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Can Bagged Salad Go Bad?

It certainly doesn’t last forever. Here’s how long bagged salad is good for, and how to store it for maximum freshness.

For some, bagged salads are a great way to eat healthy despite a busy and demanding lifestyle. For others, they are modern evil and have no place in the home kitchen.

But we’re not here to discuss that. And which side of the battle between good and evil bagged salads are on is for you to decide. We’re here to talk about if these salads go bad and how long they’re good for—and look at a few little things that you can do to keep them crisp and fresh longer.

So let’s waste no more time and get into it.

To the question, “Can bagged salad go bad?” there is a simple, three-word answer: “Yes, they can.”

The logical follow-up question, “So how long is bagged lettuce good for?” is a little harder to answer. Read on, though, because we will answer it nevertheless.

Refrigerated in its original packaging, bagged salad stays good for 5-7 days unopened and 2-3 days opened. Eventually, all bagged salads will begin to discolor and wilt, and this is when you should throw them away.

Of course, we only live on one planet, at least for now, and we need to protect it. So we should all do our part by shopping wisely and minimizing food waste. With a little planning and the tips that you’re about to learn, you will never have to throw away a spoiled salad again.

How to Keep Unopened Bagged Salad Fresh

Everything that we’re about to discuss will make sense if you understand how bagged salads are made and packaged.

Bagged salad consists of leafy greens that are usually packed on the day of harvest. The greens are collected, cleaned of dirt and twigs, washed in a solution of water and chlorine, and then dried, packaged, and refrigerated.

The leafy greens are packed in a modified atmosphere—the amount of oxygen normally in the air is reduced and replaced with nitrogen—which keeps them crisp and fresh longer by slowing oxidation.

When you open the package, the modified atmosphere escapes and is replaced by normal air. From that moment on, the bagged salad oxidizes quickly and its shelf life is reduced to a few days in the fridge.

Tip: To keep bagged salad fresh, refrigerate it in its original packaging. Open the salad only when you plan to eat it and use it up within a few days of opening, or it will spoil.

How to Keep Opened Bagged Salad Fresh

Once you’ve opened a bagged salad, you need to take a few extra steps to keep it crisp and fresh. Contrary to what some people think, it isn’t enough to reseal the bag as the modified atmosphere that once preserved the greens is no longer there.

So if you don’t want your leafy greens to taste like a failed attempt at making kimchi the next day, what should you do to preserve them?

It’s a simple, three-step process, really. Wash, dry, and refrigerate.

Here’s how it goes:

Step 1: Remove the leftover greens from their plastic packaging, rinse them well under running water in the sink, and then spin them in a salad spinner or pat them dry with paper towels.

Step 2: Line a glass or plastic food storage container with a couple of paper towels. Carefully place the leafy greens on them so that they have enough room to breathe. Close the lid and make sure it’s tightly sealed.

Step 3: Store the salad in the vegetable crisper or in one of the lower compartments of your fridge, where it is coldest, and use it up within a few days. Exactly how long the salad will keep depends on how fresh it was when you first opened it.

How to Tell If Bagged Salad Has Gone Bad

Use your sense of sight, smell, and touch. Avoid using your taste; if the leafy greens in your bagged salad have gone bad, you don’t want them anywhere near your taste buds.

Take the leafy greens out of the fridge and look at them closely. Do they look wilted? Discovered? If the answer to this question is a resounding “yes,” then they’ve probably already spoiled.

Pick them up and take one good sniff. Fresh lettuce should have almost no odor. If you notice an unpleasant, vinegary odor, this is a sign that the packaged greens are spoiled and starting to ferment.

Last but not least, touch them. You know how crispy greens feel. So if anything feels icky, yucky, sticky—you know, anything that raises eyebrows—you are almost certainly dealing with a salad-gone-bad situation.

Ways to Dispose of Spoiled Salad

If you have a compost bin, compost them. Leafy greens compost well and turn into wonderful, nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

Thanks to their high moisture content, salad greens compost very quickly. But if you want to speed up their composting even more, tear them up into small pieces before throwing them on the compost pile, and don’t forget to rotate.

However, be careful if your salad is covered with a dressing. Fats, oils, and dairy products, as some of you have probably experienced first-hand, can attract animals like rats to the compost, and that’s never good.

Some communities provide houses and residential buildings with green organics carts. If you live in one, throw the spoiled bagged salad in it, and it will be picked up with the rest of the garbage on collection day.

To Recap

Fresh foods don’t last forever, and bagged salads are no exception. Unopened, they can be kept for 5-7 days in the fridge. Opened, for 2-3 days, also in the fridge.

Now you know all the techniques to store them so they stay crisp longer!

Know your author

Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.