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Mary Hunt

Pre-washed, pre-chopped, ready-to-go salad greens in sealed bags can be found in the produce department of just about every grocery store and supermarket. Those bags are certainly a tempting option because what’s not to like about having someone else do all the work of chopping and then double- or even triple-washing? Even so, I don’t buy bagged salad, but not for the reasons you might assume.

It’s not because I’m overly concerned bacteria might make it through all that pre-washing in a chlorinated bath (although tests conducted by Consumer Reports did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation). I seriously doubt any grocery store’s produce department is 100 percent bacteria-free. Watching customers touch and test fresh produce is one such indicator.

It’s not the rumors of fecal contamination when samples of all kinds of packaged greens from baby greens to spinach, traditional and organic, were tested. As creepy as that is to think about, even Consumer Reports assures the contamination in bagged salad greens falls within the Food and Drug Administration’s acceptable levels.

It’s not even my concern about just how long ago these greens were cut and washed. Granted, I am not a fan of limp, brownish, tired-appearing romaine, iceberg lettuce, spring mix or cabbage. And even though I am a believer once you wash, cut and prepare any kind of fresh produce, be it fruits or vegetables, the flavor and quality begin to degrade, that’s not it either.

It’s not any of those things that cause me to just walk on by that prepackaged section in my supermarket’s produce department.

The reason I don’t buy salad in a bag is the cost. Paying at least four times the cost of the bulk option to get my salad greens cut up, pre-washed and then sealed in a plastic bag or box is just too hard to swallow.

As I write, Dole Hearts of romaine pre-washed and chopped in a 9-ounce bag is $3.49 at my supermarket. A fresh head of romaine lettuce is $1.49, or about 83 cents for a 9-ounce equivalent. That’s a 420 percent markup. Granted, there are prep, labor and packaging costs required for the bagged option. But just seeing the difference in price makes me more than willing to handle all of that myself.

As I’ve queried readers and friends on the bag versus bulk question, the overarching reason so many people go for the prepackaged, triple-washed, salad greens in a bag or box, comes down to one thing: time. Bagged salads are convenient and so easy to grab and go.

(Ironically, nearly everyone I’ve chatted with admits to rewashing those bagged salad greens, just to be on the safe side. So, where’s all the convenience and time-saving in that?)

I did my own time test. I washed and shredded an entire head of green cabbage using a sharp knife. I chose cabbage over romaine lettuce for my test because, well, I love cabbage.

I was done in seven minutes. I ended up with a great big bowl of beautiful, bright green, crunchy, fresh cabbage for our favorite coleslaw.

Mary invites you to go to EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at everydaycheapskate.com/contact, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”