Lettuce Wash Outside?
December 12, 2012 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Do I have to wash the inside of my romaine lettuce?

Romaine lettuce comes tightly bunched. Any pesticides and bacteria should be on the outside of the head of the lettuce, not on the inside leaves, which have never seen the light of day. So, theoretically, I can wash the head of lettuce as is, and then cut it apart for a salad, rather than cutting it apart and then washing all the leaves.

Does this time-saving logic make sense to you?
posted by musofire to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by valkyryn at 10:35 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Either you wash it all, or you don't bother.

I get the pre-washed hearts, 3 in a bag and call it a day.

Besides, it's not just pesticides and bacteria, it's dirt. So, if your lettuce isn't dirty, it should be okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Almost all greens I eat tend to be gritty from dirt when I get them from the store. I bought romaine recently and it didn't seem to be quite as dirty (possibly because of the tall skinny heads?), but I'd still wash all greens and lettuces by default just because they so often arrive with actual dirt on them. Nothing worse than biting down on grit when you're trying to enjoy a nice salad.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure if valkyryn is saying yes you should wash the inside, or yes this time-saving logic makes sense, but I agree with the first one. I have definitely washed dirt and/or bugs out of the inside of the romaine lettuce that I've used in the past.
posted by Grither at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd definitely wash the inside. There are plenty of places for all kinds of bugs, grit, and bacteria to snuggle in those curly areas. Think of it this way: You'll lose more time if you get some sort of illness from what could possibly be on the inside of the leaves.
posted by wolfgirl at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Today I chopped the bottom off a head of romaine and found half a yellow bug on my knife. So maybe wash it all.
posted by justjess at 10:46 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes. There's all kinds of dirt and bugs and stuff. When I worked at Wendy's, making salads, it was actually more important (in terms of successfully finding yourself with clean lettuce) to do the romaine carefully than the iceberg.

This is why I get bags of pre-washed, chopped-up lettuce, when I don't have the time to do it right.
posted by SMPA at 10:48 AM on December 12, 2012

No. Wash the entire leaf.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:48 AM on December 12, 2012

Best answer: Washing produce is kind of a slippery slope between here and full-on insane germophobic compulsive behavior. There is no single right answer; there is only the answer that is right for you.

Rinsing a head of lettuce will do little to dislodge either pesticides or bacteria. Pesticides are designed not to rinse off in the rain. Bacteria are as well.

However, rinsing is an excellent way to get the dirt and insects off. This is not an entirely trivial issue, particularly with something crinkly like romaine. It's probably worth it to give the whole head a swish under the tap to get the grit off.

If you really want to remove the external bacteria, you need to soak your produce in a solution of water and either vinegar, lemon juice, or a commercial solution. Then pat dry and let it air dry. I think this will probably remove pesticides as well.

However, bacterial contamination of lettuce is not just an issue on the outside. When crops are sprayed with contaminated water, they suck it up into their cells. This means that the bacteria are actually inside the cells of the lettuce, and the only way to get at them is to cook your lettuce thoroughly.

Mm, fresh-baked salad.

Personally, these days I too just buy the pre-bagged stuff and try not to think about it. I'm in the "There's only so many things I can worry about at once" camp.
posted by ErikaB at 10:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [19 favorites]

I wash all heads of lettuce-y things inside and out because I hate eating gritty salads, and I have yet to wash a head of lettuce-y something that didn't leave some sandy grit in the salad spinner.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on December 12, 2012

Yes. In one of my restaurant jobs I washed a crate or two of romaine every day. The stuff is filthy. There's dirt deep inside romaine lettuce. The other thing I found with great frequency inside romaine was dead flies. So, yes. And that's even before considering bacteria.
posted by Miko at 10:53 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The other thing I found with great frequency inside romaine was dead flies.

Gah, there's a restaurant I will never eat at again because I found half a fly in the middle of my sandwich. The other half was in my mouth. I remember chewing the mouthful I had just bitten off and looking at this really pretty ginormous fly; it had a metallic green-shading-to-rainbow look to it, and I was chewing and thinking, "That can't possibly be a bug, can it?" for about five seconds, and so yeah, take the leaves apart and just give them a rinse, okay?
posted by disconnect at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do I have to wash the inside of my romaine lettuce?

Does this time-saving logic make sense to you?
posted by valeries at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Always wash the whole leaf. I have bit into poo and bugs on two separate occasions when someone else didn't do that when I was eating at their house for dinner.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I typically wash about two heads of the biggest, gnarliest heads of organic romaine lettuce our farmer's market has to offer every week over the summer months, and I think you should wash each leaf individually.

Mainly because the leaves are coated with a soapy feeling-- and soapy tasting-- film that washes off fairly easily.

I presume the leaves secrete it as a lubricant to allow them to move with respect to each other as they grow and flex.

I worry a little about washing away the beneficial bacteria which are the main reason, aside from superior flavor, to eat organic raw vegetables in the first place, but the inner leaves' film doesn't feel like a biofilm to me. It's not slimy enough.
posted by jamjam at 11:12 AM on December 12, 2012

Any pesticides and bacteria should be on the outside of the head of the lettuce, not on the inside leaves, which have never seen the light of day.

The outdoors is full of bugs and animals. They like lettuce as much as you do. They will get anywhere that they can reach. So yes, rinse your lettuce.
posted by empath at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

One time I bought a bag of organic Romaine heads and every single leaf was covered with bugs. There were probably two hundred little dead aphids on every leaf. (Note: I eat a lot of organic produce, and this isn't meant to be a slam on organic produce in general, but it was kind of horrifying.) Even if you never encounter Bugaggeddon, you should wash the inside leaves because dirt can accumulate inside there, pesticides can drip down, birds can peck at them, bugs can slither, etc.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:16 AM on December 12, 2012

I wash lettuce by swirling it in a stainless steel bowl filled with water. Then I dump out the water and do it again. Doing it this way makes it incredibly clear how much silt and dirt is in the lettuce and also how long before you have it mostly clear.

There are surely bacteria on the inside of your lettuce. But washing in water isn't going to do much to get rid of bacteria.
posted by grouse at 11:53 AM on December 12, 2012

The base parts often have the most sandy grit, which would be hard to get completely clean, and it's a bummer to get a sandy bite of a salad.

Also with romaine, personally, I find the thick stems to be pretty unpleasant and I typically hand shred in a way that allows me to throw those into the compost.

If efficiency is what you're after, though, you you could chop it up all at once, stems too if they don't bother you, throw it in a big bowl of water and swish around (big bowls of water go faster than holding individual leaves under running water) then pull it out and wrap it gently in a hand towel for faster drying.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:59 AM on December 12, 2012

Response by poster: Odd. I buy the romaine hearts bag, and there are never any bugs or grit in there. It doesn't sound like there's really anything that will get rid of the pesticides, if they are meant not to wash off in the rain!
posted by musofire at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2012

Agreeing that the bagged 3-in-1 hearts are pretty darn clean. And if you buy the organic kind there's no pesticide. So I get that and don't wash.
posted by beagle at 12:08 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If time savings is what you are after, chop first and then wash in a salad spinner. Saves time and keeps your salad from getting overly wet.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:18 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

My hatred of rinsing romaine before making a salad nearly disappeared when someone showed you can chop up the lettuce FIRST (also, chopping quickly down the length is faster and better than ripping, which is what I did before) and then throw all the chopped-up pieces into a big bowl of water to agitate/rinse the dirt off SECOND. Bonus points for using a salad spinner to rinse the pre-chopped lettuce, as then it's simple to dry.

This changed making a salad from a 10-minute labor-intensive affair to a 2-minute simple task I could take care of right before dinner. We eat a lot more salad now, it has a lot less grit in it, and everyone is happier.

I only bring this up because if you chop before rinsing, the whole issue of inside/outside is avoided, plus it's so much faster and less likely to spill water everywhere.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:19 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I buy the romaine hearts bag, and there are never any bugs or grit in there.

Yes, bagged pre-washed lettuce is pre-washed. There shouldn't be substantial bugs or grit. Some people recommend rinsing those as well, but I don't bother.

And if you buy the organic kind there's no pesticide.

There's no synthetic pesticide, but "organic" pesticides can be just as harmful for humans.
posted by grouse at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This means that the bacteria are actually inside the cells of the lettuce

Cite? Pretty sure you're wrong.
posted by ryanrs at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't like eating bugs and dirt, you should wash your lettuce.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:37 PM on December 12, 2012

AN FYI on fresh veggies and bacteria. Washing removes some, never all; and yes, rarely, bacteria can be taken up through the roots and end up inside the plant.

If bacteria freaks you out a lot, though, there's not so much to do other than not eat fresh veggies, especially leafy ones and high-input ones. I like that this piece acknowledges that cleaner farming and handling at really the only fixes.
posted by Miko at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't eat the bugs that get into your lettuce, they will never learn.
posted by RobotHero at 3:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, I admit I watch a certain restaurant reality show at times that helps restaurants that are failing.

Several times I have seen chefs be told by the "host" that the only way to properly clean a head of (any) lettuce is to cut the "butt off"--otherwise it cannot be properly cleaned.

I love my salad spinner.
posted by 6:1 at 4:34 PM on December 12, 2012

I have this OXO salad spinner. I had another one but I accidentally melted it on the stove. Don't do that. Here's my process: Fill the bowl and strainer with cold water while you chop the lettuce. Chop off the butt and put it in your compost (I live in Portland, okay?). Chop up the lettuce into your favorite bite sized chunks and then put it in the cold water. Swish it through with your hand. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow dirt to sink to the bottom. Lift the inner strainer out, pour the cold water on your plants on in the garden or, you know, down the sink (if you don't live in Portland), then rinse the leaves a little more with cold water from the tap (optional depending on how many critters/dirt seems to be on your salad). Then spin, spin, spin. Drain and move the leaves about, spin some more. Transfer to a large tupperware -- it'll keep for days.

If you don't have the room or don't want to get a spinner, you can do the swishy thing in a bowl and then transfer to a large clean towel, go outside and swing the towel 'round over your head. It will confuse the neighbors and work pretty well.

Or buy bagged, pre-washed salad and go on with your life.
posted by amanda at 8:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

ryanrs, in the 2006 e. coli outbreak in bagged pre-washed spinach, the FDA had cause to believe that the bacteria was found inside the spinach leaves, thus washing it would not be enough.
"The FDA has also speculated that washing the spinach is insufficient to sanitize it because the bacteria is systemic, meaning that it is not just on the outside of the spinach, but that it has been absorbed through the roots and is now inside the spinach. This hypothesis has since been deemed only hypothetical as there is no evidence that this can happen in spinach. The FDA has since reduced its warning to certain brands with specific dates."
And note that this is only a hypothetical scenario for spinach. There is evidence that both salmonella and e. coli can get inside the cellular structures of other lettuces.
^ There is also evidence that both Salmonella and E. coli can become internalised within leafy tissue, either through damaged areas, or cut surfaces produced during harvesting, or by entering the plant through the stomata. For example, E. coli O157:H7 cells have been shown to be attracted to the guard cells surrounding the stomata on leaf surfaces. Other studies have shown that pathogenic bacteria may be trapped in vesicles produced by protozoa naturally present on leaves. These trapped bacteria may also be protected from washing and from sanitising chemicals.

If you've ever dyed a white flower by sticking it in a glass of water with food dye, you've seen how this works. That's how those clever rainbow roses are made.
posted by ErikaB at 8:52 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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