, chilling, washing, packaging and transporting your box of organic salad requires more than 4600 calories of fossil fuel energy or 57 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food! Certainly a valid argument for eating local and seasonal!
But let’s be realistic, we aren’t all going to go without salad for an entire winter. In our family we find it efficient to buy full heads of lettuce and tear, wash and dry enough for a couple days. This way we are more inclined to include lettuce with each meal.