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

Here’s all you need to know about the shelf life and spoilage of kale. Learn how long kale lasts in the fridge and how to tell if it’s spoiled.

Got a half-open bag of prewashed kale and need to know how long will it stay good for? How long does kale last?

Or maybe your kale has been sitting in the fridge for a few days already, and you want to make sure it’s still safe to eat before you use it.

Sounds familiar? If so, this short guide to kale is what you’re looking for.

Let’s jump right in.

Fresh kale
Image used under Creative Commons from Bobbi Bowers

How Long Does Kale Last?

Bagged kale (unopened)Printed date + 1 – 2 days
Bagged kale (opened)5 days
Fresh kale5 – 7 days
Cooked kale3 – 4 days

Bagged prewashed kale lasts about a week and keeps for up to 5 days after opening the bag, depending on how soon you open it up. Fresh kale lasts between 5 and 7 days.

To maximize the shelf life, store kale in the fridge in a plastic bag, and postpone washing it until you’re ready to eat it.

Like most veggies, kale doesn’t last that long. And if you’re familiar with the shelf life of spinach, you should notice that kale’s is a bit shorter.

Bagged Kale

Commercially bagged kale comes with a date printed on the label, and that date is a good reference point. It’s usually between 5 and 10 days from the day you buy it, and you shouldn’t expect it to retain quality for more than an extra day or two.

(And if you squash your kale in your grocery bag, it will start to wilt much sooner.)

Once you open the bag, the degradation process accelerates, so try to finish or freeze the kale within five days. If that bag is already pushing the printed date, limit that to 1 to 2 days.

Fresh Kale

Fresh kale you buy at the farmer’s market lasts 5 to 7 days, assuming that it’s fresh and you do a good job storing it. If you just leave it on the counter, it will be done in a day or two.

Cooked Kale

Cooked kale lasts for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container or a lidded pot in the fridge. After cooking, let it cool to about room temperature before refrigerating, but make sure the cooling period isn’t longer than two hours, which is otherwise known as the 2-hour rule.

If those 3 to 4 days aren’t long enough, consider freezing the cooked leftovers.

Kale leaves
(credit: Laura Johnston)

How to Tell if Kale Is Bad?

Discard kale if:

  • The leaves are wilted or slimy. Over time, kale loses water, which results in wilted leaves that turn slimy at some point. You can discard those parts and use the rest if it’s early in the process and most of the leaf is still okay.
  • It gives off a bad, sulfur-like smell. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, don’t eat it.
  • There are signs of decay. If there are some black, white, yellow, or rust-colored spots, or any other visual signs of decay, that kale is done.
  • It’s cooked and refrigerated for more than four days. You shouldn’t store kale leftovers for longer than about four days.

If you notice anything else that seems off, trust your intuition and toss the cruciferous veggie. Better safe than sorry.

Knowing if kale is bad is no rocket science – you’ll know it’s spoiled when you see it.

That said, one more thing that’s worth discussing here is leaf discoloration.

Leaves Turning Yellow

If stored long enough, kale leaves sometimes turn yellow.

If the whole leaf is losing its green color slowly, it’s most likely a natural byproduct of aging. That doesn’t make it spoiled, but that kale will probably taste bitter.

(Similarly, old broccoli turns yellow, too.)

In short, it’s up to you whether you use it or not, but I’d recommend tossing it if things get this far.

So if you notice that the leaves start losing their color and turning pale green, know that kale will be yellow in a day or so. In other words, it’s now or never if you want to use it without sacrificing the quality.

Finally, a whole leaf turning yellow isn’t the same thing as pale yellow spots here and there. The latter might be a symptom of black rot, and you should toss such leaves.

Fresh green kale in a white ceramic bowl
Fresh green kale in a white ceramic bowl

How To Store Kale

Most people buy kale bagged and prewashed. If that’s the case, put the bag in the fridge when you get home and store it there at all times. Then, when you need some kale, take as much as you need, reseal the bag, and return it to the fridge.

If you buy fresh kale that’s not commercially packaged, put it in a plastic bag and refrigerate. It’s probably better to place it in the crisper drawer, where the humidity is higher, but it’s okay if it ends up on a fridge shelf.

More importantly, you shouldn’t wash it until you need it. This way, there’s no excess water on the leaves that may cause the leafy green to spoil more quickly.

Next, make sure the airflow is steady, and the veggie can breathe.

Don’t try to seal the bag as tightly as you can. Instead, intentionally leave some holes to promote airflow. That should help kale get rid of excess moisture. Similarly, allowing ventilation helps cauliflower last longer.

And if you still see some water drops in the bag, wrap your kale with paper towels that will soak up that moisture.

(You can leave those towels to dry and reuse them if you want.)

Fresh bunch of kale
(credit: Adolfo Félix)

Does Kale Need to Be Refrigerated?

You should refrigerate kale unless you’re going to use it the day you buy it. This way, you prolong the storage time twofold from a day or two to at least 4 to 5 days. That’s why storing kale in the fridge is the de facto standard and why bagged kale sits in the refrigerated section in the grocery store.

Fresh, raw kale loses quality pretty quickly, so once you get home from the grocery store or farmers’ market, put it in the fridge without washing it first.

Can You Freeze Kale?

If you’d like to store kale long-term, freezing is an option. First and foremost, you should know that freezing alters the texture of raw kale.

Because of that, you should either freeze cooked kale or start by cutting off the stems and blanching the leaves. Drying the kale thoroughly with paper towels is the next step.

Once it’s prepared like that, you should pre-freeze it on a cookie tray. After that, the kale is ready for long-term freezing in freezer bags or containers. Add a label with the name and date if needed and chuck the bag or container into the freezer.

When it comes to thawing, thaw it in the fridge, or if you use it in a cooked dish, you can add it frozen.

If thawed kale doesn’t work in your usual dishes, try using it in a green smoothie. Other ingredients should make up for whatever kale is lacking.

Freshly harvested kale
Freshly harvested kale

Kale Shelf Life and Spoilage Summary

Thank you for reading this short guide on kale. Let’s briefly recap what we’ve covered above:

  • How long does kale last? Bagged kale has a shelf life of about 10 days and keeps for an extra day or two tops. Fresh kale lasts about 5 to 7 days, and cooked kale stays safe for only 4 days.
  • How to tell if kale is bad? Kale is bad if the leaves are wilted, soggy, slimy, or have other visual signs of decay such as black, white, yellow, or rust-colored spots. An off, sulfur-like smell also means that kale is spoiled. Finally, toss cooked kale after 4 days in the fridge.
  • How to store kale? Store your kale in a plastic bag in the fridge and postpone washing until you’re ready to use it. Make sure you allow the cruciferous veggie to breathe after opening the bag so that it can dispose of excess moisture. And if there’s too much moisture, use paper towels to absorb it.

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