We all know a fresh, crispy salad can be a healthy and delicious addition to our meals. But what happens when those vibrant greens turn slimy?
Should you toss or compost the whole bag or container, or pick your way through the good and the bad? Knowing there have been recalls of contaminated leafy greens, it is understandable to question their safety.
To shed light on this issue, we consulted with Amanda Spina, a registered dietitian with Banner Health, who provides expert insights and tips on dealing with slimy salad greens.
Why is my salad slimy?
From arugula and kale to romaine and spinach, leafy greens tend to have the shortest shelf life of all vegetables. According to Spina, this comes down to age and bacteria.
“Like many plants after harvest, salad greens start to decay,” Spina said. “When they get old, they release more moisture (water) and become slimy.”
Bacteria naturally live on veggies. When combined with air and moisture, these greens break down faster – leading to discoloration, bad odors and slimy leaves.
Is it still OK to eat slimy salad?
“There’s a very small window between wilted and rotting leafy greens, so it’s not worth the risk,” Spina said. “The closer produce gets to rotting, the more time harmful bacteria have to multiply.”
While a stray piece of slimy lettuce probably isn’t a big deal for most people, you shouldn’t make it a regular habit. This goes for other vegetables and fruits, too.
When handling any produce, always inspect and evaluate for freshness. Use your senses. “Observe their appearance, smell and texture,” Spina said. If the greens have an off-putting odor or show signs of discoloration, it’s a sign that they may be spoiled and should be thrown out. Trust your instincts when it comes to food safety.
Can I pick out a few slimy pieces or should I toss the whole thing out?
Remove and throw away any slimy, moldy or spoiled leaves as soon as you notice them. This will help reduce the amount of moisture and gases produced.
If more than a few leaves are slimy or there is a bad smell, toss the whole package, bag or head away. It’s better to be safe than sick.
“Sometimes wilted leaves can be revived by soaking in ice water and patting dry, but they should be used immediately,” Spina said. “Once the greens are slimy, it’s better to compost them.”
Tips for keeping your leafy greens crisp
Spina shares the following steps you can take to reduce the risk of sliminess and keep your leafy greens fresh for longer.
- Buy local and fresh: Whenever possible, buy locally sourced greens. They haven’t traveled as far or as long, reducing the chances of spoilage. Farmers’ markets are great places to find local produce.
- Avoid overbuying: Places like Costco and Walmart make it easy to go overboard, even with produce. Avoid buying more than you can eat within two to five days to ensure peak freshness.
- Pick hardy greens: If possible, purchase hardy greens like kale, iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce. They have a bit longer shelf life than softer lettuces like spinach, Bibb and red leaf lettuce.
- Check bagged greens: When buying pre-washed and pre-cut bagged salad and veggies, select ones bagged on the same day for the freshest option.
- Opt for uncut produce: Buying whole heads of lettuce and cabbage may be better than pre-cut, especially when it comes to food safety. Less surface area is exposed during processing, transportation and storage, which reduces the risk of food-borne illnesses.
- Thoroughly wash greens: Always wash your greens before use to remove any dirt, bacteria or pesticides. Use running water and gently rub the leaves to ensure cleanliness. Although vinegar is sometimes used for cleaning and food safety, it won’t improve the quality or taste of your vegetables.
- Store greens properly: Pat your washed greens dry with a paper towel or salad spinner and store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Removing the excess moisture is critical to discouraging bacterial growth.
“It also helps to keep your leafy greens away from fruits like apples, pears, avocados and cantaloupes, which naturally produce ethylene gas,” Spina said. “Ethylene can accelerate decay.”
Dealing with slimy salad greens might seem tricky, but with some simple rules you can keep your salads fresh and safe to eat. Just remember to use your senses, and when in doubt, toss it out (or better yet, compost!).
If you have concerns about food safety or specific dietary needs, consult a registered dietitian at Banner Health who can give you tailored advice based on your health and preferences.