A general best practice is to always wash lettuce before eating, experts say. That’s why

A general best practice is to always wash lettuce before eating, experts say. That’s why

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Home cooks try to eat plenty of fresh leafy greens throughout the week. But between rising costs and scarce ingredients, it can sometimes be hard to find your go-to iceberg or romaine for lunch salads and wraps.

If you do come across the lettuce needed for all of these healthy dishes, chances are timing is still of the essence. During a busy day at work or school, you may only have a few minutes to prepare lunch, and something like washing all those greens can seem like an unnecessary extra step that gets in the way.
But is it unnecessary? Do we need to wash these vegetables before eating? Absolutely, according to experts.

Why do you have to wash lettuce before eating?

Field-grown leafy greens, including lettuce and iceberg lettuce, should be washed thoroughly before eating. If we want to stay safe and healthy, this is it. “Lettuce can harbor harmful bacteria as it’s harvested and packed, so it’s best to wash it before eating to help rinse off any surface dirt,” says Katie Sabatini, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Manager at Little Leaf Farms.

A general best practice is to always wash lettuce before serving. “Contaminants can range from pesticides to sand and mud,” says Jay Weinstein, a chef instructor in the art of botanical culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Lettuce from the farmers market tends to pack more grit than factory-farmed varieties.”

Agricultural chemicals sometimes fly under the radar, but they’re still around, and they’re very dangerous. “They can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted because of the design, and I wouldn’t risk swallowing them just to save a few minutes in the kitchen,” Weinstein said.

How about prewashed lettuce?

Buying a bag of pre-washed and pre-teared lettuce can be a huge time saver. But, can you safely trust that they’ve been laundered clean and ready to use? It depends on whether you are buying from a place you trust. “It’s up to the individual, but I personally wouldn’t [unless it’s a brand I know and trust],”

Weinstein said. “I buy from reputable producers like the locally raised Saturday Farms brand from Long Island and eat straight from the package. The liability is so high they have more to lose than the consumer. But I respect the skeptics .”

How to Wash Lettuce

Don’t deny it. Washing the entire head ignores hidden dirt. “Before washing lettuce, tear or cut the leaves,” Weinstein said. “The most comfortable habitat for pollutants is deep inside, where the leaf meets the leaf core.”

Steps for washing lettuce:

  • Start by washing your hands. There’s no point in washing lettuce if you’ll stain it if you touch it. “I recommend washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before handling lettuce to reduce the risk of spreading germs from your hands to your dish,” Sabatini says.
  • Next, cut up your lettuce. All types of lettuce need to be washed, but whether you tear or cut with a knife will depend on the variety. “Crisp, firm heads like romaine and iceberg are better cut with a knife, while leafy lettuces like Boston bieber or oak leaf are best shredded by hand,” says Weinstein. “Be sure to wash both styles before eating.”
  • Then, prepare your workbench. “Fill two large containers with cold tap water,” says Weinstein, adding that the outer bowl of the lettuce spinner is a good size for the job.
  • The temperature of the wash water also plays a role when it comes to food safety and quality. “The young leaves of lettuce are more susceptible to the adverse quality effects of wash water at too high a temperature, which include wilting, scalding, softening and loss of increased freshness, among others,” Sabatini said.
  • Now grab that lettuce. “Submerge [cut or torn lettuce leaves] completely in the first container of water,” says Weinstein. “Stir vigorously, using loose fingers to avoid bruising the leaves.”
  • The rest of the process is a bit more complicated, but easy once you get in the flow. “Lift the lettuce out of the water so it’s drip-tight, then transfer it to the second pot and repeat the process,” Weinstein said. Feel for any grit at the bottom of the container. If you find one, repeat the process until there are no more grit in the container.
  • Rotate the leaves to dry them. “The lettuce spinner uses centrifugal force to gently eliminate residual moisture,” Weinstein explains. “Wet lettuce will dilute the dressing. If that’s not reason enough to rotate, consider that wet lettuce will spoil faster”. If you don’t have a salad spinner, says Weinstein: “Pack the lettuce in a towel or clean pillowcase and sling it over your head like a slingshot.”

TIP: Washing revives dormant leaves. “If your vegetables have started to wilt, but still have a spark of life, they’ll drink up and re-crisp,” Weinstein says.