When stored properly, lettuce can remain fresh, crisp, and crunchy for a couple of days. The thing about lettuce leaves, whether shredded or whole, is that they can turn brown, slimy, and soggy if not stored the right way. For that reason, lettuce needs to be refrigerated to retain its freshness better and for longer.
To store lettuce in the fridge, de-touch the leaves from the core then rinse and dry thoroughly using a paper towel. Put them in an air-tight container to retain their moisture and prevent bruising then store them in the crisper drawer for up to 3 weeks.
The guide below will help you store lettuce and preserve it for long.
Ways to Store Lettuce
The shelf-life of lettuce will depend on when it was first harvested, the date you purchased it, and how well you store it.
You can preserve fresh lettuce in the fridge or in the freezer to prolong its freshness. Here’s how to do it:
Store lettuce in the fridge
Refrigeration will maintain moisture levels in most vegetables, but it only keeps them fresh for a short period.
Heads of lettuce can stay in the fridge and remain fresh longer than tender leaves. Tight heads such as iceberg lettuce will remain fresh longer in the refrigerator even though they are very tender.
Here’s how to refrigerate lettuce to keep it fresh:
- Cut off the stiff core of the lettuce (if it is romaine or iceberg). Retain the stems on tender lettuce types and butter lettuce.
- Wrap them with a damp towel paper to keep them moisturized
- Put them in a plastic bag
- Store them in the crisper drawer of the fridge
If you want to store the leaves individually:
- Break off the leaves from the stem gently. Discard any that are damaged.
- Wash the leaves and dry them using paper towels or a salad spinner.
- Put them in an airtight container to avoid bruising
- Store them in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator
This method will keep lettuce fresh and crisp for up to 3 weeks. However, soft lettuce may not last that long because it goes bad quite fast especially if mishandled.
What you want to do is avoid stacking other things on top of your refrigerated lettuce. Folding the plastic bags with the vegetable is also not recommended because doing so will easily bruise the leaves and cause browning.
Freezing is a great way of preserving lettuce and make it last for months. However, its use will be limited to stir-fries, soup recipes, quiche, cooking, and other flavoring purposes.
Note that the thickness of lettuce leaves affects its freeze-ability. For instance, varieties with thicker leaves such as romaine lettuce and butterheads do much better in the freezer than the thin-leafed types.
Here’s how to freeze lettuce for up to 3 months:
- Break the lettuce leaves apart instead of cutting them with a knife.
- Wash the fresh leaves in your kitchen sink. Be careful not to bruise the leaves.
- Dry all the water from the leaves using paper towels or using a salad spinner.
- Carefully place the leaves in freezer bags and gently squeeze out excess air.
- Place the lettuce in the freezer.
This method will preserve fresh lettuce for up to 3 months.
Pro tip: A great way to remove excess air without squeezing the freezer bags is using a straw. When sealing the bags, leave a small opening at the edge, insert a straw, and suck all the air out of the bag. As you remove the straw, seal the opening to prevent air from entering the bag.
If you want to store lettuce for making a salad, you’d better go with the refrigeration method described above. Frozen lettuce contains ice crystals in its cells, making it slimy and not suitable for a tossed salad.
Keeping Shredded Lettuce Fresh
Shredded lettuce is awesome for making raw salads. You can either buy it bagged or you can easily shred it yourself at home using a knife. You can store shredded lettuce leaves in the refrigerator for later use – usually within one week.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lay a kitchen towel on your countertop.
- Spread the shredded lettuce down the length of the towel.
- Roll up the towel with the lettuce leaves gently from one end to the other.
- Tie both ends of the rolled-up towel with rubber bands.
- Place the roll in a sealable plastic bag.
- Put it in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, or the coolest part to keep it fresh for long.
This method will keep your shredded lettuce for up to a week. If the bagged lettuce came in a plastic container, you may still store it using paper towels.
Line the container with a paper towel. Put a one-inch layer of the shredded leaves in the container and lay a paper towel on top. Add another layer of lettuce then finally Place a paper towel on top and seal the container using its lid.
The paper towels will help keep your shredded lettuce fresh and crisp by preventing too much moisture.
See also: How to store shredded cabbage
How long does lettuce last?
Loose lettuce leaves can last for up to 10 days if stored properly. Depending on the intended use, stored lettuce can remain good for as long as 3 months if stored in the freezer. This is true for puree lettuce ice cubes and thicker leaves as opposed to the tender types that bruise and go bad easily.
However, freezing may not work well for some lettuce like iceberg. It contains a higher water content (which makes it crunchy and good for salads )which when frozen crystalizes and leaves it limp when thawed. But, since its leaves are tightly packed compared to romaine lettuce, it’s easy to store it.
Simply cut off any leaves with signs of spoilage or wilting. Put the whole head in a loose plastic bag then store it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. iceberg lettuce will retain its freshness this way for 5-7 days.
How can you tell if lettuce has gone bad?
While you can revive limp lettuce and use it for your salads and other recipes, be careful not to eat it when it is rotting. You can easily tell if lettuce has gone bad by using your senses.
Look for the following signs that lettuce is spoiled:
- Limp or wilted
- Rotting smell
- Slimy stems and leaves
- Discoloration – lettuce will start turning brown or black.
What causes lettuce to turn brown?
Lettuce can easily turn brown if not handled and stored properly. You can prevent this by harvesting fresh lettuce the right way, and storing it where there aren’t chemical substances that can cause browning.
Here’s what causes lettuce to turn brown:
Ethylene gas damage
Lettuce, just like other plants, produces ethylene gas. This gas is commonly produced in large amounts when apples start going bad.
This gas hardly makes fresh lettuce turn brown, when in small quantities. However, if you store the fresh leaves close to fruits that are ripening or even going bad, you’ll find the leaves reacting to the gas and turning rusty brown.
Pro tip: You can prevent ethylene damage by placing your lettuce in a plastic bag especially when storing it next to fruits such as apples and pears. You can store it in the refrigerator but remember to protect it from the gas-producing fruits.
If you mishandle lettuce and many other tender vegetables, they end up bruising easily. Lettuce is no exception.
Bruised lettuce will quickly turn brown because enzymes are activated when the cut stems and leaves are exposed to air. The enzymes produce compounds that result in brown stains. This process is called oxidation.
If this browning starts at the base of the lettuce head or stem where the injury occurred, it will eventually spread to the leaves.
You can prevent browning by handling lettuce gently, and breaking off the leaves from the core instead of cutting them away.