Washing Removes Most E. Coli; Boiling Kills It

From a Times Staff Writer

As investigators try to figure out how fecal bacteria got into spinach and lettuce, what can consumers do to protect themselves without avoiding the nutritious produce?

Food safety experts say that thoroughly washing lettuce and leafy greens can remove 90% of E. coli and other bacteria, and 99% if diluted vinegar is used. The same applies to herbs, such as basil and cilantro, which have been linked to past food-poisoning outbreaks. Nevertheless, washing will not kill all bacteria, and it takes only about 10 E. coli O157:H7 microorganisms to make someone sick.

“It’s a numbers game. The more you wash the produce, the more you get rid of it,” said Amarat Simonne, a University of Florida associate professor of food safety and quality.

All produce, regardless of whether it is already bagged and washed at a processing plant, should be washed before it is eaten.


Sauteing or boiling leafy greens to a temperature of at least 160 degrees for 15 seconds kills all E.coli bacteria, according to food safety experts.