Bagged salad is full of diseased leaves which could be dangerous to human health

The bagged salads sold in supermarkets across the world is full of diseased leaves and could contain bugs which are dangerous to human health, scientists have warned.

Modern pre-packaged salads are often grown intensively in factory farms designed to churn out vast quantities of crops.,

They are also cultivated far away from their natural habitats in ‘foreign soils’ where they are exposed to ‘foreign’ pathogens (bacteria or other microorganisms which cause disease).

‘As this industry grows dynamically, so does the number of new diseases,’ the American Phytopathological Society warned in a statement.

‘There are many reasons for this increase.

‘First, these seasonal products are grown under high crop density in five to six cycles annually in the same specialized farms with a lack of adequate crop rotation and a shortage of applicable fungicides.

‘Additionally, international trade has moved crops away from their original environments to foreign soils, where they encounter new diseases.

‘In some cases, very low levels of seed contamination can lead to the rapid emergence of new diseases in new geographic areas, resulting in severe losses, disrupting the environment’s biological equilibrium, and sometimes launching a devastating epidemic.’

Climate change is also a threat because ‘rising temperatures also reduce plant resistance to pathogens’, whilst new bugs are ‘often characterized by a preference for high temperatures’.

In a paper published in the journal Plant Disease, a team of scientists said new diseases had been found in lettuce, wild and cultivated rocket, lamb’s lettuce, chicory, endive, basil, spinach, and Swiss chard.

Many of the diseases found in bagged salads are primarily an economic threat because the spread of disease could wipe out farmers’ crops and leave them out of pocket.

But some of the bugs should also ‘be considered a threat to humans’.

‘Leafy vegetables can be infested, if hygienic conditions are not fully respected, by food-borne pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Ready-to-eat products go through intensive control programs, according to national and international regulations, which define the presence and microbiological limits for E. coli [and other pathogens].

‘Despite these rules, human pathogens on ready-to-eat products have been detected worldwide.’

The bugs are transferred onto salad leaves through water, compost or even animal manure used to grow vegetables.

Health experts previously warned against eating bagged salads, but if the convenience appeals to you it’s important to try and eat the leaves as soon as possible because even a small number of bacteria can quickly multiply and pose a threat to your health.

Every year more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning are reported in the UK, according to the Food Standards Agency.

Poultry meat is the most common source of infection, but some 48,000 cases were linked to non-meat products.

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