Why I Can’t Bring Myself to Buy Salad Greens in a Bag

I don’t buy bagged double- or triple-wash or any other variety of prepared salad greens that come in a plastic clamshell or bag. But not be for the reasons you might assume.

It’s not because I’m overly concerned that bacteria might make it through all that pre-washing in a chlorinated bath (although tests conducted by Consumer Reports did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination, when they tested 4,000 samples of all kinds of packaged greens from baby greens to spinach, traditional and organic). As creepy as that is to think about, the report assures that the contamination falls within the FDA’s acceptable levels.

It’s not even my concerns about just how long ago these greens were cut and washed. Granted, I am not a fan of limp, tired-appearing romaine, iceberg lettuce or cabbage. And even though I am a believer that once you wash, cut and prepare any kind of fresh produce—be it fruit or vegetables—the flavor and quality begin to degrade, that’s not it either.

Nope, it’s not any of those things that cause me to just walk on by that prepackaged section in my supermarket produce department.

The reason I don’t buy salad in a bag is the cost. I can’t bring myself to pay at least three times more to get my salad greens cut up, pre-washed and then sealed in a plastic bag or box.

At my local supermarket, Fresh Selections/10-ounce romaine lettuce mix in a bag is $2.99. A head of romaine lettuce is $.99/each, or $.62 for a 10-ounce equivalent.

As I’ve queried readers and friends on the bag versus bulk question, the overarching reason so many people go for the prepackaged, triple-washed, salad greens in a bag, is down to one thing: time. Bagged salads are convenient and so easy to just grab and go. (Ironically, nearly everyone I’ve chatted with admits to rewashing those bagged salad greens, just to be on the safe side. So where’s all the convenience in that?)

Last weekend I did my own test. I shredded an entire head of green cabbage using a sharp knife. I was done start to finish in 7 minutes. I ended up with a bowl of beautiful, bright green, crunchy, fresh cabbage for our favorite coleslaw. It took another 5 minutes to make the awesome dressing. And the cost? About $1.30, complete. Yum.

Sweet Restaurant Slaw

1 head green cabbage, shredded
2 tablespoons diced onion
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black ground pepper

Combine shredded cabbage and onion in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over cabbage mix and toss to coat. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Servings: 6.

TIPS: If you still prefer to purchase prewashed salad greens, follow these tips:

  • Buy packages as far from their use-by date as you can find.
  • Even if the bag says “prewashed” or “triple-washed,” wash the greens yourself. Rinsing won’t remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil.
  • Prevent cross contamination by keeping greens away from raw meat.

Question: Do you buy pre-packaged greens that come in a bag or box? If so, do you rewash?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Kathy Parlee

    Yes! I buy at least 3 bags of bagged salad a week. I always buy the kind that has the condiments with it. I used to scoff at the cost also but the truth of the matter for me is, as much as I LOVE a good salad, I rarely made them because I found the chopping and rinsing and clean up a pain. Any lettuce I bought usually went bad before I could consume it all. I got in the habit at least once a week of picking up a pre-made grilled chicken salad from the local deli instead for about $8.50. Once I realized the bagged lettice was $2.99 and I could get 2 meals out of one bag, I started pre-grilling meats and just add them to the salad mix. So in the long run, it is a time AND money saver for me. And I eat more salads than ever!

  • Maria S

    For me, I find it to be cheaper to buy bagged salads because when I buy heads of lettuce they just sit and rot in my vegetable drawer. I am not a big salad and vegetable person and I hate to prep but I do want to be healthy so if the easiest and fastest way to get some greens in is to use bagged salad, then for me it is cost effective. I don’t wash my bagged salad; I just pour in a bowl, sprinkle some dressing on it (I use very little) and eat – less than 60 seconds and I am getting my greens in! Of course I only buy what is on sale since I am not picky on brands!

  • Renita

    I buy bagged salads/greens because despite it being cheaper to buy heads of romaine or bulk spinach, I can’t eat them fast enough. It will just sit and rot in the fridge. Plus, with a bag I can get a nice mix of greens; it would be ridiculous to buy four big heads of lettuce for the two of us.

    I don’t re-wash them. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

    • Ruth

      Ditto on all counts . . . I am a single person, and the waste is huge when I buy entire heads of greens. Even a single bag of greens is more than I eat at one meal.

  • Birgit Nicolaisen

    I’m with Renita. I buy bags to get the mix of greens. And with only 3 in the house we don’t go through lettuces fast enough. I like salad but not at every meal. And no, I don’t wash them again.

  • Shawna Steffen

    Ditto Renita. Whenever I buy bulk heads it never fails, they end up rotting because I’ve only used a little or none of it. I’m one person, bag is easier, I’ll use it up, and I never wash mine either so it saves me time.

  • Carol Parkin

    I live in Canada. Our fresh greens come from the USA in winter. Bagged greens are quite often cheaper. I always wash well though and we have started our own spinach outside already – should be ready in April as it’s a cool weather crop!

  • Cally

    I only buy bagged baby spinach and never thought to rinse it, and a full head of Romaine. I’ve found that Romaine keeps for at least a week when i put it in a plastic container with a paper towel.
    in my opinion, bagged salad tastes like the bag. 🙁

  • Michele

    I buy bagged spinach which I use in smoothies. It is cheaper and easier. However for salads I never buy bagged lettuce. I usually make my salads ahead of time and throw them in jars. So much easier and they easily last the week.

  • peatwee

    I used to buy bagged greens until I bought a salad spinner. The one I have allows me to wash the lettuce, spin it dry, and store it for up to 2 weeks in my fridge.

  • ducktapegurl

    Good points! I am not buying pre packaged salad anymore!

  • UncommonSensesc

    I do buy the bagged salads because by the time I buy the lettuce, the carrots and radishes it comes to a lot more than the salad bag (it’s rare I can find any kind of lettuce for .99 either). If I was able to use all of the lettuce and the add-ons before they went bad, it might be worth it to buy them individually but they go bad before I can use them. I do wonder why grocery stores stand up the bags then mash them by putting that spring-loaded lettuce-mashed behind them. Some of the “pushers” smoosh the bags really badly.

  • Nadine

    I totally agree with you, Mary! I rarely buy the bag. I also use the exact same cole slaw recipe that you do. Made it 2 days ago!!

  • Emily booth

    I have bought the packaged greens for the arugula because it was the only arugula available. I grow arugula during the gardening season. Thx for the coleslaw recipe! I love coleslaw. I recently bought the onion chopper you recommended. I look forward to not only using it with onions, but with hard fruits like apples for salads.

  • kddomingue

    Well, so many other people have brought up the point that I was going to make. At one time I bought the containers of salad because they had a mix of greens in them instead of just one type of lettuce. By the time I purchase four different types of lettuce, the cost exceeds what I would pay for a container of mixed greens and a good portion of them would likely go bad before we could eat it all. Having said that, I now buy a bag of six heads of romaine lettuce at Costco for $3.99 and cut it up myself, one head at a time. Romaine lettuce seems to keep longer than other types of lettuces do. And we toss in some cherry tomatoes or sliced English cucumbers or apples pieces, grapes, berries, cheese….. whatever we happen to have on hand and enjoy a nice salad at least five or six times a week.

  • kim johnson

    I, too, buy the salad-in-a-bag. The cost at ALDI is 99 cents and 69 cents on sale. Much cheaper than buying the ingredients separately.

  • Marie

    Our local grocery stores now have inexpensive, organic bagged greens which are the only ones I buy. And I don’t wash them. I personally won’t ever go back to buying bulk or whole heads. There is so much variety and they’re all affordable and organic.

  • Pigoff

    I don’t buy salad very often because It goes bad before it ever gets used at my house. I can’t remember the last time we have salad. About once or twice a year I will buy one if I am at the store looking for something for lunch. I just grab one and take it to work and eat it at my desk. the few times I go out to eat with my boss I will order a salad because it is something I don’t get to eat at home. I refuse to buy things just for myself to eat.

  • Pigoff

    Now I do buy bagged coleslaw because I use it when I make egg rolls

  • Katarina Eriksson

    I’m lucky, I can grow my own lettuce all year, here in Sunny Santa Monica Calif. But when I do need to buy my lettuce, I buy the baby mixed greens. The baby lettuce have more nutrients and the darker the green the more vitamins. I also buy the heads of lettuce and cabbage. They are cheeper and last longer. I don’t leave them in the plastic bags, that’s certain mushy death. I put them in cloth bags in the vegetable drawer.

  • Barb

    I buy and prep my own. I have learned to wash and dry and store so they don’t spoil before I eat them up. Not that much time or work.. I did invest in a salad spinner which has been so worth it!

  • Bookworm

    I’m the only one in my house who eats salads, and I eat a meal-sized one almost every day. I buy a head of cabbage, a bunch of kale, and a head of romaine, along with other veggies, all of which last maybe 2 or 3 weeks. I fix several salads at once and put them in the fridge. Then it’s fast to get one out, add protein (meat, fish, cheese) and dressing.

  • Kathleen French

    MARY IS RIGHT yet again:-) . And here’s how to solve the spoilage problem…Seriously, buy the bulk greens and put them in your produce drawer with the “Bluapple” methane gas neutralizer. I was the biggest skeptic out there but these things are serious money savers because they really work! I have seen them at Amazon.com and Bed, Bath and Beyond. You will be absolutely amazed when you look in your drawer expecting to see spoiling produce and it’s still beautiful and appetizing. This product is inexpensive and I can’t say enough about it.

  • Kathy

    I always buy a fresh head of lettuce, wash and drain and cut it up into salad bite size pieces and put it in quart glass jars and refrigerate. I get about 2 quart jars per head of lettuce. They last a very long time this way. we don’t eat as much salad in the winter months…..but this keeps the lettuce fresh and crispy until used.
    Thanks for all the great advice and tips in your column!

  • lisette

    A couple of five gallon buckets, some decent soil, home brwwed compost, and three bucks worth of organic non gmo seeds. That is it. I grow enough cut-and-come-again lettuce, chard, kale, mustard, spinach and arugula to supply me and my mom. This year i have a very small patch of uard with decent sun, so a raised bed will provide cabbage, broccoli and collards. A second crop will come in the late fall and a simple row cover will enable me to grow fresh salad greens well into the winter.worth it to have clean, fresh veggies with no threat of either chemicals or contamination.

  • Patty

    Yes I buy packaged greens for the cost factor. Once I buy all the extra Vegies to go in it like carrots broccoli colliflower etc, I’ve spent a small fortune. A bag with this mix is so much cheaper. Plus most would waste if I have to prepare it. It’s just 2 of us at home so bagged is better for me

  • Shellie

    I do not buy the bagged pre-washed lettuce. I find it just doesn’t keep that well. I buy a head of Romaine, wash it using my salad spinner, I throw a couple paper towels in the bottom of a bowl (or a ziplock bag) and place my newly washed lettuce in the bowl/bag. It keeps fairly fresh for two weeks, sometimes longer.

  • NF

    Yep, I buy bagged salad for the same reason Patty does. I usually buy them reduced, about to expire and no, I don’t rewash. I make an entire salad from one bag using anything I have available in the fridge(I call them dump salads). I separate some out for my plain salad eating husband. I grow when I can in Tennessee, but fighting the bugs adds cost(labor and soap spray) to greens. I work F/T and drive 45 minutes to and from work(lucky me compared to some). Prepackaged, prewashed produce is a little VAS that I don’t mind paying for if calculated/shopped for properly. Better than some of the fake produce/veggies out there. Remember ketchup as a vegetable, lol?

  • MaryAnne Beattie

    I found this article very interesting. Could you please address storage of these greens. What do you do to keep them fresh in your firdge?

    • Emjay

      I’m late in commenting.However, I buy a quantity of romaine, mostly, because of its keeping qualities. I immediately wash it well, every leaf. In organic romaine, I’ve found dirt and bugs (It’s organic, remember?) so washing is imperative. After thorough rinsing, I store the lettuce in green bags in the produce drawer of my fridge. These leaves can and have lasted two weeks. As for salads, you don’t have to have tomatoes and green onions to make a salad. You can use all sorts of things to add to the greens as NF does, including leftover rice and pasta; cooked bacon and Parmesan; cooked chicken from the deli section, crushed chips, and so on. Often, we use salsa as a dressing along with taco chips as a topping. Bagged lettuce does not enter our house, although when my mother was living on her own, we bought that for her because she couldn’t make her own salads.