Cabbage is an incredibly versatile vegetable that adds fiber, vitamins, and crunchy texture to a multitude of dishes. However, like most produce, cabbage has a short shelf life. Eating spoiled cabbage can potentially cause foodborne illness.
Knowing how to choose fresh cabbage heads, proper storage methods, signs of spoilage, and when cabbage has gone bad is important. This article covers everything you need to know to maximize cabbage’s shelf life and determine if it has spoiled. We’ll discuss storage, causes of deterioration, signs of bad cabbage, freezing, food safety, and answer common questions.
Follow these guidelines for keeping your cabbage fresh, crisp, and safe to eat.
Signs of Fresh Cabbage
When selecting cabbage heads, look for the following signs of freshness:
- Tight, compact heads – Fresh cabbage feels heavy and firm with tightly packed leaves. Avoid loose, separating heads.
- Crisp, rigid leaves – Leaves should snap cleanly with a bit of force, not bend or appear limp.
- Vibrant color – Look for rich green leaves without yellowing or browning. Red cabbage should be brightly hued.
- No sliminess – Leaves should not have a moist, slick coating or release water droplets. This indicates spoilage.
- Mild cabbage aroma – Cabbage has a faint vegetable smell when fresh. Avoid odors like sulfur or rot.
- Intact outer leaves – Outer leaves protect the inner ones, so any tears or dark spots are problematic.
- Cold temperature – For longest shelf life, choose cabbage chilled in the produce section.
What Causes Cabbage to Go Bad?
Cabbage spoils quickly for a few reasons:
- High water content – Around 92% water makes an optimal environment for bacteria.
- Delicate leaves – Thin outer leaves deteriorate faster than denser heads like broccoli or cauliflower.
- Respiration – Cabbage cells continue respiring after harvest, causing gradual decline in quality.
- Physical damage – Bruising and cutting accelerates microbial and enzymatic breakdown of leaves.
- Temperature – Heat speeds up cellular breakdown. Cold storage below 40°F preserves freshness longer.
Proper post-harvest handling and refrigeration are essential to delaying cabbage spoilage.
14 Signs That Your Cabbage Is Bad
Cabbage can deteriorate quickly if stored incorrectly.
Visible Signs of Spoilage
Watch for these clear visual cues that your cabbage is past its prime:
Fresh cabbage heads should feel rigid and solid. Wilted, mushy leaves are a sure indicator that cabbage has spoiled. As moisture leaves the leaves, the cabbage loses its crunch and becomes flexible. Wilting also allows microbial growth. Discard any limp, bendable cabbage.
Yellow, brown or black spots signify spoilage. These blemishes appear as the cabbage deteriorates. Oxidation causes loss of the vibrant green color. Mold growth also leads to inky black or fuzzy grey patches. Discoloration means cabbage tissues have broken down.
3. Mold Growth
You may see fuzz, slime or hair-like tendrils growing on old cabbage heads. These mold filaments indicate fungal growth in the decaying plant tissues. Cabbage with visible mold is too far gone and potentially harmful if eaten. Mold may be white, grey, blue, green or black.
4. Rust Spots
Tiny brown or orange dots on the leaves are caused by rust fungus infection. Like other molds, this growth indicates spoilage organisms have taken hold. While rust poses no health risks, it does mean the cabbage is over the hill.
A coating of shiny slime on the cut surface signals bacterial growth. The slimy substance comes from natural plant secretions mingled with microbes. A slippery, wet texture shows advanced spoilage. Avoid any cabbage with a slimy feel.
6. Dry Appearance
As cabbage loses moisture, the leaves become limp, shriveled and dried out. This desiccation indicates the cabbage is well past edible. The leathery, wrinkled leaves have lost their juiciness and crispness.
7. Gas Pockets
Air pockets between the leaves signal spoilage. Gases are produced by microbes breaking down the leaf tissues. If you notice bubbles, puffiness or a loose head, the cabbage is deteriorating. The gas pockets create openings for more bacteria to enter.
8. Strange Odors
A foul, sulfurous scent indicates rotting. Fresh cabbage has a clean, fresh, peppery aroma. As gases leak out, the smell becomes putrid. Give your cabbage a sniff test – unpleasant odors mean it’s a gone-off.
Textural Signs of Spoilage
Along with visual cues, cabbage’s texture clearly reflects freshness:
As noted earlier, limp leaves signal loss of moisture and bacterial growth. The flexibility results from pectin and sugars being metabolized. Healthy cabbage should feel very rigid. Any rubberiness or wilt means impending spoilage.
Mushy spots on the leaves are a giveaway of deterioration. The soft, watery texture results from natural enzymes and microbes digesting plant matter. Rapid softening shows the cabbage is overripe and spoiled.
Hard, pitted spots that feel spongy or mushy indicate fungal or bacterial rots. These rots develop from infection sites like bruises or cuts. A sharp knife can reveal tunnels of rotting underneath. Any rotten spots mean cabbage should be discarded.
That slick, slimy film found on aging cabbage leaves comes from microbial secretions. The slippery texture allows bacteria to spread across the surface. Sliminess also makes the cabbage unpalatable. A good rub test can reveal spoilage slime.
13. Limp Core
A soft, bendable core reveals an over-the-hill cabbage head. The crispy core becomes flexible and thin as moisture is lost. A limp core that feels squishy or hollow is a clear warning sign.
14. Difficulty Cutting
If leaves resist slicing, the cabbage is old and tough. Fresh cabbage cuts easily. As moisture is lost, the leaves toughen. Difficulty slicing through leaves hints that the cabbage is far from crisp and fresh.
How to Store Cabbage
Cabbage is a cool-season vegetable that adds crunchy texture and flavor to many dishes. Properly storing cabbage helps maintain its freshness and prevent spoilage. Follow these guidelines for storing cabbage in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
When selecting cabbage heads for storage, look for the following qualities:
- Firm, heavy heads – Avoid loose, lightweight heads which indicate over-maturity. Heads should feel dense.
- Tight, crisp leaves – Leaves should not be wilted or blemished. Avoid cabbage with browning, yellowing or spotting.
- Good color – Opt for heads with bright, vivid green outer leaves. Pale or dull color shows age.
- Uncut stem – Heads with the stem intact last longer in storage. Avoid pre-cut cabbage.
- Youthful size – Medium, smaller heads generally have better flavor and texture than overgrown heads. Size depends on variety.
Common types of cabbage include:
- Green – Pale green heads with mild flavor. Best for cooking.
- Red – Thicker purple-red leaves with crisp texture. Holds color when cooked.
- Savoy – Ruffled dark green leaves. More delicate and tender than other varieties.
- Napa – Oblong shape with frilly, pale green leaves. Used in Asian cuisine.
Storing Whole Cabbage Heads
Whole, uncut cabbage heads can be stored for weeks if done properly:
Remove Outer Leaves
Peel off any loose, damaged outer leaves. This prevents moisture loss and decay.
Refrigerate unwashed cabbage at 32°F-40°F, in the high humidity crisper drawer. Avoid freezing temperatures which damage cell structure.
Use Plastic Bag
Place the head in a perforated plastic bag or reusable produce bag before refrigerating. Helps retain moisture.
Mist cabbage with water every 1-2 days and replace bag to keep humidity high and prevent shriveling edges.
Do not wrap cabbage in airtight materials like plastic wrap. Allow for some airflow to prevent mold and rotting.
Maximizing Fridge Life
Follow these guidelines to extend the refrigerator life of whole cabbage heads:
Inspect stored cabbage every few days and remove any leaves that become moldy or slimy. This prevents spread of decay.
Store cabbage away from ethylene-producing fruits like apples, peaches and pears. The ethylene gas will accelerate ripening and spoilage.
Avoid Freezer Burn
Do not freeze whole cabbage long-term. The frozen moisture in the leaves will lead to texture and color changes.
Watch Leaf Edges
If leaf edges start to wilt or dry out, increase humidity measures like misting and bagging. Trim any very dried edges if needed.
Cook Sooner If Smaller
Smaller cabbage heads have thinner leaves and do not store as long. Use within a week or two before significant moisture loss occurs.
Storing Cut Cabbage
Once cut and exposed to air, cabbage has a shorter fridge life. Follow these tips:
Prepared cabbage should be stored at 32°F – 40°F to slow moisture loss and microbial growth. Use refrigerator crisper drawer.
Place cut cabbage in airtight containers or bags, pressing out excess air. This prevents oxidation and limits drying out.
Plan to eat prepped cabbage within 3-5 days for best quality. Texture decline and spoilage increase after a week.
Add Moisture Barrier
Line the storage container with damp paper towels before adding cut cabbage. This creates humidity.
Avoid Wet Surfaces
Don’t let cut cabbage sit directly in water. This can cause sogginess and dilution of flavors. Drain excess liquid.
Freezing Cabbage for Later Use
Cabbage can be frozen for long-term storage:
Blanch cabbage 1-2 minutes before freezing. This stops enzyme actions that decrease flavor and color over time.
Spread blanched cabbage pieces out on a sheet pan and freeze until solid. Then transfer to freezer bags or containers.
Press out excess air and seal freezer bags tightly. Air exposure causes freezer burn. Leave 1⁄2 inch headspace in rigid containers.
Mark frozen cabbage bags or containers with contents and freeze date. Use within 8-10 months for best quality.
Frozen cabbage is better suited for cooked dishes like soups and stir fries. The texture declines too much for slaws and salads.
Cabbage Storage Timelines
Here are general guidelines for how long cabbage will last using various storage methods:
|Storage Type||Estimated Timeline|
|Whole head in fridge||2-4 weeks|
|Cut in fridge||3-5 days|
|Frozen, uncooked||8-10 months|
|Pickled||12+ months refrigerated|
Can You Get Sick from Eating Bad Cabbage?
Yes, eating spoiled, rotten cabbage can make you ill. As cabbage deteriorates, harmful bacteria like Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella can grow, contaminating the leaves. Consuming cabbage harboring these pathogenic bacteria may cause:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Headache, fever, body aches
- Fatigue, weakness
Those most at risk include the very young, elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. See a doctor if diarrhea is severe or accompanied by fever over 101 ̊F, bloody stool, dehydration, or vomiting lasting over 48 hours.
Prevent problems by inspecting cabbage closely and discarding deteriorated portions promptly. Proper refrigeration and food prep hygiene are also key. When in doubt about edibility, remember “When in doubt, throw it out”. Don’t take chances with spoiled cabbage.
Is It Safe to Eat Moldy Cabbage?
No, you should never eat cabbage with mold growth on it. Mold is a clear sign cabbage has spoiled and the spores can spread harmful mycotoxins. Consuming moldy cabbage poses a risk of foodborne illness.
Instead, discard the entire cabbage head immediately if any mold is spotted, even if it appears localized. Mold can penetrate deep into the leaves. It’s also wise to throw out adjoining cabbage heads stored alongside the moldy one, as spoilage could spread.
Washing moldy cabbage thoroughly cannot salvage it. The fungi and associated toxins often remain despite cleaning attempts. When it doubt, it’s safest to simply throw it out.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why did my cabbage get slimy in the fridge?
Slime formation on cabbage is usually caused by spoilage bacteria like Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc. It occurs when cabbage is stored too warm and in humid conditions. Prevent slime by keeping cabbage chilled at 32-40°F in breathable packaging.
2. Can I freeze whole cabbage heads?
Freezing whole raw cabbage is not recommended, as the high water content will cause limp, mushy leaves when thawed. For best results, blanch chopped cabbage before freezing for use in cooked dishes where texture isn’t as important.
3. Is it safe to eat sauerkraut past the expiration date?
Commercially packaged sauerkraut stays safe 1-2 weeks past its “best by” date if refrigerated, as the lactic acid preserves it. But discard if any mold, yeast growth, odd colors or smells develop which indicate spoilage. Homemade kraut should be frozen for long term storage.
4. Why did the inside of my cabbage turn black?
A black rot inside the core signals overmature cabbage. Once this internal decay starts, bacteria and mold growth can occur and quickly spread. Discard cabbages showing any internal blackening, as well as any adjoining heads stored with it.
5. Can you freeze cabbage soup?
Yes, cabbage soup freezes well for 2-3 months. Cool the soup completely before transferring to airtight containers, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating to serve. The cabbage will be noticeably softer after freezing.
With its high water content and thin leaves, cabbage spoils rapidly if not handled properly. Ensure you select fresh, undamaged heads, store cabbage correctly, and inspect regularly for any signs of deterioration. Discard cabbage at the first indication of slime, mold, or foul odors. Freezing can extend cabbage’s shelf life when prepared properly in cooked dishes. Following these guidelines will help you safely enjoy cabbage’s crunch, versatility and nutrients before it goes bad.