can you eat lettuce that is turning red

Geez! What is that rusty stuff on my lettuce – can you eat lettuce that is turning red, and why on earth is it changing color anyway?

Your lettuce has a gorgeous shade of deep green, which is so lovely. But, the next moment, it develops rusty, crimson patches.

You are not alone if you have pondered whether or not it is harmful to include red lettuce in your meals.

Indeed, the reply could catch you off guard. So, is it okay to eat lettuce that is turning red?

It may look weird but it is generally safe to eat your lettuce even if it is turning red.

Tip: Be mindful of where to store your lettuce and keep it with fruits and veggies that can survive in high humidity. 

Can You Eat Lettuce That Is Turning Red or Not?

eating lettuce turning red

Each year, Americans throw away more than 70 billion pounds of food.

It does not decompose in the environment once it is transported there.

And it releases methane, a gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

As a result, we need to do everything in our power to stretch the food we have as far as it will go.

And know when it is actually time to discard something, and thankfully, red lettuce is still very much usable. 

Why Does Lettuce Turn Red in the First Place?

Whether you get pre-washed lettuce or straight from the produce department, you might notice some parts with a rusty red tint.

It scares you and makes you wonder if it is okay to buy it.

iceberg lettuce red stem

Turns out, it happens due to oxidization and is usually nothing to be afraid of.

This occurs most frequently with iceberg and romaine lettuce when a knife is used to cut it rather than tearing it. 

What Causes Lettuce to Change Color?

Oxygen finds its way to the lettuce’s cells when you chop or break it.

This triggers the production of an enzyme that causes the lettuce to change color and become more red.

Another possible explanation for lettuce turning red is its exposure to ethylene gas.

It happens when you store your lettuce with other fruits and veggies that release ethylene as they ripen. 

Will It Hurt to Eat Lettuce That is Turning Red?

will it hurt eating lettuce

Probably not!

There are varieties of crimson or maroon lettuce that grow in nature.

In this case, the reddening is not a positive sign because it is usually followed by wilting. The reddened lettuce is still edible, though.

The enzymes will not harm you at this point, but the lettuce will not taste or be as healthy as it once did.

It also does not look very appealing. 

Should You Throw Red Lettuce Away?

red green lettuce variety

Do not discard your iceberg or romaine lettuce just because it has turned slightly rusty red.

Some red spots or blotches on the lettuce are normal, according to experts. The red part can be lopped out, of course.

So the point is, red lettuce can be safely consumed, and this is excellent news for both your money and the environment.

Tip: Opt for a produce bag to find a reliable and easy-to-use way to limit moisture and help the lettuce last longer.  

How Long Does Lettuce Stay Good after Turning Red?

It depends mainly on how closely you follow the guidelines to store your lettuce.

The type of lettuce you store will also have an impact.

romaine lettuce

When stored in the fridge:

  • Leaf lettuce, such as green leaf and butterhead, may last up to 7-10 days
  • Head lettuce, such as romaine and iceberg, may stay good for 7-21 days
  • Lettuce leaves are likely to remain fresh and usable for up to 7 days 

How Do You Tell Red Lettuce is Spoiled?

Finding red spots on lettuce does not necessarily mean it is bad. But, there are signs you need to throw it away.

You should not eat it if you notice that the leaves have turned darker and the whole piece feels soggy.

Do you also notice a bad smell coming out of your lettuce?

It may have gone bad, which is why nine times out of ten, you will have to toss your lettuce.

Can You Use Some Parts of a Spoiled Lettuce?

spoiled lettuce

In most cases, though, you may still use the head even if it has been in the fridge for a while.

It is common practice to discard the few outermost leaves of  crisphead lettuce before deciding whether or not the head is still fresh.

Sometimes, just a couple of the outer leaves need to be stripped away.

But, there are instances where the underside remains dark or slimy even after removing 3-4 layers of the leaves, which is not a good sign.

However, if only a small section of a leaf is damaged, you do not have to throw it away.

If black edges or discolored parts irritate you, just trim them off and use what is left.  

Tip: Store lettuce with other thin-skinned veggies because they are ethylene-sensitive and won't cause the lettuce to turn red. 

How Do You Prevent Lettuce from Turning Red?

how to prevent lettuce turning red

It is all about controlling humidity if you want your lettuce to last as long as possible.

To maintain its crisp texture, lettuce needs to be damp, but not drenched. Quite a delicate equilibrium, indeed. 

How to Control Humidity?

The simplest and most hands-off technique to regulate humidity is to maintain proper airflow.

This way, the lettuce can expel surplus water, but not so much that it dries out.

Keeping the lettuce in a plastic bag with a little hole cut is the simplest approach to ensure that it receives enough oxygen.

Your crisper drawer or refrigerator humidity will determine how much of the bag you can open. 

Condensation in the bag is desirable, but not too much.  But, seal the bag more carefully if you notice no condensation causing leaves to become dry. 

Where to Store?

stored lettuce in fridge

Keep lettuce separated from peaches, pears, apples, and tomatoes because of the ethylene gas they release.

Remember, those brown and red patches on the leaves are caused by an excess of ethylene. 

Is It Okay to Wash Lettuce Before Storage?

If posed this question, most individuals would likely respond that no, produce should not be washed before storing.

It is common to wash it immediately before using it. And washing lettuce in that fashion is one option.

On the other hand, some shoppers prefer to wash their lettuce (particularly loose-leaf varieties) at home before storing it.

This allows them to get rid of any slimy, damaged, or wilted leaves. 

Next up, all you have to do is rinse it under running water, and then dry it on paper towels or in a salad spinner.

The benefit of this approach is that the remaining greens will retain their quality for longer. 

wash lettuce

How to Minimize Moisture to Keep Lettuce from Turning Red?

To ensure you never again have to deal with smelly, slimy, and wilted lettuce, you need to remember a few things.

You will be able to keep lettuce and your greens fresh if you can limit the exposure to moisture, and you can use many ways to do it.

Use Napkins

For this purpose, you can always use the napkins you receive with your takeout order

You can simply wrap your lettuce in them or place them on top of your storage container to keep lettuce from becoming soggy. 

Opt for a Cotton Cloth

Use a clean cotton cloth to wrap your lettuce. Simply place one at the top or bottom of the container to keep them fresh.

It will absorb the extra moisture and preserve the crispness of your lettuce. 

Invest in a Salad Spinner

use salad spinner

One more fantastic strategy to prevent moisture is to use a salad spinner.

Simply store the lettuce in an airtight container after washing in cold water and spinning it dry.

Tip: Always buy as much lettuce as you can use within a short time because the leaves will eventually turn red no matter how you store them. 


 Lettuce comes in a wide variety of colors, from light pinks to greens to deep reds.

Really, it is not always the standard green used in most wedge salads and deli sandwiches. 

But, it is naturally confusing to see lettuce turning red, which inspires a reaction, “can you eat lettuce that is turning red or should you throw it away?”

Thankfully, no damage is done at this stage, but it also indicates that you should use your lettuce as soon as you can to avoid further deterioration.