We all know the magic of refrigerators keeps our perishable goods from going bad right away. However, sometimes you forget to pop your food into the fridge to keep it from turning. While food usually doesn’t spoil right away, it won’t last forever sitting on the countertop. Lettuce, like other leafy greens, keeps better in colder temps, but what if you leave it out?
So, exactly how long does lettuce last unrefrigerated? You should not leave lettuce out for longer than 2 hours. Any more than a couple of hours and lettuce begins to wilt and spoil. Bacteria grows rapidly on fresh produce. You don’t want to eat lettuce once it starts hosting unfriendly residents like e. Coli or salmonella.
The reason you shouldn’t leave your lettuce out longer than a couple hours is because warmer temperatures allow for bacterial growth. Food safety dictates you store perishable items below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer, and bacteria grows on your food item.
Bacteria thrives in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, when you cook foods, you want to ensure the core temperature rises above 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria. Nasty, microscopic bacteria make food dangerous when improperly prepared or stored.
If you happen to consume spoiled lettuce, you may become sick. Ingesting bacteria invites unwanted organisms into your body. As a result, your body will fight them off like any other infection. Just as you would experience with a flu, you could experience various unpleasant symptoms.
Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal pain result from various bacteria that grow on spoiled lettuce. Depending on the type of infection that results, your symptoms may be mild to severe. It is best to consult with a doctor in the event you experience food poisoning. Monitor the progress of your illness and prepare to visit the hospital if things turn for the worse.
Usually, if lettuce goes bad, you want to throw it in the garbage. It’s safer to assume the greens will make you sick than to chance it. However, to make extra certain your lettuce is safe to eat when it has sat out for up to two hours, you may use a vinegar solution.
Mix 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, submerge the lettuce in the mixture, wash, then rinse with cold water. This method cleans away bacteria that may be present on the lettuce from handling. It’s a step up from simply rinsing the leaves in cold water.
The general rule of thumb for all greens remains 2 hours. If they sit out longer than two hours at room temperature, assume bacteria made its way onto your food. Throw it out! The cost of replacing lettuce pales in comparison to the cost of sickness.
You might think lettuce heads last longer. After all, their leaves aren’t spread and exposed like bagged greens. While heads of lettuce last longer unrefrigerated than broken up lettuce, there is still a chance after two hours that it’s gone bad.
It’s a bummer wasting food, but it’s a bigger bummer spending the next day in the bathroom. Spare yourself the gastrointestinal strife. Throw out warm lettuce.
If you forget to store your lettuce in the fridge, don’t fret. You’ve got up to 2 hours before you need to throw it out. However, if you miss the window, just replace it. Even a wash doesn’t guarantee clean greens. Once spoiled, you can’t resurrect produce.
The answer is a short and simple: no. 2 hours, no longer. Just like other food items that require refrigeration, lettuce needs to be stored as soon as possible.
Just like lettuce, other leafy greens only last 2 hours at room temperature. That means kale, raw spinach, and cabbage all require refrigeration within 2 hours of purchase. Any longer and kale grows bacteria, same as lettuce.
Basil stands as an exception. Despite being a highly perishable leaf, basil stores better at room temperature. When refrigerated, basil wilts, growing dark and spoiling. Fresh basil lasts 7 to 10 days unrefrigerated – which is the best way of storing basil and retaining its delicious flavor.