If you have paid attention to the media lately, there has been a lot of information about foodborne illness related to pre-packaged salad mixes.

If you have paid attention to the media lately, there has been a lot of information about foodborne illness related to pre-packaged salad mixes. There have been over 600 cases of Cyclospora (a parasite that causes foodborne illness), which has been associated with pre-packaged food service salad mix.

Many are wondering if they should wash their “pre-washed” or “ready to eat” salad mixes to help prevent food borne illness. Another common question is if you should wash raw meat before cooking to reduce any micro-organisms. Here is some information to help answer those questions.

Pre-washed or ready-to-eat salad mixes have already been washed using a commercial washing process. Rewashing these at home does not appear to reduce any micro-organisms more than the commercial process. Another issue with washing these is an increased risk of cross-contamination in your kitchen, either by contaminating the lettuce if your kitchen is not completely clean, or contaminating other foods from any micro-organisms on the leaves of the lettuce. It is recommended not to wash pre-washed or ready-to-eat mixes in your kitchen.

Also, make sure to keep the bagged salads stored in the refrigerator below 40 degrees F and pay attention to the “use by” date on the package to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Bacteria grow rapidly from 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F. Bagged salad not marked as pre-washed or ready-to-eat should be washed at home before consuming, as well as unpackaged lettuce.

Raw meat, especially chicken, should also not be washed prior to cooking. Many people think this will help wash off any bacteria, but washing meat will contaminate your sink, areas surrounding the sink, or other foods nearby.

The best bet to reduce any possibility of any bacteria is to cook meats to a proper temperature and check using a meat thermometer. The temperatures for meat should be:

Steaks, roasts, chops (beef, veal, lamb) – 145 degrees F

Ground meat, meat mixtures (beef, pork, veal, lamb) – 160 degrees F

Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, etc) – 165 degrees F

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness in your family, do not wash pre-washed or ready-to-eat salad greens or raw meat in your kitchen. The risk of cross-contamination to other foods in or around your sink is high. To prevent cross-contamination when handling raw foods, keep your hands and surfaces clean. You can make a bleach sanitizer using 1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. Wipe or spray surfaces, let stand for at least 30 seconds before wiping, or let air dry. You can store this mixture for up to one week.

If you have questions or ideas for future articles, please contact Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with University of Missouri Extension. Call the Camden County Extension Center at 573-346-2644 or email Melissa at bessmm@missouri.edu.

Melissa Bess is a health expert with the University of Missouri Extension. She is the author of a health and wellness blog at LakeNewsOnline.com.