Does lettuce have to be refrigerated? While you are probably used to storing your lettuce in the refrigerator, you may wonder if it’s absolutely necessary to do so- especially if your refrigerator is already overcrowded. You may even know someone who has stored lettuce in their pantry. But is it safe to do that?
Of course, lettuce is a fresh vegetable, and most fresh vegetables are kept refrigerated, but occasionally lettuce may be left on the counter for a while and still seems to stay fresh. So, do you really need to refrigerate it?
Does lettuce have to be refrigerated?
Lettuce needs to be refrigerated to keep it crisp and prevent the growth of bacteria. However, it is safe to leave lettuce on the countertop for up to two hours, as long as you rinse it to remove any bacteria before placing it back inside the refrigerator.
Refrigerating lettuce keeps it fresh and crisp.
Many people are unaware of the fact that unrefrigerated lettuce has a high potential for bacteria growth. The main reason that most people store their lettuce in the refrigerator is because it’s a learned habit from their parents. Plus, they believe that refrigeration keeps the lettuce fresh.
And, they are correct. When lettuce is stored in a pantry or allowed to sit out on a countertop for a long time, it will start to turn brown and the leaves will become wilted rather quickly.
Once a person realizes that they forgot to put the lettuce back in the refrigerator the night before, they will usually remove the brown leaves and return the lettuce to the refrigerator, but this is the best-case scenario.
Lettuce can become slimy and downright gross when left unrefrigerated for too long. Then, it simply goes to waste and tonight’s dinner plans could suddenly change unless you decide to take another trip to the grocery store.
Lettuce can grow bacteria if left unrefrigerated.
If you’ve kept the lettuce on the countertop all afternoon while preparing a big meal or realized that you forgot to put it away, you may be tempted to mentally kick yourself for your forgetfulness and return the lettuce to the refrigerator.
While this is usually fine, depending on how long the lettuce has been left out, you do need to run the lettuce under cold water and pat it dry before placing it back in the refrigerator or using it, because unrefrigerated lettuce is prone to the rapid growth of bacteria and viruses.
According to the CDC, lettuce can harbor germs that can lead to food-borne illness. There have been previous outbreaks linked to packaged salads, baby spinach, and romaine lettuce. While some contaminants may come from the dirt where the lettuce is harvested, failure to wash or refrigerate lettuce can also make you sick.
How long lettuce can be safely left unrefrigerated
If you’re busy preparing a large meal and have all the ingredients, including lettuce, sitting on the countertop for a couple of hours, it’s still safe to eat the lettuce- as long as you wash it first.
Lettuce can be left unrefrigerated for a maximum of two hours before beginning to spoil or becoming contaminated. So, it’s not safe to store your lettuce in your pantry or on your kitchen counter. And, if you happen to leave your lettuce sitting out overnight, you should throw it away to stay on the safe side.
However, if you get tied up with errands, kids, or kitchen clean-up and happen to leave your lettuce sitting on the countertop for a couple of hours, simply rinse the lettuce, pat it dry, and place it back in the refrigerator.
How to properly store lettuce
While you may occasionally come across retailers who don’t refrigerate the lettuce they are selling, this isn’t a safe practice. Ideally, lettuce should be stored in a refrigerator and away from ethylene-containing fruits, such as apples.
While you could very well keep the lettuce in the store wrapper, place it in the refrigerator, and wait until you are ready to use the lettuce before rinsing it, there are better ways of storing lettuce.
Lettuce needs moisture and airflow to stay fresh and crisp. Although the packaging does prevent the lettuce from turning brown due to oxidation, it also reduces airflow and affects the crispness of your lettuce.
If you plan on using your lettuce within the next five days, you don’t need to worry much about oxidation anyway. Instead of standard lettuce storage, you can break apart your lettuce, rinse it under cold water, and dry it using paper towels or a salad spinner.
Then, place your lettuce inside a basket on top of moist paper towels, and place the basket in the refrigerator to maintain the crispness of your lettuce.
Frequently Asked Questions About Does Lettuce Have to be Refrigerated
What are some fun facts about lettuce?
Lettuce is one of the most eaten vegetables in the US, with darker green lettuce being the most nutritious. The majority of Americans consume approximately thirty pounds of lettuce each year! Lettuce also shouldn’t be stored near certain fruits, such as apples.
How can you tell if lettuce has gone bad?
When lettuce first begins to spoil, the leaves will become limp and start to turn brown. If your lettuce is turning brown or black, has a mushy texture, and smells bad, then it should be thrown in the garbage.
Can you freeze lettuce?
You can freeze lettuce. But freezing lettuce will cause ice crystals to develop inside the plant cells and render it unusable for salad making. However, you can still use frozen lettuce for cooking and seasoning.
Conclusion About Does Lettuce Have to be Refrigerated
While lettuce remains crisp in a refrigerated, it does not need to be refrigerated. It’s perfectly fine to allow it to sit out for a couple of hours if you are preparing dinner or simply forgot to place it back in the refrigerator.
But anything longer than 2 hours is not a great idea as bacteria will start to grow on your lettuce.
Wilting and discoloration aren’t the only things that you need to worry about.
If your lettuce has been left on the countertop, you will need to rinse it and pat it dry before returning it to the refrigerator, as it may have started to grow bacteria, which could make your family sick.
As long as you keep your lettuce refrigerated, you can continue to use it to make fresh crisp salads or whatever else your heart desires.