Asparagus. It’s good for you. But if it’s already gone bad, it’s not. We wrote this guide to help you tell.
Nothing says spring like asparagus on the dinner table.
Grilled, sautéed, or roasted, all this fine fresh vegetable needs to steal the show from other side dishes is a generous pinch of salt, a bit of freshly cracked black pepper, and a small squeeze of lemon.
But, before you even get to preparing asparagus spears, take a close look at them and check if they haven’t gone bad—especially if they’ve been sitting in the fridge for a few days already. If in doubt, use the following hints and tips as a guide.
How Can You Tell If Asparagus Has Gone Bad?
Fresh asparagus has a bright green color. When you pick it up and give it a whiff, it should smell like you’re walking through a farm field in the middle of spring. The tips should be light as a feather, the shoots moist and firm, and the white stems free of mold.
When asparagus begins to go bad, its color changes from bright green to yellow, the tips become dry and brittle, the spears limp and shriveled, and fuzzy mold forms on the cut side of the white stems. When the asparagus has sat for too long, it also becomes slimy.
A week ago, I harvested a bunch of baby asparagus from my garden and intentionally kept them in the fridge a little too long. I took them out of the fridge for the photoshoot for this post and, lo and behold, they had all these signs!
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As much as I could go into detail and explain these signs to you over, and over, and over again—as others have done on the Internet—I will simply show you real-world photos of spoiled asparagus:
Can You Eat Moldy Asparagus?
Don’t eat moldy asparagus. Not only will it smell off and taste funny, but it may give you food poisoning.
Contrary to what many home cooks think, it isn’t enough to cut off the stems and cook the shoots thoroughly. The heat of cooking does kill the disease-causing bacteria on the asparagus, but it doesn’t inactivate the poisonous, heat-resistant toxins they may have left behind.
Rule number one of food safety is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses every year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
To keep yourself and your family away from these statistics, play it safe with the food you serve on the table.
How Long Does Asparagus Last?
Asparagus tastes its best when harvested from the garden or unpacked from the grocery bags. Cook it the day you buy it; the longer you store it, the more quality it loses by the time it gets to the table.
Properly refrigerated, fresh asparagus will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. But don’t take too long to cook and eat it. As they sit in the fridge, the asparagus shoots lose their sweetness and tenderness and become stiffer.
Refrigerate fresh asparagus overnight by placing the spears on the lowest shelf of the fridge, where it is coldest. To keep asparagus fresh for a few days, cut off the white and fibrous stems, place the shoots in a tall glass of water, cover them loosely with a plastic bag, and store them on the shelf in the refrigerator door.
According to the USDA, cooked asparagus is a perishable food. As such, it shouldn’t be left to sit out at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours, and it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Refrigerate your leftovers immediately.
To refrigerate cooked asparagus, cover the plate with plastic wrap or, better yet, place the asparagus in a food storage container and close the lid tightly.
Freezing temperature puts the bacteria that spoil our food—and the germs that cause food poisoning—into hibernation. This means that, technically, frozen asparagus stays safe to eat forever.
But when you freeze food, the cold air that’s circulating in your freezer slowly but surely dries it out and causes it to lose flavor. So the asparagus will only retain its best quality for so long before it becomes unappealing, albeit edible.
Fresh asparagus can be blanched and frozen, and it will keep in the freezer for 10 to 12 months. Cooked asparagus should be frozen in meal-sized portions in a freezer bag or storage container so it can thaw easily. It will keep in the freezer for 3 to 4 months.
If It Smells and Tastes Fine, Is It Still Edible?
If you’ve kept raw asparagus in the refrigerator for more than 4 days, you should assume it’s bad and throw it away. If you’ve kept cooked asparagus at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours or in the fridge for more than 3-4 days, you shouldn’t eat it, even if it smells and tastes good.
Spoilage bacteria alter the aroma, flavor, and texture of our food in ways we find unpleasant, but they’re generally harmless. Pathogenic bacteria, the kind that can cause food poisoning, are stealthy. They don’t make our food smell or taste bad, so there’s no way for us to detect them.
If your food is spoiled, it is reasonable to assume that it’s also overgrown with pathogens. These pathogens are killed by heat when you cook the food, but they very often leave behind heat-resistant toxins that can harm you just as much.
To stay safe and reduce waste, cook and eat your food in a timely manner.
Buy your asparagus fresh, store it properly, and cook it within a few days of picking it up from the supermarket. Not like other vegetables, the tender and juicy asparagus spears don’t keep long and taste best when they’re still in their prime.