How Long Does Lettuce Last? Keep It Fresh

Justin Micheal

Food Writer & Editor in Chief For KitchenSanity

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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Lettuce is an enigmatically crunchy yet juicy snack. It can act as the backbone of a salad or add a tinge of freshness to an appetizing wrap.

If you’re trying to establish a long-term lettuce relationship, but slimy, wilting leaves keep getting in the way of your lettuce life, you may be wondering, “How long does lettuce last?”

Leaving the leaves on the warm counter will make them go bad in only an hour or two. You can keep lettuce fresh in the fridge for about a week. Vacuum sealed in a container, lettuce can last in the fridge for up to two weeks.

If you want to keep your lettuce fresh and safe for as long as possible, lettuce help you out with a few storage tips.

How Long Does Lettuce Last In The Fridge?

If you keep it in the fridge, here’s about how long you can expect different types of lettuce to last:

  • Iceberg lettuce – 7-10 days
  • Romaine lettuce – 7-10 days
  • Whole head lettuce – 7-10 days
  • Shredded lettuce – 3-5 days
  • Bagged lettuce – 1 week after “sell by” date

If you want your lettuce to last longer, you’ll need to keep it in the fridge. We prefer to keep it at the bottom of the crisper drawer for a longer shelf life.

With the right preparation, it can last up to 10 days in the fridge. If you don’t have time to prepare it properly, try to eat it within five days.

Loose leaves of lettuce last for around three to five days. Whole heads will hold their health for a few days longer.

The tighter the head, the longer it will last. Iceberg lettuce leaves grow in a tightly packed formation, so iceberg heads tend to stay fresh far into the deep end of our estimation.

The FDA estimates that freshly cut bagged leafy greens usually stay fresh up to a week past the “use by” or “sell by” date.

How Long Is Lettuce Good For?

The quality of any kind of lettuce slowly starts to degrade after it’s harvested. If you buy your lettuce from a big grocery store, it may have already been a few days or even weeks since harvest.

That means you’ll want to choose the freshest looking one you can find. But even the crispest leaves won’t last long in the pantry or on a kitchen shelf.

If you leave lettuce out, it will last about:

  • 2 hours at room temperature
  • 1 hour if the room is above 90°F

Temperatures anywhere between 40°F to 140°F are party time for bacteria. At those ideal conditions, the amount of bacteria feasting at your lettuce party can double every 20 minutes.

Lettuce left for a couple of hours in that delicious bacterial climate will see its leaves lose their crispness and begin to wilt. The edges may curl up and turn brown. If you’re in the middle of a heatwave, your lettuce can start withering in less than an hour.

Related | Can You Freeze Lettuce?

When Does Lettuce Go Bad?

Check your lettuce every few days to look for these signs of spoilage:

  • Limp leaves
  • Brown edges or spots
  • Slimy leaves
  • Sour smell
  • Mold

Heads of lettuce tend to spoil from the outside in. Loose lettuce can start spoiling with any random leaf.

The first sign will be leaves starting to go limp and lose their crispness. Next, you may see brown spots or edges. This is normal in aging lettuce that is getting on in weeks.

You can technically eat limp or brown lettuce leaves without getting sick, but they’ll probably taste or feel weird. We recommend throwing away the damaged and discolored leaves to stop the bacterial spread to the rest.

Once the leaves start to feel slimy, your lettuce is on its last legs. If you only find a couple of gooey leaves, toss them, and try to use the rest of the lettuce as soon as you can. If more than half the leaves are slimy, it’s probably better to let the whole lettuce go.

Lettuce leaves shouldn’t smell like anything. If the leaves start to smell sour or rancid, they’re probably teeming with bacteria you don’t want to eat.

The most common lettuce mold is powdery mildew that looks like a thin dusting of snow. Fuzzy black spots on the leaves can also be the beginnings of an ambitious spore city. Moldy lettuce should be thrown out immediately, no questions asked.

If you want to stay safe, toss out any lettuce that has been sitting in your fridge for more than two weeks. You can put it straight into the dumpster or use it for composting in your garden.

Can Bad Lettuce Make You Sick?

Recently, you may have seen a number of lettuce recalls by the CDC due to disease risks. These usually involve romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli, a source of food poisoning.

E. coli doesn’t change the look, smell, or taste of lettuce. Since you usually eat lettuce raw and it’s almost impossible to wash all the bacteria out of a head of lettuce, it’s hard to be 100% sure it’s safe.

If there aren’t any government recalls on the specific kind of lettuce you plan to eat, the odds are overwhelming that you’ll probably be fine. Just in case, here are some common E. coli symptoms that you can check on if you’re feeling bad:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bad stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These symptoms generally appear three or four days after eating contaminated lettuce and disappear in less than a week.

If you’re worried about the brown spots on your lettuce making you sick, we double-checked, and experts say that’s extremely rare. While smelly spots can be a health hazard, odorless brown spots are usually just cosmetic.

Brown spots with no smell can be a sign of oxidation from bruising. They can be a sign of russet spotting from harmless ethylene gas or caused by innocuous bacteria, neither of which will make you sick.

How To Make Lettuce Last Longer

Lettuce is mostly water plus a little bit of crunch. This high water content can cause the leaves to wilt when exposed to airflow or external moisture. You can keep lettuce fresh for longer if you spend a few minutes prepping it before refrigeration.

Before you put loose lettuce in the fridge:

  1. Go through the leaf pile and remove any that look wilted, slimy or damaged.
  2. Wash the rest of the leaves to get rid of any remaining dirt, pesticides, bugs, or bacteria.
  3. Dry the leaves as much as possible. You can use a salad spinner, shake them dry in a colander or lay them out on a paper towel and wait about 15 minutes.
  4. Store them in a container to prevent bruising or put them in a plastic bag with a few paper napkins to soak up any leftover moisture. Replace the napkins every couple of days to make sure the lettuce doesn’t get too damp.

Before you put a head of lettuce in the fridge:

  1. Remove any wilting or browning outer leaves. This will help make sure as little moisture as possible leaks into the head.
  2. It’s hard to dry a whole head of lettuce thoroughly, so avoid washing it before putting it away. You can rinse the outside lightly if you pat it dry with a napkin.
  3. Wrap the head in paper napkins and put it in a plastic bag. Moisture will degrade the head quickly, so lining it with absorptive napkins will slow down the wilting process.
  4. Change the napkins when they become moist. You don’t have to throw them out. Just leave them somewhere to dry so you can use them again.

Can You Vacuum Seal Lettuce?

If you store your lettuce in a vacuum-sealed bag or jar, you can keep it fresh for up to two weeks. Vacuum sealing is especially efficient for preserving chopped lettuce.

Here are a few tips for vacuum sealing lettuce:

  • Prepare the loose leaves or head of lettuce according to our above instructions.
  • With a chamber vacuum sealer, you can seal lettuce in a plastic bag or a mason jar. Vacuum sealing eliminates the need for moisture-absorbing paper, so you can leave the napkin out.
  • If you lower the vacuum to about 0.08 MPa (15 seconds), you’ll avoid crushing the leaves more than necessary.
  • You can get more vacuum in a mason jar than a plastic bag without beating up the lettuce too much. Jars help the lettuce keep its original shape. It’s also easier to reuse them.

Final Thoughts

Lettuce can get overrun by bacteria in warm climates in only an hour. At room temperature, it can take two hours.

If you store it dry in the fridge and keep it dry with a few napkins in the container, most varieties will last up to 10 days. You can push that up to two weeks if you vacuum seal the container. Once the leaves start to get slimy or smelly, it’s time to toss the salad in the trash.

Written By Justin Micheal

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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