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Here’s How to Know If Broccoli Is Bad

Telling if broccoli has gone bad can be a real challenge considering they don’t smell and taste all that good when fresh. This guide will help.

There’s no doubt that broccoli, which my nephew fittingly calls farty greens, can be a hard vegetable to love.

Yes, broccoli are terribly good for you—according to WebMD, a single cup of broccoli packs 30 calories, 6 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and, what do you know, about as much vitamin C as an orange.

But if you cook broccoli too long, as most of us do, they turn out mushy and smelly.

That smell comes from the fact that broccoli is a relative of cabbage. As such, it smells increasingly more sulfurous the longer it is cooked.

But hey, whether you love it, hate it, or just tolerate it, you’re here because you want to know one thing, and one thing only: how to tell when broccoli has gone bad bad.

So let’s waste no more time with introductions and get to the meat of it, shall we?

How to Tell If Broccoli Has Gone Bad

Generally, there are two ways to tell if broccoli has gone bad: if you kept them for too long or if they show any of the signs of spoilage.

If you kept broccoli, cooked or frozen, for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour on warm days, when the outside temperature is 90°F or higher) or for more than 3 to 4 days in the fridge, you should assume that they are not safe to eat and discard them.

Throw the broccoli away if they show signs of spoilage, even if you haven’t kept them for longer than you really should have.

Unlike spoilage bacteria, which give food a slimy texture, off odor, and bad flavor, the pathogenic bacteria that cause food poisoning are undetectable to our senses.

Then again, if the broccoli show signs of premature spoilage, err on the side of caution and don’t cook, reheat, or eat them.

If the broccoli have gone bad, this is a sign that they may have been stored incorrectly and, by consequence, be overgrown with disease-causing bacteria, too.

Broccoli that has gone bad can be identified by several signs. Look for discoloration, such as yellow or brown spots, and a sticky, slimy texture. A sour or unpleasant odor may also be present.

In addition to that, if you notice any mold growth on the broccoli, it should be discarded immediately.

Fresh broccoli is bright green in color, firm to the touch, and smells and tastes appealing. When broccoli has gone bad, the florets turn yellow and mushy, develop a dark green color, and begin to stink.

In some cases, fuzzy spots of mold can be seen on the broccoli head or stem.

How Long Does Broccoli Last?

How long broccoli lasts depends on how you store it. Generally, food lasts for months in the freezer, a few days in the fridge, and a couple of hours at room temperature.

When frozen:

Freezing temperatures put the bacteria that spoil our food and cause food poisoning on pause. So, technically, frozen broccoli is safe to eat forever. Sooner or later, though, the florets dry out and lose their flavor, which means they only retain their best quality for so long.

Stored in the freezer in its original packaging, raw broccoli retains its best quality for 6 to 9 months. Cooked broccoli frozen in a freezer bag or food storage container, on the other hand, retains its best quality for 3 to 4 months.

When refrigerated:

Fridge temperatures inhibit the growth of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria, but they don’t halt it altogether. This is why broccoli lasts only 3 to 4 days in the fridge, no matter if it’s thawing or already cooked.

If you suspect that the broccoli has been in your fridge for longer than that, you should throw them away. Contrary to what many home cooks think, there’s no way to determine if they are still safe to eat or not.

When left out:

Bacteria grow the fastest in the temperature range of 40°F (4.4°C) to 140°F (60°C). Most people refer to this range as “room temperature,” but food safety experts have a less flattering name for it—they call it “the danger zone.”

Per the USDA, broccoli can only be left out for 2 hours. In the summer, when the outside temperature is 90°F (32°C) and above, this time is reduced to just 1 hour.

Don’t leave frozen broccoli to thaw on the counter for more than 1-2 hours and refrigerate all leftovers immediately.

How to Keep Broccoli Fresh

Keep fresh broccoli in the crisper drawer, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag. Broccoli releases ethylene gas as it sits. So if you wrap the bag too tightly, the gas will build up on the inside and cause the broccoli to rot faster.

Frozen broccoli should be kept frozen, at a temperature of 0°F (-18°C), and can be cooked without thawing. If your recipe requires you to thaw the florets before cooking, transfer them to a large bowl, bring a pot or kettle of water to a boil, pour the hot water into the bowl, and drain after 30 seconds.

Cooked broccoli should be cooled and refrigerated immediately after cooking (for meal prep) or eating (for storing leftovers), and within no longer than 1-2 hours of preparation. Seal the broccoli in an airtight food storage container with the lid shut.

If It Smells and Tastes Fine, Isn’t It Still Safe to Eat?

The bacteria that spoil our food are not the same as the germs that give us food poisoning. Spoiled food is kind of hard to miss; it smells gross and looks disgusting.

The same can’t be said for food that’s been kept for too long at room temperature or in the fridge. Broccoli that’s been left out may smell and taste perfectly fine, and yet still be overrun with pathogens.

Rule number one of food safety is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If a serving of broccoli has been sitting on the kitchen counter or dining room table for more than 1-2 hours, or in the fridge for more than 3-4 days, you cannot know if it’s edible or not.

The basics of food safety should always be followed, but they are especially important when it comes to dairy. In other words, if you made broccoli with cheese or cream, you should put the leftovers in the refrigerator promptly and eat them up within a few days.

Won’t Heating the Broccoli Make It Safe to Eat Again?

A great people think that heating bad food makes it safe to eat again—before I started learning about food safety, I used to be one of them—but this simply isn’t true.

Yes, the heat will kill the pathogenic bacteria on the broccoli. As culinary author Harold McGee explains in his 2009 book, Keys to Good Cooking, 15 seconds of exposure to a temperature of 155°F (68°C) effectively eliminates bacteria.

What the exposure to heat won’t do, however, is inactivate the poisonous, heat-resistant toxins that these bacteria have left in our food. These toxins can make us sick within hours—and are just as capable of inducing food poisoning as the bacteria that created them in the first place.

Even if you have made the most delicious broccoli in the world, (more power to you!), food poisoning is not worth the risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans contract food poisoning each year. Of them, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Bottom Line

To tell if your broccoli has gone bad, apply common sense and trust your senses. Never eat food that smells gross and looks disgusting. And remember that heating it won’t make it safe to eat.

Don’t leave broccoli, raw or cooked, on the counter or dining table for more than 1-2 hours, and don’t store it in the fridge for more than 3-4 days. Frozen broccoli is safe to eat forever but only keeps its best quality for 6 to 9 months.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.