If you have ever bought lettuce for a salad or a sandwich, you may wonder if you need to eat it all right away or if you can store it safely in the refrigerator for later use. Spotting rancid lettuce is not hard – the smell will usually tell you it is past its prime – but lettuce has a long shelf-life in the refrigerator if stored properly.
Lettuce can be left out for two hours at room temperature before it must be refrigerated. Depending on the type of lettuce you purchase, it may be safe in your fridge for anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks.
Read on to find out how to store your lettuce properly in the refrigerator so you can make it last as long as possible without growing any harmful bacteria from spoiled lettuce.
How to Store Lettuce Properly
Storing lettuce can be tricky, as too much air and moisture will cause the leaves to get soggy and wilt, but too little will not allow the lettuce to stay crisp. You can store your lettuce as individual leaves or a full head of lettuce by following these steps to make sure they stay crisp and tasty while also not wilting and getting soggy too early:
Full head of lettuce:
- Wrap the clean head of lettuce in a paper towel that is damp but not soaked
- Put the wrapped full head of lettuce in a plastic bag
- Store the bagged head of lettuce in the refrigerator
- Individual lettuce leaves:
- Wash and spin them dry in a lettuce spinner or pat them dry with a paper towel
- Store them in a lettuce keeper or another container
Storing individual lettuce leaves in a lettuce keeper is best for avoiding bacteria build-up because it allows proper airflow to maintain the leaves. However, you can use a plastic bag as long as you make sure the lettuce has proper airflow by keeping a corner of the bag open. They can also be wrapped in a paper towel and kept in the crisper drawer.
Pro Tip: Make sure you replace the paper towels every day or so because they will start to get too damp and cause the lettuce to wilt.
You will also want to keep the lettuce away from any ethylene fruits, such as tomatoes, avocados, apples, and pears because they release gas as the fruits begin to ripe, which could cause the lettuce to age early.
Do You Have to Refrigerate Heads of Lettuce?
The best way to keep a head of lettuce fresh is to keep it sealed and unwashed in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Heads of lettuce have a long shelf-life in the refrigerator – anywhere from one to three weeks – so you can buy them early and store them safely in the refrigerator for weeks until it is ready to be used.
The best way to store your head of lettuce is in the crisper drawer on top of a few paper towels. That way, the paper towels will absorb any excess moisture from the head of lettuce so that it does not spoil too soon. You should never leave lettuce out for more than two hours at room temperature.
How Long Does Lettuce Last in the Fridge?
There is no universal answer to how long lettuce lasts in the fridge because it depends on how you store your lettuce and what type of lettuce you are storing. If you store your lettuce properly, loose-leaf lettuce can last anywhere from a week to 10 days in the refrigerator. Full heads of lettuce can last even longer, and below is a general guide:
- Full head of lettuce – 1 to 3 weeks
- Loose-leaf lettuce – 7 to 10 days
- Spinach – 5 to 7 days
- Arugula – 2 to 5 days
- Kale – 5 to 7 days
Answering the question of how long lettuce can last in the refrigerator ultimately depends on the type of lettuce and whether it is loose-leaf versus a full head. Yet, the guide above can help determine whether your lettuce is still good to eat after a few days left in the refrigerator.
How Long Can Lettuce be Out of the Refrigerator?
You can leave your lettuce out of the refrigerator for around two hours at room temperature or a maximum of one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should refrigerate your lettuce, no matter the type, after two hours of sitting out. If you leave your lettuce out for more than two hours, you are risking the growth of harmful bacteria on the leaves.
What Happens to Lettuce if Not Refrigerated?
If you do not refrigerate your lettuce after a maximum of two hours, you are risking the growth and multiplying of harmful bacteria that could make your family sick. This means if you pack a sandwich for lunch with lettuce and you think it will sit out for more than two hours, you should pack it in ice so that the coldness mirrors a refrigerator.
Using ice packs or frozen gel packs is the perfect way to keep your lettuce fresh without refrigeration. The type of lettuce will also determine keeping lettuce fresh, but all of them should be refrigerated after those two hours.
Is Lettuce Safe to Eat if Not Refrigerated?
You will need to stick by the two-hour rule for safely eating lettuce that has not been refrigerated and the one-hour rule for lettuce left out in warmer temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
This means if you leave out a salad on a hot day and it has been more than an hour, it is better to throw away the remains that risk getting sick from bad lettuce.