Tracing temperature patterns of cut leafy greens during service
Contaminated fresh produce has been increasingly identified as a cause of foodborne illnesses. Because of concerns about pathogen growth on these food items at retail, the 2009 U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code established that cut leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, spring mix, cabbage, arugula, and kale) must have time and temperature controls for safety and hence should be kept at refrigerated temperatures (5°C or lower). The purpose of this study was to determine the temperature profiles of cut leafy greens in single-serving clamshell containers provided as part of the North Carolina School Lunch Program and to compare the two policies that North Carolina has in place to control the temperature of these products (the 3-day rule and time in lieu of temperature). Temperatures were recorded with data loggers in 24 schools during a 3-day period. In all cases, substantial temperature variability was found for these products, including temperatures above 5°C for at least 1 h on each of the 3 days. In some cases, temperatures reached above 5°C for more than 3 h throughout the serving time. The results demonstrate the importance of developing a protocol for continuous temperature monitoring of leafy greens served in school lunch programs.