Confessions of a Dirty Greens Spinner

Phil Tocco, MSU Extension Educator

Green Line


Have you ever thought about filth? Not just your garden variety filth, but the kind that’s deep down, dug in and nearly impossible to get out. Like the kind that might be growing in the water that never fully drains inside of a washing machine. Imagine what might be in that water. Bits of forgotten food that clung to your spouse’s shirt until it was washed. Hair, Lots of hair. Dead skin cells. All manner of bodily fluids. Bits of toejam. Dog funk from pet bedding. Imagine the bacteria that live with these things. Imagine the delight they take in living in such a wet, dark and hospitable environment.

Now imagine a grower transforming this deep, dark, dank bacterial cesspool into a salad spinner for their spring mix. With every load of spun spring mix, the water dances and splatters on the surfaces touched by the salad. The bacteria shuffle and slide until they make contact with the food. Like a match made in heaven, the bacteria stick to the greens until both perish as they dissolve in a pool of stomach acid.

As if resurrected from the dead, the bacteria begin to rise up in number until they are expelled in a fountain of kaleidoscopic vomit as the poor eater of that spring mix convulses in agony. Welcome to Dirty Greens Spinner Farms, where people don’t know they’re visiting, until it’s too late.

The hope is that we can DO something about our greens spinners so we don’t make customers feel ill. Here are a few pointers to keep your farm from becoming Dirty Greens Spinner Farms.


A New Machine

When building a greens spinner out of a washing machine, ALWAYS buy a new one. New machines have never washed clothes or dog bedding, or dirty bathroom rugs, or bedsheets. New machines do not have standing water in their reservoirs. New machines are a lot less risky.


Removable Food Contact Surfaces

As important as starting out with a new machine, it’s also important to be able to clean all sides of the surfaces that touch the greens (food contact surfaces). A design variation gaining traction in the DIY salad spinner world is the inclusion of two plastic “Fish Baskets’ These are cleanable baskets that nest inside of one another. The bottom one is bolted into place inside the spinner. The top one is simply placed inside the bottom one and filled with greens. At cleaning time, the top fish basket is lifted out and thoroughly cleaned then sanitized as necessary before being nested back into the bolted basket. University of Vermont shows how to install this basket setup in their washing machine greens spinner conversion guide.


A Clean Routine

Every day is cleaning day during harvest. The salad spinner is no exception. This is not the kind of machine you clean once a year. It needs to be done every day and done the same way every day. Once again, those crafty folks at UVM walk us through a video of the basic cleaning of a spinner. It’s best to write down or take a picture of how exactly you want a spinner to look at the end of cleaning. No matter who is cleaning the spinner, they should follow those directions.


Applying these three points and exercising good judgment, you can keep your spinner from turning to the dark side. After all, nobody wants kaleidoscopic vomit. 

If a grower would like more information on building a washing machine greens spinner or implementing good food safety practices in your operation, they are welcome to contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group at or (517) 788-4292.    


Funding for this article was made possible, in part, by the Food and Drug Administration through grant PAR-16-137. The views expressed in the written materials do not necessarily reflect the official policies if the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does any mention of trade names, commercial practices or organization imply endorsement by the United States Government.