Vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Leafy vegetables (called leafy greens on this page), such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, and bok choy, provide nutrients that help protect you from heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But leafy greens, like other vegetables and fruits, are sometimes contaminated with harmful germs. Washing leafy greens does not remove all germs. That’s because germs can stick to the surface of leaves and even get inside them. If you eat contaminated leafy greens without cooking them first, such as in a salad or on a sandwich, you might get sick.
- Many foodborne illnesses in the United States are caused by germs on vegetables and fruits that people eat raw.
- Harmful germs sometimes found on leafy greens include E. coli, norovirus, Salmonella, Listeria, and Cyclospora.
Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning, some groups of people are more likely to get one and to have a serious illness. These groups include:
- Adults aged 65 and older
- Children younger than 5 years
- People who have a weakened immune system because of a health problem or treatment that lowers the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness
- People who are pregnant
The best way to wash leafy greens is by rinsing them under running water. Studies show that this step removes some of the germs and dirt on leafy greens and other vegetables and fruits. But no washing method can remove all germs.
Follow these steps to wash leafy greens:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after preparing leafy greens.
- Get rid of any torn or bruised leaves. Also, get rid of the outer leaves of cabbages and lettuce heads.
- Rinse the remaining leaves under running water. Use your hands to gently rub them to help get rid of germs and dirt.
- Dry leafy greens with a clean cloth or paper towel.