Keeping Salad Greens Fresh
During parts of the year even avid gardeners usually end up buying salad greens. Unfortunately, greens are highly perishable and when they spoil you lose their flavor, texture, nutrition, money spent buying them and, once spoiled, they add to the environmental problems of wasted food.
Tips to Safely Handle and Store Salad Greens
- Buy the freshest possible greens from a trusted location, preferably with a high turnover.
- Pack fresh salad greens in plastic bags at the store so they are kept separate from other groceries, especially raw meats and poultry.
- Refrigerate salad greens at 35 to 40o F quickly after purchase. Store in a plastic bag or lettuce keeper.
- Always wash hands before preparing salads and make sure you are working with a clean cutting board.
- Wash lettuce just before using by running cold water over leaves. Soap or detergent should not be used. Leaves of some types of greens can be difficult to clean so separating the leaves and immersing them in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes can help loosen sand and dirt. A bowl is a much better choice than a sink, which can harbor bacteria and be difficult to clean. A second rinse after the soak will help remove remaining sand and dirt. After washing, blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.
- Once rinsed and patted dry, store the greens in a bag or plastic container lined with dry paper towels to soak up extra moisture. Wrapping greens in moist paper towels can add moisture to the container that promotes spoilage or pathogenic microbial growth.
- Because lettuce and other salad greens are very perishable, they should be used within one week of purchase.
Bagged, Prewashed Greens and Salads
- To reduce the risk of foodborne illness with bagged salads, buy those with the furthest away use-by date, keep them refrigerated at 35 to 40o F, observe “Use By” dates marked on the package.
- It is not recommended that you rewash produce that is prewashed and packaged. If a container or bag of greens is marked “pre-washed” or “ready-to-eat,” you can safely use the produce without further washing. If you do decide to rinse the salad greens, make sure there is no chance to cross-contamination through contact with unclean surfaces.
- If bagged salad begins to get soggy or release liquid in the bag the greens should be thrown out. The juice has been found to encourage bacteria to stick to the leaves inside the bag and grow more aggressively.
Storage Tips for Commonly Purchased Greens
- Whole heads of iceberg, romaine, bibb, and other lettuce stay fresher longer than leaves or chopped pieces. Keep heads of raw lettuce intact and left unwashed until ready to use. For romaine and bibb, remove any damaged or wilted outer leaves, place in a plastic bag or container and store in the crisper. For iceberg lettuce, keep the whole head wrapped in its original packaging and place in the crisper drawer until ready to consume.
- Loose-leaf lettuce such as spinach or arugula are typically pre-washed and sorted, but you still need to pick through the lettuce to remove any damaged leaves. Line a sturdy glass or plastic container with a few dry paper towels, then scatter your greens on top and cover with a lid. Leave some room for the air to circulate. If no container is available, use a plastic bag, but leave a small portion of it open so air can circulate.
- Kale is best if eaten soon after purchase, but should keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Store kale unwashed with leaves close together and wrap them in dry paper towels, then place in a perforated plastic bag or plastic container and put in the crisper.
- Spinach, Swiss chard and collard or turnip greens should all be stored in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator crisper. These greens usually stay crisp for four days or longer if properly stored.
Resources and References
Schattenberg, P. 2020. How to keep salad greens greener, longer. AgriLife Today. https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/2020/09/14/how-to-keep-salad-greens-greener-longer/ accessed 12/11/2020.
Koukkidis, G., Haigh, R., Allcock, N., Jordan, S. and Freestone P. 2016. Salad leaf juices enhance Salmonella growth, colonization of fresh produce, and virulence. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 10.1128/AEM.02416-16. https://aem.asm.org/content/83/1/e02416-16 accessed 12/16/2020.
Bunning, M . and Kendall, P. 2012. Health benefits and safe handling of salad greens. Colorado State University Extension. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/health-benefits-and-safe-handling-of-salad-greens Accessed 12/11/2020.