Does Lettuce Go Bad?

Stocking up on lettuce is never a good idea. But if you’ve already bought more than you need, you need to know how to go about that. That’s when knowing how to store lettuce, how long does it last, and how to tell that it’s bad come in handy.

If you’re looking for a quick brush up on any of those topics or would like to learn some tricks related to storing lettuce, this article is for you. Read on.

Butterhead lettuce
(credit: Mae Mu)

How To Store Lettuce

You should store lettuce in the fridge (PU), possibly in the crisper drawer. Before you put it there, make sure the veggie is dry, wet lettuce degrades much quicker (PU).

Tip

Leaf lettuce varieties such as looseleaf, Romaine, or butterhead often aren’t appropriately dried before they find their way to the vegetable stand in the supermarket.

Remove as much water as you can before putting them in the fridge. That’s super easy if you have a salad spinner, but some paper towels will do the trick too.

Now that your lettuce is dry, you can put it in the fridge. If you plan on eating it within 5 (leafy varieties) to 10 (crisphead) days, you’re good to go. If you could use some additional storage time, check out the practices below.

Heads of loose leaf lettuce
Green leaf plant close-up photography

How To Keep Head Lettuce Fresh Longer?

Before placing head lettuce in the crisper drawer, make sure you line it with paper towels. They will absorb excess moisture, so it doesn’t stay on the head and speed up the degradation process. Give the towels a check every day or two, and change to new ones when they are wet. Feel free to leave wet towels to dry elsewhere and reuse.

Warning

Don’t wash head lettuce before storage. Drying it thoroughly is almost impossible, so you’re better off leaving it as-is.

How To Keep Leaf Lettuce Fresh Longer?

To get a couple of days worth of storage time, start with removing any damaged outer leaves. Then wash and dry the lettuce thoroughly. You can remove the leaves from the head to make that easier.

Once the leaves are dry, wrap them in paper towels and transfer them into freezer bags or an airtight container. Check on the paper towels every day or two, and when they’re wet, switch to fresh ones. Let the used ones dry and reuse.

Grabbing a butterhead lettuce
(credit: PHÚC LONG)

How Long Does Lettuce Last

Many sources say that the shelf life of lettuce is super short, like five days (PU). Based on my experiences, I’d say it’s a bit longer for leaf lettuce, and at least twice as long for head lettuce.

Without the extra steps described in the storage section, I routinely keep butterhead and looseleaf lettuce for a week in the fridge, and iceberg (crisphead) for up to two weeks.

Tip

The better quality head you choose, the longer it lasts, so make sure you choose the freshest and best-looking ones when buying.

Fridge
Leaf lettuce (looseleaf, butterhead, romaine)5 – 10 days
Head lettuce (iceberg or crisphead)10 – 21 days

Please note the above are only estimates based on my experience, and the better care for your lettuce, the longer it will keep up for.

Iceberg lettuce
(credit: Jef Wright)

How To Tell If Lettuce Is Bad?

For starters, the outer leaves are almost always damaged, dirty, or discolored in some way. Get rid of them and see what’s beneath. Often, especially when it comes to iceberg lettuce, the leaves underneath will be perfectly okay.

When checking the quality of lettuce, look for:

  • Browning edges of leaves. Some browning is normal when the lettuce is old. I just cut those parts out and consume the rest. You can probably eat those browned parts without any ill effects, but they won’t taste good.
  • Slimy or mushy leaves. If only the outermost leaf of two are slimy, discard them and use the rest. But if more leaves are that way, I suggest getting rid of the whole head. Better safe than sorry.
  • Off or rancid smell. I’ve never had a bad-smelling lettuce, but if yours straight-off stinks or is giving off a funny odor, get rid of it.
  • Dark spots. As mentioned, the outer leaves have those, and that’s normal. But if inner leaves start to brown or black, it’s time for the head to go.
  • Mold. If you’re buying bagged lettuce mixes, always check for any signs of mold before using, especially if the bag sits in the fridge for a couple of days already.

Sources