This is how we wash and store our lettuce for our own consumption. If you are concerned about Rat Lungworm Disease, please see below.
How to Wash and Dry your Lettuce. Fill a large bowl with clean water (ice water is better) and dunk your lettuce heads at least three times or until clean. Gently shake out the water from the heads. Dry your lettuce in a salad spinner or place it in a netted bag (like a clean netted nylon laundry bag) and twirl it around to get the water out (Hint: Do this outside so you don't get people or things wet!). Remove and discard the larger part of the stem and tear or chop the lettuce leaves based on your preference.
How to store your Lettuce. Our plastic bags are 1.5 mil LDPE, and are considered safe for reuse by most experts. If you decide to reuse our bags for storage (we do), make sure that the lettuce is dry before placing it back into the bag (you can use a paper towel to finish drying it off). Wrapping the lettuce in dry paper towels before placing it back into the bag may be a better option. Reseal the bag with the twist tie that has been provided. Some of our customers report that the lettuce keeps for weeks like this just in the plastic bags. If you choose not to reuse the plastic bag, you can wrap the lettuce in dry paper towels and place them in a paper bag to put into the refrigerator. Please keep in mind that in all cases, excess water on the lettuce leaves can cause freezer burns on your lettuce if the temperature of your refrigerator is set too low
Rat Lungworm Disease
Summary: Wash and inspect your lettuce leaf-by-leaf.
A customer recently inquired about what we were doing about rat lungworm disease. For others that may be interested, here is our reply...
Thank you so much for buying our lettuce and supporting our farm! I appreciate your concern about rat lungworm disease. We eat a lot of our own lettuce (mostly the leaves and off grade heads, the ones that we don't feel comfortable selling), so it is a major concern for us as well.
I first heard of rat lungworm disease about 5 years ago with the case of the German woman on the Big Island who contracted the disease. The University of Hawaii CTAHR started a program then to educate the public and the farmers about the disease. I was in Master Gardner training then and attended a session conducted by Dr. Jim Hollyer. I asked Jim a direct question, "How can we sell a head of lettuce then? Do we need to separate and wash every single leaf before we sell it?" His answer, "We need to educate the public. They have the final responsibility."
Soon after, we started a program to mitigate, as much as possible, our farm's exposure to this disease. Here are some of the things that we do to protect the consumers of our products.
Cleanliness. Our entire growing area is covered with weedmat to keep out weeds and ground-based pests including slugs and snails. When we first started, I found slug trails on the weed mat, but haven't seen any for years now. Our growing area on the weedmat is above ground on organic certified rafts that float on about a foot of flowing aquaponic water. This isolates the lettuce from the ground. The lettuce is harvested a few weeks after planting and no old or decaying leaves are on the rafts. This makes it hard for pests to hide. Once the lettuce is harvested the rafts are cleaned and sanitized before reuse.
Proactive pest control. On a weekly basis, I spread certified organic sluggo around the perimeter of the weedmat and the growing troughs. This version of sluggo is composed of iron phosphate, which lures and kills any slugs and snails that make it to the perimeter of the weedmat. This practice prompted my organic inspector, Maile Woodhall, to say that this was an overkill because aquaponic systems normally don't have slugs anyway. However, we choose to keep the entire area slug and snail free just for peace of mind. These are the main vectors for the disease, and we don't want them on our farm. Also, we have rat traps on our farm and have not seen rats or rat droppings for quite a while.
Harvesting methods. When we harvest the lettuce, we take the entire raft out of the system and spray every head on the raft by hand from above before cutting the heads. Once the heads are cut, we turn them over on a harvesting tray and spray them again by hand on the bottom. Note that every step of the harvest is an inspection point for us. We are looking for any signs of pests and imperfect leaves that we remove. We then dunk the entire head in a tub of iced water to remove any pests that might be hiding inside the heads. Pests don't like iced water and it will normally kill them. We then shake the water out and submerge the head in a second tub of iced water for a second rinse. We then shake out the water and dry and pack the heads, inspecting and tearing off leaves at every point. Note that we have rinsed and inspected four times at this point. The drying and packing process allows us to inspect and tear off leaves two more times.
Labeling. Since that first meeting with CTAHR, we have always included on our labels, "Wash Before Eating," even if it has been washed multiple times up to this point. Nothing is 100%, so this is a reminder to consumers to wash your produce before consumption. We are also emphasizing that this produce is not "Read to Eat." (in my opinion, washing is the safest practice, even for produce that are labeled as ready to eat)
Here's a video that you might find informative. Note that the UH does not consider the slime as much of a threat as eating the body of the slug itself. So washing and inspecting your food is always a good practice.
We are a small farm with only Mom & Pop working. We are the owners, so we take pride and ownership of the produce that we sell to our valued consumers. We take your health and safety very seriously.