Sickening bacteria found lurking in bagged 'washed' salad greens

The leading source of food poisoning isn't day-old sushi or steak served extra rare, and it's not hamburgers and hot dogs.

It's salad greens such as spinach.

You might think it's safer to buy the bagged stuff that claims to be "double-washed" or even "triple-washed," but new research shows you're not safe at all -- because germs have more hiding spots in a bag of spinach than bugs do in a basement.

There are so many folds and contours in leafy greens that you can spray it with a firehouse and parts of it won't get wet.

In a series of experiments, researchers mimicked the "wash" that bagged spinach gets, and found that the supposedly cleansing waters hit just 15 percent of the surface area of the greens.

As a result, 90 percent of the bacteria in the spinach were still there even after a so-called "triple wash."

And that, my friend, is how an E. coli or Salmonella outbreak begins.

It's not just spinach; most leafy greens have similar folds and contours, making them just as difficult to properly wash in a mass-produced factory setting -- and that helps explain why the CDC says half of all food poisoning outbreaks are caused by produce, most frequently those greens.

Researchers say you can cook salad greens to kill bacteria, but there's only some much boiled cabbage and sautéed spinach you can eat. And who wants cooked lettuce anyway?

Sometimes, you just want a basic salad with some greens and a little olive oil and vinegar. So let me go even further and urge you to never buy the bagged stuff at all.

Along with containing possible bacteria, the wash itself that's supposed to clean it off isn't just plain old water. It's water with chlorine mixed in.

The reason it's double- and triple-washed is the last cycle is supposed to be plain old water to spray off the chlorinated rinse.

But if it can't even wash off E. coli, what are the odds all the chlorine is gone?

So buy your veggies fresh instead, ideally from a local organic farm, and carefully wash them yourself at home.