How Long Does Lettuce Last and How Can It Be Kept Fresh?

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on July 30th, 2022

So you bought a lettuce head or two and want to know how long it will be until it becomes slimy and unpleasant. How long can lettuce be stored?

Loose-leaf lettuce normally lasts 7 to 10 days, whereas head lettuce (e.g., iceberg) lasts one to three weeks. In other words, crisphead lettuce lasts far longer than loose-leaf lettuce.

person picking green cabbage

However, a few storage strategies will help keep your lettuce fresher for longer. If yours is prone to get slimy, they will come in handy.

Are you curious about lettuce storage, shelf life, and spoilage? Continue reading.

Lettuce Varieties

Butter Lettuce

Butter lettuce, often known as butterhead lettuce, is one of the four primary varieties of annual lettuce available in the United States. It derives its name from the fact that it has a soft “buttery” feel.

According to the USDA, butter lettuce is low in sodium and a rich source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

Butter lettuce’s sweet, soft leaves are well-known for producing delicious salads, but they may also be used to make various other dishes. Butter lettuce is ideal for layering in spring rolls and wraps.

Leaf Lettuce

Leaf lettuce, often known as “looseleaf” lettuce, is commonly used in sandwiches and salads. This lettuce boasts a huge, loose head of brilliant green, curled leaves that taste buttery.

Leaf lettuce has a lot of nutrients, especially the greener the leaf. Leaf lettuce is the most nutritious of the four types of lettuce described here.

Lettuce (Iceberg)

Iceberg lettuce is a type of lettuce that has crisp leaves and grows spherical. This lettuce has a pleasant flavor and goes well with burgers and sandwiches.

When it comes to nutritional content, iceberg lettuce is quite low. It contains a small amount of calcium, potassium, vitamin C, folate, and fiber. Despite its minimal nutritional value, it is high in water content. As a result, iceberg lettuce is ideal for eating in hot weather.

Lettuce Romaine

Romaine lettuce, commonly known as “cos lettuce,” is a kind of lettuce that grows in a high head with robust dark green leaves.

Romaine lettuce has a low fiber level but a high mineral content, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. In terms of vitamins, it’s high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.

Unlike other types of lettuce, romaine is not utilized in sandwiches or burgers. Because of its thick leaves, romaine lettuce is typically used in grilling, stir-frying, and cooking dishes.

Past Printed Date
Butter Lettuce lasts for2 Hours3-5 Daysn/a
Leaf Lettuce lasts for2 Hours7-10 Daysn/a
Iceberg Lettuce lasts for2 Hours7-10 Daysn/a
Romaine Lettuce lasts for2 Hours7-10 Daysn/a
Chopped or Loose Lettuce lasts for2 Hours3-5 Daysn/a

Head lettuce has a shelf life of 1 to 3 weeks, but loose leaf lettuce has a shelf life of 7 to 10 days. Individual leaves can be stored for up to a week.

Crisphead lettuce (like an iceberg) lasts longer than leaf lettuce (like butterhead or romaine) because the former contains tightly packed leaves that preserve the rest.

(In truth, head lettuce is similar to onions in that the upper layer is normally discarded, but the remainder is acceptable.)

I’ve put iceberg lettuce in the fridge for over a month on several occasions, and it’s always been OK. The outside leaves were wilted and had some brown and rusty red flaws, but the remainder of the plant looked healthy.

That isn’t to say that iceberg lettuce will always survive a month in the fridge, but 3 weeks is a reasonable time frame if stored correctly.

Nothing protects the inner leaves of loose-leaf lettuce. Sure, the outer leaves continue to withstand the brunt of the damage, but the inner leaves have access to the environment and begin decaying soon after harvest.

As a result, the storage time is substantially shorter.

Again, if you’re lucky, yours could last up to two weeks, but that’s all you can expect. Unless, of course, you participate in some of the more hands-on storage procedures that, while time-consuming, serve to extend the storage life of loose-leaf lettuce.

When Does Lettuce Expire?

Check your lettuce every few days for the following indicators of deterioration:

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

Lettuce heads deteriorate from the outside in. With any random leaf, loose lettuce might begin to rot.

The first symptom will be drooping leaves that have lost their sharpness. Following that, you may notice dark areas or edges. This is common with elderly lettuce sitting for a few weeks.

You can eat limp or brown lettuce leaves without becoming sick, but they will most likely taste or feel strange. We propose removing the damaged and discolored leaves to prevent bacterial spread to the remaining leaves.

Your lettuce is on its final legs when the leaves begin to feel sticky. If you discover a few sticky leaves, throw them and utilize the remainder of the lettuce as soon as possible. If more than half of the lettuce leaves are slimy, discarding the entire bunch is usually best.

Lettuce leaves should not have any odor. If the leaves begin to smell sour or rotten, they are most likely swarming with germs you do not want to eat.

Powdery mildew resembles a light sprinkling of snow and is the most prevalent lettuce mold. Fuzzy black dots on the leaves indicate the start of a large spore metropolis. Moldy lettuce should be discarded right away, no questions asked.

To be safe, throw any lettuce in your fridge for longer than two weeks. You may throw it in the garbage or compost it in your yard.

Is It Possible to Get Sick From Bad Lettuce?

You may have recently seen a number of lettuce recalls issued by the CDC owing to illness risks.

These often contain romaine lettuce tainted with E. coli, a food poisoning source.

E. coli does not affect the appearance, smell, or taste of lettuce. Because lettuce is frequently eaten raw, and it’s nearly impossible to wash all the bacteria out of a head of lettuce, it isn’t easy to be certain it’s safe.

If there are no official recalls on the precise type of lettuce you intend to consume, the chances are you’ll be alright. Just in case, here are some typical E. coli signs to look out for if you’re feeling unwell:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bad stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These symptoms usually emerge three or four days after eating infected lettuce and last less than a week.

If you’re concerned that the brown spots on your lettuce may get you sick, scientists say it’s exceedingly unlikely. While stinky spots can be dangerous to one’s health, odorless brown patches are typically only ornamental.

Brown stains with no odor can be caused by bruise oxidation. They might be a symptom of harmless ethylene gas spotting or generated by benign bacteria, neither of which would make you sick.

How Long Can You Keep Lettuce Fresh in the Fridge?

Managing humidity is the key to keeping your lettuce fresh for as long as possible. Lettuce requires humidity to keep crisp, but not so much that it wilts and becomes slimy. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Allowing for some ventilation so that the plant can get rid of surplus water, but not so much that it dries out, is the simplest and hands-off technique to manage humidity.

The simplest technique to provide fresh air to the plant is to keep it in a half-open plastic bag.

The amount of time the bag should remain open is determined by the humidity in your crisper drawer or refrigerator, depending on where you store it. There should be some condensation in the bag, but not too much. There are a lot of large droplets of water here and there, far more than you need.

If there is too much water in the bag and on the leaves, remove it with kitchen towels and open up the bag a little further. Or even poke a few holes in it.

If there is no condensation and the leaves appear dry, tighten the bag a little more to keep the moisture within.

Next, keep lettuce away from ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, peaches, and tomatoes. An excess of ethylene causes rusty red and brown patches on the leaves.

Finally, no matter how carefully you store your lettuce, the leaves will wilt with time. So, if you want them to be in tip-top form, you’ll need a new head.

Let’s move on to more “advanced” solutions, such as cleaning lettuce before storing it or using paper towels to help manage humidity.

Is it necessary to wash lettuce before storing it?

Most individuals asked about this topic would probably say no, that you should not wash any product before storing it. Instead, you wash it immediately before eating.

That is one method of cleaning lettuce.

However, many individuals wash lettuce (particularly loose-leaf lettuce) after they arrive home from the grocery store.

The procedure is straightforward: remove any poor (damaged, slimy, or wilted) leaves, rinse the head under running water, and remove any extra moisture using a salad spinner or paper towels.

The notion here is that cleaning and removing damaged leaves extends the life of the remaining greens.

Feel free to experiment with extending the storage duration of your lettuce as far as possible (without freezing it).

The judgment is yet out on whether it’s a decent strategy to extend lettuce storage duration, but one thing is certain: it takes a few additional minutes before you can put the plant in the fridge.

And, I don’t know about you, but I seldom have the time (or inclination) to wash the lettuce before storing it in the refrigerator.

Use paper towels

You may use paper towels to manage the bag’s moisture better.

When storing loose-leaf lettuce, insert one or two towels at the bottom of the bag and another one to three between the leaves. Those cloths soak up the additional moisture while keeping it at the surface of the leaves, keeping them lovely and crisp.

When it comes to crisphead lettuce, wrap it in towels before putting it in the bag.

You inspect the towels every day or two and replace any that are moist. The remaining of them, which are only slightly moist, can stay there.

Wet paper towels can be left to dry and reused if desired.

If your lettuce wilts quickly, consider using slightly moist paper towels instead of dry ones. They will offer the leaves much-needed moisture.

(The moist paper towel method works for other vegetables such as carrots and asparagus.)

Using paper towels, once again, helps reduce leaf dampness, but it adds another item to your already overburdened to-do list. It’s a wonderful trick to know, but I doubt most of you will have the time to put it to use.

Stick to half-open plastic bags for simplicity and hands-off solutions, and find out how open yours should be so that the lettuce stays lovely and crisp for as long as possible.

Lettuce Leaves Storage

The simplest way to store lettuce leaves is in a freezer bag with a paper towel underneath and above them to help limit moisture. To enable some ventilation, leave the bag’s top half-open.

That configuration should provide you with the seven days of storage I indicated previously.

If you want to make your future self’s life simpler, wash and dry the leaves before placing them in the bag. This way, you can grab them, slap them on a sandwich, shred them, and toss them into a salad.

Is it possible to freeze lettuce?

Consider freezing your lettuce if you want to retain it for an extended period. You can freeze lettuce!

Thicker lettuces, such as romaine or butterhead, should be frozen. Keep in mind that freezing lettuce might cause it to lose some of its crispness and flavor, so it’s best to save it for smoothies, soups, and stews rather than dishes that call for fresh lettuce leaves, such as salads. Other leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are also excellent for freezing.

There are two ways to freeze lettuce. One method is to freeze whole lettuce leaves. Separate and rinse lettuce leaves, then wipe excess water with a paper towel. The leaves should then be placed in an airtight freezer bag. You can also purée lettuce and freeze it in ice cube trays for liquid dishes such as smoothies and soups. Lettuce may be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

What do you do with old lettuce?

Wilting lettuce loses its freshness and texture as it ages. However, as long as it isn’t rotting, feel free to utilize it. Remove any leaves that appear to be damaged and save the remainder.

Here’s a quick tip for reviving somewhat wilted lettuce. Rehydrate lettuce by soaking it in freezing water for a few minutes. Rinse under running water, and pat dry any excess water.

Produce Your Own

Consider growing your lettuce if you consume a lot of salads. It is simple to expand. You may avoid the storage procedure if you harvest your lettuce before eating it. To optimize your crop, choose only the outer leaves of your lettuce rather than the full head. If you don’t disrupt the crown, it will continue to grow back.


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