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How to Tell if Broccoli Has Gone Bad? [5 Signs & Storage Tips]

How to Tell if Broccoli Has Gone Bad

Broccoli is a nutrient-rich vegetable that can go bad quickly if not stored properly. Knowing how to determine if broccoli has spoiled can help you avoid consuming rotten produce. This article will cover signs of fresh and bad broccoli, causes of spoilage, proper storage methods, whether it’s safe to eat moldy broccoli, and how long broccoli lasts in the fridge or freezer. Following these guidelines will ensure you can enjoy this healthy vegetable before it deteriorates.

Signs of Fresh Broccoli

Fresh Broccoli

Here are indications that broccoli is still fresh and good to eat:

  • Tightly closed florets. The buds should be completely closed, not flowering open.
  • Bright green color. Look for vibrant, deep green heads.
  • Firm stalks. The stems should feel rigid and snap crisply when bent.
  • No discoloration. The heads should lack yellow or brown spots.
  • No odor. Fresh broccoli has minimal scent.

If broccoli has dulling color, opening florets, soft stems, spots or smell, it is likely spoiling.

What Causes Broccoli to Spoil

There are several reasons broccoli goes bad quickly:

  • Spoilage microbes. Bacteria and molds can proliferate on broccoli if stored improperly, causing rotting and foul smells.
  • Humidity. Excess moisture makes broccoli slimy and accelerates spoilage.
  • Physical damage. Bruising, cutting and other injury hastens microbial growth and tissue breakdown.
  • Temperature. Heat causes nutrients in broccoli to degrade faster. Refrigeration slows this.

Proper temperature and storage can greatly extend broccoli’s shelf life.

5 Signs That Your Broccoli Is Bad

Here are the main signs that your broccoli has spoiled and should be discarded:

Broccoli Is Bad

1. Change in Color

Fresh broccoli has a rich green color. As it starts to spoil, the heads will turn a faded olive green or brownish hue.

Discoloration starts in the florets and spreads downward onto the stalks. Broccoli that is limp and off-color is well past its prime.

Key Point: The color changes from bright green to dull olive green or brownish.

2. Slimy Texture

Fresh broccoli has a firm, crunchy texture. As it goes bad, the texture becomes increasingly slimy and mushy. If your broccoli feels slimy or mushy when you touch it, do not eat it.

The slime is caused by naturally-occurring bacteria that produce a slimy film on the surface. Consuming this slime puts you at risk of foodborne illness.

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Key Point: Broccoli loses its crispiness and gets a slimy feel when it spoils.

3. Strong Odor

Fresh broccoli has a mild grassy smell. Rotten broccoli gives off a noticeably stronger, unpleasant odor.

Some describe the stench of spoiled broccoli as pungent, sulfur-like or rotten. If you notice a foul odor coming from the vegetable, do not risk eating it.

Key Point: There is a clear foul, sulfur-like smell when broccoli goes bad.

4. Mold Growth

The appearance of mold is a definite sign your broccoli is no longer edible. You may notice fuzzy white, black, green or blue mold growing on the florets or stems.

Mold spores give the broccoli a “dusty” appearance. Never eat broccoli with visible mold growth, as the mold and invisible toxins can cause health issues.

Key Point: Mold growth, usually in the florets, is a clear giveaway that broccoli is spoiled.

5. Water-Soaked Appearance

As broccoli starts to decay, it becomes water-soaked and mushy. Bacteria and naturally-occurring enzymes break down the plant’s cell structure, causing moisture to accumulate.

The florets and stalks appear heavy, water-logged and translucent. Wet, mushy broccoli is a haven for microbial growth and potential food poisoning.

Key Point: Decaying broccoli takes on a water-soaked, translucent appearance.

How to Tell if Cooked Broccoli is Bad?

The signs of spoilage differ slightly for cooked broccoli stored in the refrigerator:

  • Change in texture: Cooked broccoli starts to become mushy.
  • Change in color: It dulls to an olive green or brownish color.
  • Mold growth: You may see mold growing on old cooked broccoli stored in the fridge.
  • Unpleasant sour smell: A pungent sour or fermented smell indicates spoilage.
  • Slimy texture: Cooked broccoli develops a slimy layer on the surface when it starts to go bad.

Cooked broccoli will stay good for 3–5 days when stored properly in an airtight container in the fridge. If you notice any of the above signs, it’s best to discard it.

How to Store Broccoli?

Knowing the proper techniques for storing broccoli can help you keep it fresh and flavorful for longer.

Broccoli Storage Overview

Short vs. Long Term Broccoli Storage

Short Term Long Term
Duration 3-5 days 7-14 days
Form Whole heads Whole heads
Bag Type Perforated Loose/perforated
Conditions Refrigerator drawer High humidity crisper or freezer

The key factors that affect broccoli storage include:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Ventilation
  • Storage method
  • Damage/bruising

Keeping broccoli cold, humid, and free of excess moisture or damage will optimize its shelf life. Here is an overview of effective broccoli storage methods:

Short-Term Storage

  • Store unwashed in perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for 3-5 days.

Long-Term Storage

  • Store in humid crisper drawer for up to 1 week.
  • Keep unwashed heads whole in loose or perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator for 10-14 days.
  • Freeze broccoli florets for 8-12 months.

Proper broccoli storage helps retain flavor, texture, color, and nutrients. Read on for more details on the best techniques for both short and long term storage.

How to Store Broccoli Short Term

For retaining the best taste and texture of fresh broccoli for a short time, follow these guidelines:

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Do Not Wash Before Storing

Washing broccoli before storage causes it to spoil faster. The added moisture accelerates deterioration. Store heads of broccoli unwashed, then rinse just before use.

Use Perforated Bags

Place unwashed heads of broccoli in perforated plastic bags or reusable mesh produce bags. The openings allow for some air circulation while retaining humidity.


Keep broccoli refrigerated at all times, as improper temperatures hasten spoilage. Store broccoli in the high humidity crisper drawer set at 32-34°F if possible.

Avoid Moisture Buildup

Excess moisture causes broccoli florets to get soggy and mold to grow. Pat heads dry with a paper towel before storing in vented bags.

Check for Damage

Inspect heads and refrain from storing broccoli with signs of damage, yellowing, or moisture. Any existing damage will worsen quickly during storage.

Use Within 3-5 Days

For best quality and flavor, use fresh broccoli within 3-5 days of purchasing. Broccoli stored properly in this manner retains its texture and vitamin C content.

Follow these short term storage steps, and broccoli bought from the grocery store will stay fresh and ready to use in recipes for several days.

Storing Broccoli Long Term

It is possible to store fresh broccoli for longer periods up to 2 weeks by using additional methods. Here are tips for long term storage:

Leave Heads Whole

Leaving broccoli heads intact rather than chopping into florets preserves freshness for longer storage duration.

Use Loose or Perforated Bags

The entire head should be placed in a loose or vented plastic produce bag. This prevents excess moisture from being trapped inside.

Optimal Crisper Conditions

The ideal conditions for long term broccoli storage are in a refrigerator crisper drawer set between 32-34°F with high humidity between 90-95%.

Optimal Freezer Conditions

Flash freeze broccoli florets on a sheet pan before transferring to freezer bags. Store frozen broccoli at 0°F or below for 8-12 months.

Check Regularly

Inspect stored broccoli every 2-3 days and remove any pieces showing signs of spoilage. Prioritize using broccoli stored this way within 7-10 days for best quality.

Can Spoiled Broccoli Make You Sick?

Yes, consuming broccoli that has spoiled can lead to foodborne illness. The main concerns are bacteria and mold toxins.


Decaying broccoli provides an ideal environment for potentially pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium botulinum and E. coli to rapidly multiply to dangerous levels.

Eating the contaminated vegetable can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, nausea and abdominal pain in as little as 1-7 days after exposure.

At-risk groups like children, pregnant women, elderly and immune compromised individuals are more likely to become severely ill.

Mold Toxins

Some molds that colonize spoiled produce can release toxic compounds known as mycotoxins. Consuming high levels of these toxins may cause adverse health effects.

However, human sickness directly due to ingesting mycotoxins on produce seems rare. Still, it’s smart to avoid broccoli with any mold growth.

Key Point: Contamination with pathogenic bacteria and mold toxins can make spoiled broccoli unsafe for consumption.

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Can You Salvage Spoiled Broccoli?

No. There is no safe way to salvage broccoli that has clearly spoiled. The vegetables should be promptly discarded in the garbage or compost pile.

Do not attempt to prepare and eat broccoli that is slimy, moldy or has an off smell or appearance. Cooking does not destroy many of the potential toxins and may even break down more mycotoxins from mold.

Likewise, cutting away moldy or rotten parts of the vegetable does not make the rest safe for eating. Toxins likely have spread to other parts of the broccoli. Play it safe and throw all spoiled broccoli away.

Key Point: Spoiled broccoli and its juice should always be discarded and not consumed. Do not try to cook or salvage broccoli that has gone bad.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you freeze broccoli that is about to go bad?

Yes, broccoli that is still fresh but close to spoiling can be blanched and frozen to stop the deterioration process. Trim and wash it first, then boil or steam for 3-4 minutes. Cool, dry thoroughly and seal in a freezer bag. Use within 8-12 months.

2. Is yellow or brown broccoli still ok to eat?

No, broccoli that has turned noticeably yellow, brown or olive drab is past its prime. Discoloration signals that deterioration has begun, making it risky to consume. Even refrigerated, broccoli with this coloring should be discarded.

3. Should cut broccoli be refrigerated right away?

Yes, it is important to refrigerate cut broccoli immediately in an airtight container. Leaving broccoli pieces exposed to air at room temperature greatly accelerates spoilage. Refrigeration helps slow bacterial overgrowth and deterioration.

4. How long does frozen broccoli last past the use-by date?

Frozen broccoli that has been properly stored at 0°F or below can typically last for 3 to 4 months past the use-by date printed on the package. It may still be safe beyond that time, but quality slowly declines. Always inspect for ice crystals, off color or odor before using very old frozen broccoli.

5. Can fermenting revive spoiled broccoli?

No, fermenting broccoli that has visible spoilage or an off smell is not recommended. The naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria used in controlled vegetable fermentation require produce that is fresh and high quality to start with. Attempting to ferment spoiled broccoli risks serious foodborne illness.


Catching broccoli spoilage early allows you to either freeze it for later use, or discard it before consuming something harmful. Follow the recommended storage guidelines to maximize the shelf life and inspect broccoli carefully for signs of deterioration before eating. With proper handling, this nutritious vegetable can stay fresh and delicious. Discard any broccoli that shows soggy, mushy or discolored parts rather than risk getting sick from spoiled produce.

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