How Long Can Lettuce Sit Out? [+Storage Practices]

Fresh greens and vegetables seem like they never last as long as we want them to. You buy them with all the good intentions of eating them, and then suddenly they are rotten and need to be thrown out. It makes you wonder what exactly the best way is to store lettuce. 

Generally speaking, lettuce in full heads or individual leaves can be left out for 2 hours at room temperature. If the temperature is hot, aim to refrigerate lettuce within 1 hour. Cut up lettuce also has a 2-hour room temperature window for freshness and safety.

Keeping lettuce in the refrigerator will extend its shelf life. Individual leaves of lettuce will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days. A head of lettuce is more likely to last up to 2 weeks when refrigerated properly. 

Continue reading for the best practices for storing lettuce, telling when it has spoiled, an understanding of the possible food-borne illnesses with lettuces, and the best practices for storing similar leafy greens.

Storing Lettuce Properly

Whether you like iceberg, romaine, butter, or other leafy green lettuce, you can take steps to ensure that you get the longest life out of your lettuce.

Regardless of whether your lettuce is a whole head, separated leaves, or cut up for a salad, you should not leave it out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

Lettuce

If you are at a picnic or a backyard barbecue and the temperature is high, you should limit the time lettuce is out at ambient temperature to 1 hour. You should keep lettuce refrigerated to extend its quality.

Heads Of Lettuce

Whole heads of lettuce will stay fresh the longest in the refrigerator, up to 2 weeks. When you bring lettuce home, rinse off the head and remove the outside leaves. Then pat it dry with a paper towel or a clean dishtowel.

Heads Of Lettuce

Keep it wrapped loosely in a towel or dishtowel in the refrigerator and change the towel when it becomes wet. Iceberg and romaine keep for about 2 weeks, while leafy lettuces and butterhead lettuces will keep one week.

Leaves Of Lettuce

If you prefer to store separated lettuce leaves, be sure to rinse them completely and pat them dry with a paper towel or a clean dishtowel.

You can also use a salad spinner to remove any extra moisture from the lettuce.

Wrap them loosely in a paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. Leave the bag open and put it in the refrigerator. Separate leaves will last 7-10 days in the fridge.

Cut Up Lettuce

Cut up lettuce lasts the least amount of time in the refrigerator, only 3-5 days. If it is mixed into a salad with other vegetables, especially those that emit ethylene gas as they ripen like avocados and tomatoes, the ethylene will cause the lettuce to decay faster.

A chopped salad will only be good in the refrigerator for 2-4 days. Keep it loosely covered for the best result. 

If you have lettuce that is a little wilted but otherwise good, try soaking the leaves in ice water for a few minutes. You may be able to return some crispness to the leaves for an additional meal. 

Identifying Spoiled Lettuce

In some ways, it is obvious when lettuce goes bad. It turns brown, wilts, and becomes slimy. Any lettuce that exhibits these signs should be discarded immediately.

You should note that a little bit of brown discoloration on otherwise crisp lettuce can be cut away, and the rest of the lettuce can still be eaten. 

Food-Borne Illnesses In Lettuce

The problem is that sometimes lettuce can look perfectly safe but may not be suitable to eat.

According to the CDC, the most common types of food-borne illnesses related to lettuces are E. Coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and norovirus.

These plants get contaminated when they come into contact with animal waste. While this is occasionally a danger, there is no reason to skip salads in your diet.

Instead, the CDC says that you should thoroughly wash your lettuce in running water to clear away any dirt or germs present on the lettuce.

Bagged and Pre-washed Lettuce

When you buy bags of lettuce or salad mixes that are labeled “ready to eat” or “pre-washed,” you do not need to rewash the lettuce.

Because these are cut-up lettuces, you should eat them quickly because they are not likely to stay fresh for more than 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Check the “best by” date and inspect the lettuce for signs of spoilage before eating it.

Living Lettuce

If you eat lettuce frequently and don’t like having to buy it repeatedly, try living lettuce. You can buy it at most grocery stores in the produce section. It is lettuce with the root ball still attached rather than cut off. Usually, you can get butter lettuce or green leaf lettuce on the root.

This lettuce has been grown hydroponically, meaning grown in water rather than in soil. You can keep the lettuce in or out of the fridge. In the refrigerator, the lettuce with a root ball will stay fresh for up to a month. 

You can grow the living lettuce by planting it in a pot of soil and placing it in a sunny window. Cut the leaves you want to eat 1” above the soil to give it a chance to keep growing.

Water it when the soil is dry. The lettuce will continue to grow as long as it has good soil, sunlight, and water.

Proper Ways To Store & Transport Salads

A green salad with lettuce and cut vegetables should not be left out more than 2 hours at room temperature or 1 hour at a high temperature outdoors.

Loosely cover your salad and keep it in the refrigerator for 2-4 days. Remove any pieces of lettuce that are showing signs of spoiling to keep the whole salad fresh longer.

You can also extend the life of your lettuce by storing it separately from other cut vegetables instead of storing the salad all mixed together. 

Storing And Transporting Salads

If you are carrying salad to an event or in your lunch and you won’t have refrigeration, you should pack the salad in an ice chest or add an ice pack to your lunch box. Doing so will keep it at the best level of freshness and crispness.

Freezing Lettuce

You won’t have a good result if you try to freeze lettuce and thaw it to eat like a salad. You should eat lettuces like iceberg, romaine, and leaf lettuces fresh.

However, if you plan to cook leafy greens into a stew or add them to a smoothie, you can blanch and freeze them. 

To blanch your greens, first, separate the leaves and wash them. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set it aside. Boil water in a large pot on the stove. Drop your leaves into the boiling water for 30 seconds.

Remove the leaves and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking. Lay them out on paper towels to dry. Place the leaves in portion sizes in zip-top bags or rigid containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Storing Other Leafy Greens

When you bring leafy greens home, you need to prepare them for the refrigerator in order to keep them fresh for as long as possible. First, break off any thick stems and discard any wilted leaves.

Then wash the leaves under running water. Dry with paper towels or a tea towel, or run them through a salad spinner to remove the water.

If you bought them in a plastic clamshell package, line it with paper towels and return them to the container in the fridge. You can also roll the leaves in paper towels and insert them into an open ziplock bag.

By taking the time to prepare your leafy greens, you can get the maximum length of freshness out of them.

Storage Tips:

Spinach and kale will last 5-7 days in the refrigerator; arugula, collard greens, and broccoli raab will keep for 3-5 days; and mustard greens and dandelion greens will keep for 1-2 days. 

Leafy Greens

A whole head of cabbage (red or green) will keep for 1-2 weeks in the crisper drawer in the fridge.

Concluding Thoughts

You can keep lettuce at room temperature for up to 2 hours and then you need to refrigerate it. Lettuce can harbor bacteria and viruses that cause food-borne illness, so you should wash it thoroughly under running water.

Pat it dry, then store it wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator. Whole heads of lettuce keep the longest for 2 weeks or more.

Loose leaves of lettuce keep for 7-10 days, and cut lettuce will keep for 5-7 days when properly refrigerated. Other popular leafy greens, like spinach and kale will stay fresh for 3-7 days when they are stored properly in the fridge.

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