ARLINGTON, VA – Customer health and safety is a top priority; stores care about their customers and want to keep them safe and healthy. In a recent story published in Consumer Reports on July 26, the publication tested lettuce, spinach, and kale in several grocery stores and allegedly found six samples tainted with Listeria monocytogenes. The report notes, “Two of these samples were packaged, prewashed greens—a spinach and an organic spinach-spring mix. The other four were loose heads or bunches of green kale, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and spinach.”

Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Senior Vice President of Food Safety Programs Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, participated in an interview for the story and was quoted, saying, “The supermarket industry has taken many steps to keep dangerous bacteria out of food.’ Still, she said CR’s findings are ‘going to cause us to look more closely at the food safety program and have more conversations with our suppliers. And I think we can always improve our food safety programs.’”

Reacting to the story today, Thesmar said:

“Food retailers take these survey results very seriously and it is not their intention to contribute to a breakdown of trust they work so hard to foster among their shoppers. While there is currently no government safety advisory, the incidents outlined in Consumer Reports of finding listeria in bulk lettuce reminds us that the entire supply chain has a responsibility for safe food handling. Consumers can take small steps at home to help prevent bacterial contamination by washing the leafy greens that they find in bulk bins or loose in the store’s produce department. However, Listeria should not be present in a bagged salad that’s labeled ‘ready-to-eat,’ ‘washed’ or ‘triple washed.’ These products have gone through the necessary steps to mitigate harmful bacteria. Shoppers should be advised not to wash bagged lettuce that is labeled ‘ready-to-eat,’ ‘washed’ or ‘triple washed’ because of risk of cross contamination from hands, sinks, colanders, pans and utensils that may be used during washing. Public health professionals suggest that these actions may outweigh any safety benefit for prewashed, ready-to-eat salads.

“Food safety management is an involved and ever-evolving process. Earlier this year, the FMI Board of Directors provided us with direction to help prevent contamination of leafy greens; to increase communication across the entire supply chain; to protect consumers and the safety of products; and to effectively respond to food safety incidents, should they occur again.” 

FMI urges the community to learn more about washing produce and visit these resources:

The Partnership for Food Safety Education has free resources for consumers instructing them on the basics of safe food handling at home:

It’s important that consumers follow FDA guidelines and not rewash a ready-to-eat bagged salad. Again, these products are labeled ‘ready-to-eat,’ ‘washed’ or ‘triple washed’. FDA has the following resources: