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How to Tell if Lettuce Has Spoiled

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a plant of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. It is commonly grown as a leaf vegetable, but it is also grown for its stem and seeds. People use lettuce in salads, soups, sandwiches, and burgers (1). If you like to eat lettuce, you may also wonder if it has gone bad or is unhealthy to eat. However, identifying spoiled lettuce is easy.

Since it does not have a “sell by” date, the shelf life of lettuce is determined by the preparation process and how it was stored.

Dark spots, drooping foliage, and an unpleasant smell are just a few of the obvious signs of spoilage.

Throw away any rotting leaves as soon as possible to avoid damaging the rest of your lettuce bunch. Refrigerate the remaining lettuce leaves to keep them fresher for longer.

Determining Rotting Lettuce

To determine whether your lettuce has gone bad, look for discoloration, a soggy texture, and a rotten smell.

Lettuce will initially become limp, and then the green hue will fade to brown or black.

Fresh lettuce has light-green or light yellow leaves, but some varieties, such as Red Coral, have purple leaves (2).

However, when dark dots form on the leaves, your lettuce is probably bad.

Discolored lettuce frequently feels slimy and stinks.

If the rest of the lettuce has dark dots but the leaf is still fresh, you can cut around them.

You might detect an earthy odor from the soil in which the lettuce grew (3).

The rotten lettuce odor will be strong and unpleasant, making it easy to recognize.

Lettuce softens, droops, and wrinkles as it ages.

These changes can be seen or felt by touching the leaves.

As the leaves rot or develop a disease, a sticky or slippery material accumulates on them, signifying freshness (4).

Although lettuce wilts just before it turns brown, if the lettuce hasn’t gotten worse, it’s fine to eat.

You can restore its crispness by soaking it in ice water for up to 30 minutes.

How to Store Lettuce

Place your lettuce in a cool, dry area of your refrigerator to store it. When stored in this manner, lettuce heads last around 10 days (5).

However, lettuce heads last longer than lettuce leaves. Therefore, a vegetable crisper drawer is ideal for storing heads of lettuce, but not all refrigerators have one.

To absorb damaging moisture, wrap the lettuce in paper towels. Keep lettuce away from fruit that emits ethylene, such as bananas and other fruits.

In a resealable plastic container, add layers of paper towels. If you don’t have a container, use plastic sandwich bags instead.

Cover the leaves with extra paper towels after placing them on top of the paper towels. Because the paper towels absorb moisture, the lettuce stays fresher for longer.

When you’re finished, close the storage container. This will help keep moisture and gas out. Unsealed lettuce will keep nicely in a crisper.

You might also wish to do this using pre-cut lettuce in a bag. Because moisture cannot escape the tight bag, the lettuce may deteriorate faster than desired.

Maintain a well-ventilated environment to allow moisture to drain from the lettuce.

How to Select Lettuce

There are several varieties of lettuce, such as iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, Boston, and butterhead lettuce, which are examples of cultivars that grow in a layered head.

But you can divide them into two categories, such as head lettuce and loose-leaf lettuce.

Choose fresh-looking, non-wilted, colored leaves that aren’t slimy, browning, or dried out by the stem, whether it’s an entire head, bagged lettuce, a container of salad mix, or another package.

Also, pay attention to the packaging’s “sell-by” or “best-by” date if it has one.


Lettuce, like a lot of other fresh foods, has a short shelf life and is picky about how it’s handled.

Look for discoloration, sogginess, and a foul odor.

These obvious indications, such as dark patches, drooping leaves, and an unpleasant odor, can determine if lettuce has gone bad.

Choose leaves that aren’t sticky, browning, or dried out by the stem and aren’t wilted.

Keep the lettuce in a well-ventilated area of your refrigerator to allow moisture to drain.

If the packaging has a “sell-by” or “best-by” date, pay attention to it.

Naeem Durrani BSc
I am a retired pharmacist, nutritionist, and food system expert. My interests include medical research and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to transform their lives.


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