How Long Does Cauliflower Last and How to Tell if It’s Bad?

Here’s all about the shelf life and spoilage of cauliflowers. Learn how long cauliflowers last and how to tell if one is spoiled.

So cauliflowers were on sale, and you’ve brought home one head too many. So now you’re wondering how long cauliflowers are good for.

Or perhaps yours have been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days already, and you need to know how to tell if that cauliflower is bad.

Either way, you’re looking for a quick primer on cauliflowers. And that’s exactly what this article covers.

After reading this piece, you should be well equipped to handle your cauliflower “situation.” Read on.

Cauliflower head in hand

Table of Contents

How Long Does Cauliflower Last?

PantryFridge
Cauliflower (fresh)2 – 4 days7 – 10 days
Cauliflower (cooked)3 – 4 days
Cauliflower florets3 – 4 days
Please note the periods in the table are only estimates.

A fresh cauliflower head lasts 2 to 4 days at room temperature and 7 to 10 days in the fridge.

If you cut it up and store the florets, they keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container or freezer bag. The same is true for cooked cauliflower.

The storage time for a fresh cauliflower head depends on several factors. Those include:

  • storage conditions – where you store the head and if the bag was ventilated or not
  • how long the cauliflower was stored before you bought it
  • overall quality – if there were any black spots when you bought it, and so on

Because of that, it’s impossible to come up with a more specific estimate and the periods above are only rough estimates.

Tip

Cauliflower loses quality fast at room temperature, so it makes sense to store it that way only if your fridge is full or you plan on using it within a day or two.

Creamy cauliflower soup
Creamy cauliflower soup

After Cooking

Cooked cauliflower lasts for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container or lidded pot in the fridge. After cooking, let it cool to about room temperature before refrigeration, but remember to limit the cooling period to 2 hours or less.

What if those 3 to 4 days aren’t enough for you? For instance, you wanted to cook your cauliflower for the week ahead as part of your meal prep.

The best option is to freeze it. Cooked cauliflower freezes okay, and while it’s in the freezer, you don’t have to worry that it’ll suddenly grow mold.

An obvious alternative is to cook enough for the following four days and cook another batch on day 4.

How to Tell if Cauliflower Is Bad?

Discard cauliflower if:

  • There’s mold or large brown or black areas. Of course, if the “spoiled area” is relatively small, you can cut it off (with some excess) and use the rest, as many of us do for other veggies. Minor blemishes and imperfections are perfectly normal.
  • The head is soft or slimy. Fresh cauliflower is firm to the touch. If yours has turned limp, soft, or even seeping, it’s time for it to go.
  • It smells off. If the head smells funny and you haven’t stored it uncovered near any smelly foods, there’s something wrong with it. Get rid of it.
  • It’s cooked and refrigerated for more than four days. Cooked leftovers stay safe for up to 4 days, so if your cauliflower has been sitting in the fridge for longer, toss it.

If there’s anything else about the head, florets, or cooked cauliflower that seems unusual, assume the veggie is bad. Better safe than sorry.

Black spots and mold on cauliflower
Black spots and mold on cauliflower

If your cauliflower is a bit old, you’ll probably have to trim the florets a bit, as some of them will have discolorations or bruises that need cutting. After trimming, the rest should be perfectly safe to eat.

As you can tell, cauliflower (and all of its varieties, including the standard white and the more unusual ones like purple or orange) is no different than other veggies. And the signs are pretty similar to those of broccoli (read How to Tell if Broccoli Is Bad for more).

Discolored cauliflower tops
Discolored cauliflower tops – just cut those off

How To Store Cauliflower

The best place to store cauliflower is the fridge.

Of course, you can get away with leaving it in the pantry for a couple of days, but its quality will deteriorate there much faster.

Info

Wash your cauliflower under running water right before cooking. If you’re not using the whole head, cut off as much as you need and only wash that part. Don’t use soap, as some of it might get stuck in the florets.

Should you just toss the cauliflower head into the crisper drawer and be done with it, then? Not necessarily.

Cauliflowers keep best in a cold and moist environment. While the fridge takes care of the temperature, it doesn’t provide the humidity. Sure, the veggie drawer is more humid than the rest of the fridge, but it’s still not an ideal setting.

Cut up cauliflower
Cut up cauliflower

The easiest way to fix that is to leave the head in a vented plastic bag. The bag will trap the moisture, but the holes help release the surplus. A similar approach works for storing brussels sprouts.

Warning

Using unperforated bags or not leaving the top open is not a good idea. A well-sealed environment creates too much humidity, which leads to condensation. That, in turn, promotes the growth of microorganisms.

If you need to keep the fresh cauliflower for an extended period, freezing is the way to go.

Cauliflower florets
Cauliflower florets

Does Cauliflower Need to Be Refrigerated?

Cauliflower doesn’t require refrigeration, but it will retain quality for only 2 to 3 days at room temperature. If you place it in the fridge instead, it’ll last 7 to 10 days, which means a twofold increase in storage time.

That’s why storing cauliflower in the refrigerator is the recommended option.

If you can’t spare the space in your fridge, place the cauliflower in a cool and dry place in your pantry, ensuring it has plenty of airflow to stay dry. Use that cauliflower head within 1 to 2 days for the best quality.

How To Freeze Cauliflower

I’m sure you’ve seen frozen cauliflower florets in the supermarkets’ freezers, so you know this veggie freezes quite well.

When it comes to the process, it’s a bit more time-consuming than just cutting the florets from the stalks and chucking them into the freezer.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Prep the cauliflower(s). Trim off the leaves, and cut the head into florets. Wash them thoroughly. If you’re worried about insects, check out the tip below.
  2. Blanching. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the florets for 3 minutes. The Michigan State University Extension suggests blanching in water with 4 teaspoons of salt added per 1 gallon of water. Still, many people blanch with no salt and are happy about it. Test both options if needed.
  3. Cool and drain the florets. After blanching, transfer the florets into cold water and leave them there for a couple of minutes to stop the cooking process. Drain the water and pat the pieces dry.
  4. Portion and pack the veggies. Divide the florets into dish-size portions, and put each into its own freezer bag or airtight container. Seal everything tightly and add labels if you like.
  5. Put everything into the freezer.
Creamy cauliflower soup closeup
Creamy cauliflower soup closeup
Tip

If you’re worried about insects in the florets, soak them for half an hour in salty water, adding 4 teaspoons of salt per 1 gallon of water. Any insects that might be in the florets will die and float to the surface. Drain the water and continue with the freezing process.

Frozen cauliflower retains best quality for about 8 to 12 months.

In most cases, you will cook the frozen cauliflower, so more often than not, there’s no real need to thaw it. You can add it frozen, and that’s it.

But if you actually need to defrost it, do it in the refrigerator overnight.

Prepping cauliflower for soup
Prepping cauliflower for soup

Cauliflower Shelf Life and Spoilage Summary

Thanks for reading this short article on handling cauliflower. Let’s go through the most important points one more time:

  • How long does cauliflower last? A whole fresh cauliflower head keeps for about 2 to 4 days at room temperature and 7 to 10 days in the fridge. If you cut it up into florets and refrigerate them in an airtight container, they keep for 3 to 4 days. Cooked cauliflower lasts 3 to 4 days too.
  • Does cauliflower need to be refrigerated? No, but cauliflower loses quality much quicker on the counter than it does in the fridge. Unless you know that you’re going to use it within 2 days, it’s best to chuck it in the refrigerator.
  • How to tell if cauliflower is bad? Mold and discoloration are typical signs of spoilage for cauliflower. You can trim bad florets, but if the whole head is yellow or sprinkled with black spots, it’s time to discard it. An old head could also go soft and limp, and at a certain point, it’s not good enough to use.