How To Tell If Lettuce Is Bad



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I don’t know about you, but I came from a very food-cautious family. What this meant for me was usually overcooking any meat, just in case, and double-checking the use-by date on everything. And in the process, wasting a whole lot of perfectly good food. 

I will show you in this helpful guide how to tell if your lettuce is bad by using some simple tried and tested methods, using sight and feel. I will also show you how best to preserve your lettuce longer for great-tasting meals.

How To Tell If Lettuce Is Bad

Over the years, I’ve become much better at trusting my instincts with food. But there is always that underlying panic of biting into something for it to be gone off and bad.

And let’s face it, there’s no worse way to realize your food has gone out of date than finding out in your mouth. Gross. 

Luckily, what this food cautiousness has taught me over the years are all the little warning signs that different food items give you when they lose the battle with freshness.

And I thought it was time to impart some of my wisdom (or compulsion) with you lovely people so that you too, can tell by a glance or touch whether your food needs to head straight into the recipe or the compost bin. 

So, for today, we’re focusing on lettuce. When fresh lettuce is fantastic. It goes great for salads, sandwiches, and a whole host of other meals.

When it’s sat in your fridge for a little too long, however…you’re going to have one unpleasant experience. 

How do you know, though, when your lettuce has checked out of the freshness hotel?..let’s find out. 

4 Biggest Signs Your Lettuce Has Gone Bad

The Lettuce Leaves Are Fuzzy

Typically, lettuce leaves have a beautiful bright color. In most cases, this color is green. However, as the lettuce starts to lose its freshness, the color starts to disappear too.

And instead, you’re left with a new color and a fuzzy texture and appearance to the lettuce.

When this happens the leaves will usually turn either grey, brown, or black. But this can depend on the variety of lettuce you purchased.

Most lettuces are greeny-yellow in color such as the Butter or Iceberg varieties. However, in some cases, the leaves may be purple as is the case with Radicchio lettuce.  

The initial color of your lettuce leaves will determine the color it shifts into as it loses its freshness.

However, if you notice the vividness of the leaf turning into a somewhat fuzzy and darker appearance, it’s a good sign it’s time for the lettuce to go. 

How To Tell If Lettuce Is Bad

Bruising & Browning

If you inspect your lettuce and notice bruising or brown spots, discard it. Honestly, it’s a lost cause at that point and it is not salvageable (learn more about veg going bad here).

Those areas will not be pleasant to eat at all. In fact, the brown spots on the lettuce taste disgusting. 

There’s more to it than just the bad taste though. Bruising and brown spots are often an indication that there’s something wrong with the lettuce.

Likely, it hasn’t been handled or stored correctly. Or it’s just been stored for far too long. 

Either way, that lovely salad you’ve prepared for lunch will have you heaving if it’s littered with brown-spotted lettuce. And no one wants that – if you see this sign, throw away your lettuce. 

Mushy, Soft, Or Slimy Texture

Lettuce is great for its firmness and crispiness. If you can see or feel that your lettuce is neither of those things, then you’ll want to throw it out. 

Once lettuce starts to lose its normal form and becomes super soft, mushy, or, heaven forbid, slimy then it’s most likely begun to rot. And I’m pretty sure we can all agree that eating rotten lettuce isn’t on any of our agendas for the day. 

I would always advise inspecting the leaves of your lettuce for a change in firmness before adding them to any of your meals for the day

Yellowness Along The Lettuce Head

Sadly, lettuce heads really don’t have all that much of a shelf life, so you’ll want to try and consume your lettuce as soon as possible after purchase.

You can also store it in the fridge to try and boost its longevity a little.  

Usually, you’ll only have a few days before the head starts to go yellow along the outside. And once it does, it’s time to part ways. At this point, the lettuce has started to turn and won’t taste great (more about lettuce going bad here). 

How To Store Lettuce To Keep It Fresh

  • Get A Heads Start – When purchasing your lettuce at the store, inspect the leaves to ensure you are purchasing the freshest option available. 
  • Refrigerate – Keep lettuce in the fridge to help slow down the natural ripening process and prevent the growth of microorganisms that will damage the produce. 
  • Crisp Drawers – If you have a crisp drawer in your refrigerator – use it. Keep the humidity high and don’t crowd the produce. 
  • Keep Separate From Fruit – Fruit can sometimes release ethylene gas which will encourage your lettuce to ripen more quickly. 
  • Don’t Wash For Storage – Lettuce has a high water content naturally that keeps it nice and crisp. Washing your lettuce before putting it in the refrigerator can cause it to wilt. 
  • Puff The Bag – One technique you can use is opening the bag and blowing into it until the bag puffs up. Once achieved twist and secure the top with a rubber band or clip. The carbon dioxide will slow down the ripening process. 
  • Wrap-Up Shredded Lettuce – Shredded lettuce is easy and convenient but doesn’t last long. Roll it up in a clean kitchen towel and secure it with a rubber band to get a couple of extra days’ life out of it. 

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing worse than cooking a delicious meal like a burger and then ruining the entire meal because you’ve added a slice or two of mushy and slimy gone-off lettuce.

You don’t want to wait until the food is in your mouth to learn that it’s gone off. 

But as long as you keep an eye out for the warning signs mentioned above and follow the tips for keeping your lettuce fresh you shouldn’t have such issues! 

Further Recommendations:

Video: The Early Signs Of Bolting Lettuce.

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