Consumer Reports has found that major grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Acme, Costco and Hannaford have been selling some greens carrying listeria.
The study they conducted, prompted by recent romaine outbreaks, included 284 samples of varying greens including kale, spinach, lettuce and others. In that selection, six samples were tainted with Listeria monocytogenes.
Martin Wiedmann, a food safety professor at Cornell University, told USA TODAY that Listeria monocytogenes causes disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,600 people are infected by the bacteria species yearly, and about 260 die.
The populations most likely to be infected are the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, young children and people with poor immune systems.
Two of the samples, spinach and an organic spinach-spring mix, were prepackaged and prewashed, Consumer Reports found. The other four were loose bunches or heads of red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, kale and spinach.
All of the greens included were purchased in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut between June 3 and June 19.
The study they conducted, Consumer Reports said, was not large enough to draw conclusions about safety of brands or specific retailers and whether or not to buy from them. “But the testing underscores that industry needs to do more to improve the safety of leafy greens,” said the report.
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Hilary Thesmar, senior vice president of food safety programs at the Food Marketing Institute, told Consumer Reports that the results would cause them to take a closer look at the food safety program and prompt more discussions with their suppliers.
“I think we can always improve our food safety programs,” Thesmar said to Consumer Reports.
James E. Rogers, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, said in the study that it’s important that vulnerable populations be careful when deciding to eat their greens.
“The safest thing is to stick with greens you can cook,” he said in the study.
Consumer Reports’ findings prompted an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, which has a zero-tolerance policy for Listeria monocytogenes, but no results have been handed over to Consumer Reports yet, the study said.
To prevent listeria from spreading or to minimize its spread, the FDA recommends taking precautions. Some include keeping refrigerated foods cold at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, keeping the freezer at 0 degrees Farenheit or lower, covering foods, cleaning your refrigerator regularly and cleaning kitchen surfaces regularly.
USA TODAY has reached out to the FDA for comment.
Follow Morgan Hines on Twitter: @MorganEmHines.