How Long Is Produce Good For?

This is the second article in a series on how long foods stay good. For the first part, see How Long Is Meat Good For?

Trying a healthier approach to eating? Many components to salad are quick to spoil. That’s because fresh foods generally lack the protections of their prepared counterparts. And while vegetables are healthy and many of us don’t eat enough of them, they are also prone to bacteria and mold growth.

But some components may not come with an expiration date. Items from the produce section of a store may not be prepackaged with a lovely date to guide you, leaving you to wonder if they are still good and safe to eat.

Here are some guidelines for common produce and salad components. As with other foods, always trust your senses to tell you if food is still good.

Lettuce and Greens

One of the problems with salads is the main components, lettuce and other greens, spoil quickly. The edges turn brown and the crispness is lost before it turns soggy and begins to smell. And there is no saving it or bringing it back. Greens do not freeze well, so don’t plan on putting them in the freezer to use at a later date.

A package of lettuce will last about 3 to 5 days beyond the date printed on the package. A package of salad greens will last for 1 to 5 days past the printed date. That’s not much time to enjoy those salads. And if you add dressing to all of it immediately, it will last for even less time, as the increased moisture will accelerate the rate of spoilage.

It is possible to buy specialty plastic containers designed to store lettuce. These products have been shown to help increase the shelf life of lettuce and greens, but by how much is still up for debate. The best advice is to store lettuce and greens in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Store them immediately to prevent further damage from bacteria, air, and humidity. Or switch to cabbage as your main green. Cabbage, by design, stays crisper for longer than other greens.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are not built to last. Nor do they generally come with helpful dates on the package. If you plan on using the tomatoes soon, it is best to leave them on the counter. You will have about 1 week after you purchase them – if fruit flies don’t drive you nuts first, that is. To keep the little buggers at bay, put a bowl of water with a teaspoon of vinegar next to the produce on the counter overnight. The flies will be drawn to the vinegar water, but will be unable to survive the experience.

In the fridge, tomatoes will last about twice as long (approximately 2 weeks). Keep them in the vegetable drawer and watch for signs of spoilage. The tomatoes will grow soft and may start leaking. These are the first signs of the tomatoes going bad. If mold appears, they are done and beyond saving.

The other tomato option is canned tomatoes. Unopened canned tomatoes will last for 12 to 18 months and still retain their original quality. They may take on a tinny taste if used beyond that. Once opened, a can of tomatoes can stay in the fridge for 7 days and still be good. Although, just be careful that you don’t get a bad can!

Keep in mind that different varieties of tomatoes may last longer than others. Trust what you see and smell and feel. And remember, moldy tomatoes cannot be saved.

Salad Dressing

Salad dressing is the icing on the cake in a healthy world. It makes all the lettuce seem more bearable and can make the lunch more interesting. There are so many different flavors! And luckily it lasts much longer than its fresh salad counter parts.

Whether unopened or opened, salad dressing can last anywhere from 1 to 4 months past the printed date on bottle. Italian dressing and vinaigrettes last longer, at about 3 to 4 months, while creamy dressings, like ranch and Caesar, last 1 to 2 months. It is best to store dressings in the fridge, though oil-based dressings do not necessarily need to be refrigerated. Keep all dressings closed tightly to prevent contaminations.

Check It Out Before Testing It Out

As with meat and dairy products, always look, smell, and feel produce before attempting to eat it. If it smells funny, feels soft or slimy, or appears to have something growing on it, toss it and buy fresh fruits and vegetables next time you head to the store.

Always remember, when in doubt, throw it out!