Lettuce Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Lettuce is one of the most consumed vegetables across the world. Unfortunately, lettuce and leafy greens do not last very long.

Buying an extra bag of lettuce sometimes gives you a dilemmatic situation when the leaves start to get brown. Can you eat old lettuce? Is there any way to save the lettuce?

If you are curious about how to keep lettuce fresh, how long lettuce can be stored, or typical signs of lettuce going bad, we got you covered.

In this article, we share useful knowledge about the shelf life of lettuce and its nitty-gritty! So, read on!

How To Keep Lettuce Fresh

Lettuce is a delicate vegetable. When stored improperly, lettuce wilts and rots quickly. Check these tips below to keep lettuce fresh longer and safe to eat.

1. Keep refrigerated – One basic rule to keep lettuce fresh is to always keep it refrigerated. It doesn’t matter which variety⁠—iceberg, romaine, butterhead, or leaf lettuce. All types of lettuce belong in the refrigerator, preferably in the crisper drawer.

2. Keep lettuce away from any ethylene-producing fruit and vegetables, such as apple, pear, avocado, tomato, etc.

3. No excess moisture – Before tossing lettuce into the fridge, make sure to dry and remove any excess moisture. When lettuce is wet, it spoils more quickly.

4. Throw away any rotting leaves before contaminating other leaves.

Storing Head Lettuce

Heads of lettuce last slightly longer. Don’t cut it before you need to use it. Wrapping it with a paper towel also helps to absorb any excess moisture.

Storing Loose-leaf Lettuce

For loose-leaf lettuce, store it in a sealed container. Line up some paper towels on the bottom of the box, place the leaves, and line more paper towels on top.

You may want to replace the paper towels once in a while if they’re too damp or wet. Remove any wilted or mushy leaves, if any.

Storing Bagged Lettuce

The storage instruction is straightforward. As long as the package is unopened, simply keep it in the refrigerator. If you have leftovers, transfer into a container and store it similarly with loose leaf lettuce.

How To Tell If Lettuce Has Gone Bad

Like other leafy vegetables, lettuce doesn’t stay fresh for long. As lettuce ages, it starts to wilt. It loses its firm texture and becomes soft. After this, lettuce will turn brown. At this point, you can still use the lettuce before it starts rotting.

For head lettuce, cut out the outer leaves that look wilted or brown. Check the inner leaves. If they look perfectly fine, feel free to use them.

With loose-leaf lettuce, you can do the same if the mushy leaf is just one or two leaves. However, if the damaged parts are massive, better to get rid of it.

When the spoilage gets further away, the leaves will smell off or rotten, or too watery. If that’s the case, don’t ever use the leaves.

For bagged lettuce, if it’s still unopened and the bag looks swollen, that’s a sign that bacteria have taken over. Bacteria colony releases gas, which can’t escape when the plastic bag is still sealed, hence the bag gets puffed up.

How Long Does Lettuce Last?

Lettuce is a perishable and delicate item. It needs proper refrigeration and handling. When it bruises, it also goes bad very quickly.

The quality when you buy lettuce determines how long it lasts in your refrigerator. Only buy lettuce that is firm, no brownish spot, or signs of wilting.

With proper refrigeration, iceberg lettuce lasts for at least 1 week to 2 or 3 weeks. Loose-leaf lettuce (green and red leaf) has the shortest life for around 3 to 7 days. 

Meanwhile, thicker lettuce, such as romaine and butterhead, can last up to 10 days.

If you have cut lettuce, use it immediately before it starts wilting and rotting.

For pre-packed lettuce, pick one that’s packed on the same day if possible. Bagged lettuce is sold with a “sell-by” or “use-by” date. It may still be suitable to eat for a few days passing this date, as long as the pack is unopened. Once opened, use the remaining within 2 to 3 days. Cut vegetables lose their freshness at a faster rate.

Lettuce TypesRefrigerator
Iceberg lettuce (or crisphead)1 to 3 weeks
Romaine (or cos), Butterhead7 to 10 days
Loose-leaf lettuce (green leaf, red leaf)3 to 7 days
Bagged lettuce (unopened)Use by date + 3 to 5 days
Bagged lettuce (opened)2 to 3 days

This table is a general estimate. The real shelf life can be shorter or longer than the periods above. It’s worth spending extra minutes to take a closer look at your leafy greens and check for any spoilage signs.


Can you freeze lettuce?

Freezing lettuce is not very common to do. Lettuce contains a high amount of water and does not freeze well.

If you decide to freeze lettuce, at least pick thicker and sturdy varieties such as butterhead or romaine, not iceberg lettuce. Keep in mind that the texture changes significantly after defrosting.

Consider using thawed lettuce for making smoothies or cooked dishes. Making salads with thawed lettuce won’t be a great idea.

How do you use old lettuce?

Old lettuce wilts and loses its freshness and texture. But, as long as it is not rotten yet, feel free to use it. Trim any leaves that look damaged and use the rest.

To revive slightly wilted lettuce, here is a little hack. Soak lettuces in ice water for a few minutes for rehydration. Rinse with running water and dry the excess water.

Can bad lettuce cause diarrhea?

Lettuce and other leafy vegetables are highly susceptible to bacterial contamination, particularly E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. With improper handling, lettuce can be a source of food poisoning (with diarrhea as the most common symptom), especially when eaten raw.

To minimize the risk of foodborne disease, always wash lettuces (and other vegetables) before eating. Next to that, avoid buying and eating lettuces that look spoiled and mushy.

Final Thoughts

Refreshing and nutritious, lettuce is a go-to vegetable at any time. Like other fresh leafy vegetables, lettuce has a short life and goes bad very quickly.

Properly stored and refrigerated, loose-leaf lettuce (green or red) last up to a week. Meanwhile, thicker varieties such as romaine and butterhead last up to 10 days. Head lettuce, such as iceberg lettuce, stays the longest, for up to 1 to 3 weeks.

Always wash lettuce thoroughly and avoid eating bad or spoiled lettuce. Last but not least, good hygiene and proper storage will keep lettuce fresh and minimize the risk of foodborne diseases.

lettuce shelf life

*Photo by aquanaut/depositphotos

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