If you keep spinach too long, it will go bad. Watch for these signs and throw the spinach on the compost pile if it shows them.
There’s a good reason why spinach was Popeye the Sailor’s favorite food. This leafy green is rich not only in fiber, but also in iron, folic acid, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, C, and K.
The superfood that it is, spinach is sold in any decent supermarket and is almost always reasonably priced, especially when compared to other leafy greens in the fresh produce section. And it keeps for a really long time! As Corey Williams explains for Allrecipes, spinach will last up to 10 days if you refrigerate it properly.
Alas, spinach doesn’t last forever. Sooner or later, this leafy green goes bad. When it does, there’s no more room for it on the dining table. Spinach gone bad can make you sick, and so the only good place for it is the compost heap.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not the spinach in your fridge has gone bad, refrain from eating or cooking it until you’ve seen our guide below.
How to Tell If Spinach Has Gone Bad
If you know what to look for, you can learn a lot about the freshness of spinach from its look, smell and feel.
If the spinach in your fridge looks bruised and wilted, has dark green patches, and is covered in slimy goo, it means it’s spoiled and should be thrown away.
Baby spinach has a tendency to spoil faster than mature spinach. That said, all spinach is at its best the moment you bring it back home from the grocery store, and its quality deteriorates the longer you store it. So to get the best taste and texture, don’t wait too long to use it up.
1. Look Over It
Fresh spinach should appear wholesome and tender. It should have a bright green color, with slightly darker ribs and veins on the leaves, as if it has just been harvested from the field.
Spinach gone bad looks bruised or wilted. Dark green patches appear on the leaves, and the spinach gets covered with a slimy ooze. This slimy ooze is a sign of decay, experts say, and that the spinach may no longer be edible.
2. Give It a Sniff
Fresh spinach should have a subtle and barely perceptible smell. It should smell leafy and recent, like kale or a crisp head of lettuce, and a little like dry earth.
If the spinach smells sour, musty, or medicinal, don’t eat or cook it. All of these odors are signs of bacterial and fungal activity, and they indicate that the spinach may no longer be safe to eat.
3. Do the Touch Test
Last but not least is the touch test.
Take a few spinach leaves in your hand and hold them. Fresh spinach feels dry and crisp; spoiled spinach feels wet and spongy.
Ask yourself, do the spinach leaves feel firm and alive in your hand, or are they soft and lifeless? When you pinch a leaf, does it get bruised but keep its shape, or does it crumble between your fingers?
This gives you subtle—but very important–clues about the freshness of your spinach.
Can Spoiled Spinach Make You Sick?
Don’t eat spoiled spinach because it can give you food poisoning, even after thermal treatment.
Although the bacteria, fungi, and yeasts that make spinach spoil are generally harmless, they’re not the only type of microorganisms that grow on the leaves. Spinach can harbor disease-causing bacteria such as Cyclospora, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella.
These disease-causing bacteria, called pathogens, multiply quickly at room temperature and slowly in the fridge. By the time that bunch of spinach has spoiled, they may have multiplied to harmful numbers that cause potentially life-threatening food-borne illness.
How to Buy the Freshest Spinach
Cookbook author Getty Stewart recommends buying locally grown spinach at the farmers market if you can. Not only does this support the local community, she says, but it’s also the freshest because it has not traveled as far or been stored as long as its store-bought counterpart.
If this isn’t possible, just choose your spinach well at the grocery store.
Spinach is sold in bunches, in bags, and in plastic containers. Of these, spinach in plastic containers has the longest shelf life because it’s often packaged in a protective atmosphere that prevents oxidation.
In Keys to Good Cooking, American writer Harold McGee advises choosing spinach with small, flat, and fresh-looking leaves. He says to avoid thick leaves with thick ribs and veins unless we want to cook them, as they are too tough and chewy for salads.
Baby spinach is more tender than mature spinach. However, if you want to use it in salads, keep in mind that baby spinach leaves are also more likely to harbor disease-causing bacteria that live in the dirt.
Read more: Can Raw Spinach Go in Salad?
Spinach can (and very often does) go bad. When it does, look for the unmistakable signs of bruising, wilting, and slime on the leaves. And remember food safety rule number one: “When in doubt, throw it out.”