Why You Should Think Twice Before Buying Bagged Lettuce

The appeal of bagged lettuce is undeniable: Who wouldn't love to whip up a refreshing salad without the hassle of prep work? Just picture it — tossing together a salad by simply pouring it out from a bag and drizzling on a flavorful dressing. But, hold on a second. Those convenient bags of lettuce might not be as great as they seem.

You may have noticed that pre-cut lettuce always seems to taste a bit off. That's because wounds cause an increase in polyphenol compounds in the lettuce leaves, resulting in browning and a bitter taste. The wounds also speed up spoilage, slashing the lettuce's shelf life down to three to five days, whereas a whole head of lettuce can stay fresh for a week or two in your fridge. There's also the price tag to consider. Bagged lettuce can set you back three times as much of the same weight as a whole lettuce head. For instance, at Target, bagged lettuce costs 35 cents per ounce, whereas whole lettuce heads go for 13 cents per ounce.

You're probably aware that lettuce is a high-risk veggie when it comes to contamination by nasty bacteria and viruses. But here's the kicker: Some of those germs can hang out inside the leaves, sneaking into the open wounds on pre-cut lettuce and happily multiplying. This is what leads to the frequent FDA recalls of chopped salad kits.

The rad way to stay salad-ready

Just because bagged lettuce is off the table doesn't mean you can't have instant, delicious salads on demand: There's always the option to buy whole lettuce heads and prepare them ahead of time, but only cut them right before use. 

To start off like a pro, wash your hands before prepping the lettuce. Take the lettuce heads, chop off the stems, and remove the outer leaves. Then, give each lettuce leaf a thorough rinse under running water. Afterward, gently pat those leaves dry with some thick paper towels. Remember, lettuce hates excess moisture, which can speed up spoilage. Alternatively, if you've got a salad spinner handy, give those leaves a twirl, but keep it very, very gentle to keep the delicate leaves bruise-free. The next step is to pop them into a ziplock bag or airtight container. Toss in a few paper towels to soak up any lingering moisture, and tuck them into the fridge. When your salad craving hits, it takes only 30 seconds to take them out and chop them away.

While whole lettuce leaves aren't germ-proof, they do have fewer exposed wounds compared to the shredded type, thus slower spoilage and also fewer chances for germs to camp out inside. Sure, preparing the leaves requires a little extra effort, but it's a small price to pay for crisp, fresh greens and your peace of mind.