Does Lettuce Need to Be Refrigerated? | Storage Guide


If you have ever bought lettuce for a salad or a sandwich, you may wonder if you need to eat it all right away or if you can store it safely in the refrigerator for later use. Spotting rancid lettuce is not hard – the smell will usually tell you it is past its prime – but lettuce actually has a long shelf-life in the refrigerator if stored properly. 

Lettuce can be left out for two hours at room temperature before it must be refrigerated. Depending on the type of lettuce you purchase, it may be safe in your fridge for anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. 

Read on to find out how to store your lettuce properly in the refrigerator so you can make it last as long as possible without growing any harmful bacteria from spoiled lettuce.

How to Store Lettuce Properly

Storing lettuce can be tricky, as too much air and moisture will cause the leaves to get soggy and wilt, but too little will not allow the lettuce to stay crisp. You can store your lettuce as individual leaves or a full head of lettuce by following these steps to make sure they stay crisp and tasty while also not wilting and getting soggy too early: 

Full head of lettuce:

  • Wrap the clean head of lettuce in a paper towel that is damp but not soaked
  • Put the wrapped full head of lettuce in a plastic bag
  • Store the bagged head of lettuce in the refrigerator 

Individual lettuce leaves:

  • Wash and spin them dry in a lettuce spinner or pat them dry with a paper towel
  • Store them in a lettuce keeper or another container 

Storing individual lettuce leaves in a lettuce keeper is best for avoiding bacteria build-up because it allows proper airflow to maintain the leaves. However, you can use a plastic bag as long as you make sure the lettuce has proper airflow by keeping a corner of the bag open. They can also be wrapped in a paper towel and kept in the crisper drawer. 

Pro Tip: Make sure you replace the paper towels every day or so because they will start to get too damp and cause the lettuce to wilt.

You will also want to keep the lettuce away from any ethylene fruits, such as tomatoes, avocados, apples, and pears, because they release gas as the fruits begin to ripe, which could cause the lettuce to age early. 

Do You Have to Refrigerate Heads of Lettuce?

The best way to keep a head of lettuce fresh is to keep it sealed and unwashed in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Heads of lettuce have a long shelf-life in the refrigerator – anywhere from one to three weeks – so you can buy it early and store it safely in the refrigerator for weeks until it is ready to be used. 

The best way to store your head of lettuce is in the crisper drawer on top of a few paper towels. That way, the paper towels will absorb any excess moisture from the head of lettuce so that it does not spoil too soon. You should never leave lettuce out for more than two hours at room temperature.

How Long Does Lettuce Last in the Fridge?

There is no universal answer to how long lettuce lasts in the fridge because it depends on how you store your lettuce and what type of lettuce you are storing. If you store your lettuce properly, loose-leaf lettuce can last anywhere from a week to 10 days in the refrigerator. Full heads of lettuce can last even longer, and below is a general guide: 

  • Full head of lettuce – 1 to 3 weeks
  • Loose-leaf lettuce – 7 to 10 days
  • Spinach – 5 to 7 days
  • Arugula – 2 to 5 days
  • Kale – 5 to 7 days 

Answering the question of how long lettuce can last in the refrigerator ultimately depends on the type of lettuce and whether it is loose-leaf versus a full head. Yet, the guide above can help determine whether your lettuce is still good to eat after a few days left in the refrigerator. 

How Long Can Lettuce be Out of the Refrigerator?

You can leave your lettuce out of the refrigerator for around two hours at room temperature or a maximum of one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You should refrigerate your lettuce, no matter the type, after two hours of sitting out. If you leave your lettuce out for more than two hours, you are risking the growth of harmful bacteria on the leaves. 

What Happens to Lettuce if Not Refrigerated?

If you do not refrigerate your lettuce after a maximum of two hours, you are risking the growth and multiplying of harmful bacteria that could make your family sick. This means if you pack a sandwich for lunch with lettuce and you think it will sit out for more than two hours, you should pack it in ice so that the coldness mirrors a refrigerator. 

Using ice packs or frozen gel packs is the perfect way to keep your lettuce fresh without refrigeration. The type of lettuce will also determine keeping lettuce fresh, but all of them should be refrigerated after that two-hour span.

Is Lettuce Safe to Eat if Not Refrigerated?

You will need to stick by the two-hour rule for safely eating lettuce that has not been refrigerated and the one-hour rule for lettuce left out in warmer temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. 

This means if you leave out a salad on a hot day and it has been more than an hour, it is better to throw away the remains that risk getting sick from bad lettuce. 

How Long Can Bagged Salad Sit Out?

Just like regular lettuce, bagged salad can sit out for two hours before bacteria may begin to set in. Bacteria actually grow very fast when lettuce is left out in temperatures ranging from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also true for bagged salad. 

An unopened bag of salad can be stored in the refrigerator for a week to ten days, so you can feel safe purchasing it early and keeping it in the fridge for later use. 

How Do You Keep Lettuce Fresh Without Refrigeration?

Because lettuce is vulnerable to both bruising and bacteria growth, it is not recommended to keep lettuce fresh without refrigeration. As noted above, using ice packs or frozen gel packs in a cooler or lunch box could help mirror the safety of a refrigerator. If it starts to wilt, you can do the following to bring your lettuce back: 

  • Soak the lettuce in ice water for up to thirty minutes
  • Gently remove the lettuce from the ice water onto a paper towel
  • Pat try the lettuce dry and then store it properly with ice or gel packs 

Pro Tip: Although lettuce should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, you can pack it in ice or gel packs to help retain its crispness and keep away nasty bacteria if you are not near a refrigerator. 

How Do You Know When Lettuce is Bad?

Head of Lettuce

Lettuce has a pretty long shelf-life in the refrigerator, but eventually, all foods will go bad even in the refrigerator. Below are some things to look for so that you will know if your lettuce has gone bad: 

  • Brown or black leaves signify the lettuce is beginning to rot
  • The lettuce is slimy
  • It has a strong, rotten smell
  • The leaves have begun to wilt, droop, or become wrinkled

Fresh lettuce never smells, so that is a sure sign that your lettuce has gone bad. It is also crisp, and firm, so wilting and drooping lettuce should be handled with care. You can try soaking it in ice water for 30 minutes, but if the lettuce has begun rotting, it should be thrown away. 

Final Thoughts

The next time you purchase that crisp, green lettuce, you can now take the proper precautions to make sure you store any leftovers properly in the refrigerator for the appropriate amount of time.

I hope this article has been helpful.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss 10 Best Types of Cheese to Put on Nachos.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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