Celery is a versatile vegetable that adds crunch and fresh flavor to so many dishes. However, like most produce, it has a relatively short shelf life. Eating spoiled celery can potentially cause foodborne illness.
Knowing how to identify signs of freshness, properly store celery, and recognize when it’s gone bad is key. This article covers everything you need to know to maximize celery’s shelf life and determine if it has spoiled. We’ll discuss storage methods, what causes it to deteriorate, how to tell if your celery has gone bad, freezing celery, food safety, and answer common questions.
Follow these guidelines for keeping your celery crispy and enjoying it before it spoils.
Signs of Fresh Celery
When selecting celery heads, look for these signs of freshness:
- Crunchy, snappy stalks – Fresh celery should make a snapping sound when pulled apart. Avoid rubbery, limp stalks.
- Vibrant green leaves – Leaves should be bright green without yellowing or browning.
- Tightly formed head – Stalks should be close together and not separating.
- No discoloration – Celery should be pale green to white in color. Avoid brown or black spots.
- No sliminess – There should be no slick, slimy coating on the stalks.
- Fresh aroma – Celery has a bright, grassy smell when fresh. Avoid musty odors.
- Cold temperature – For longest shelf life, choose celery chilled in the produce section.
Start with the freshest celery possible by inspecting heads thoroughly before purchasing.
What Causes Celery to Go Bad?
Celery is highly prone to spoilage for several reasons:
- High moisture content – Around 95% water makes for an optimal environment for bacteria.
- Vulnerable structure – Thin stalks deteriorate faster than thicker produce.
- Sensitivity to ethylene – Celery ripens faster when exposed to ethylene-emitting fruits and vegetables.
- Easily bruised – Damage to stalks accelerates microbial spoilage.
- Fast respiration – Celery continues respiring rapidly after harvest, causing it to wilt.
Once harvested, oxydation, moisture loss, and microbial growth quickly lower quality. Proper post-harvest handling is essential.
3 Signs That Your Celery Is Bad
Celery has a notoriously short shelf life and can go bad quickly if not stored properly. Knowing the signs that indicate your celery has spoiled can help you avoid eating bad celery that could make you sick.
1. Visual Signs of Spoiled Celery
There are some clear visual cues that will tell you if your celery has spoiled and should be discarded. Here are the main things to look out for:
Wilting or Limp Stalks
Fresh celery should have rigid, crisp stalks. Wilted or limp celery stalks are a sure sign that the celery has spoiled. As celery goes bad, the stalks lose their firmness and begin to droop and wilt. If your celery stalks have become bendy, flexible and limp, the celery is well past its prime and should not be eaten.
Brown or Black Spots
Another clear visual indicator of spoiled celery is brown, black or grey spots on the stalks. These blemishes indicate the celery is rotting and mold is beginning to grow. Spots that are darker than the normal light green color of celery are a bad sign. Avoid eating celery with any of these discolored spots.
You may also begin to see fuzzy mold growing on old celery. Mold will start off as tiny spots and eventually grow to cover the entire stalk. Mold on celery may be white, grey, green or blue in color. No matter what color it is, celery with visible mold is too far gone and should be thrown out. Consuming moldy foods like celery can cause digestive issues.
2. Damaged or Bruised Stalks
While intact and undamaged celery can last around 2 weeks in the fridge, bruised, damaged or cut celery will spoil much faster. Once the stalks are broken or cut, the celery releases ethylene gas that speeds up spoilage. Damaged areas are also more prone to growing mold. Inspect your celery and discard any stalks that are bruised, wilted or injured.
A clear sign that celery has spoiled is a slimy or mushy texture. Fresh celery should be very crisp. If the stalks feel slimy or take on a mushy, waterlogged texture, this indicates bacterial growth. The slimy texture results from celery tissues breaking down. Avoid eating celery with a softened or slimy texture, as it can contain harmful bacteria.
While celery is naturally light green, some discoloration or spots can indicate spoilage. Yellow, brown and black spots have already been covered. But you should also watch out for other off colors like translucent areas, dark green spots or areas that appear greyish or dull. The vibrant green color tends to fade as celery goes bad. Any strange colors can signal the celery is past its prime.
In addition to limpness, spoiled celery may begin to wrinkle. The stalks will appear puckered, shriveled and wrinkled, often with grooves along the sides. This wrinkling occurs as the celery starts to dry out and shrivel up. Old, wrinkled celery is a warning sign it has exceeded its shelf life and should be discarded.
3. Smell and Taste Signs of Spoiled Celery
In addition to changes in appearance, spoiled celery will often smell and taste off. Rely on your senses of smell and taste to pick up on signs that your celery has gone bad.
Fresh celery has a light, fresh aroma. As celery starts to decay, it will begin to smell unpleasant, with strong, foul odors. The scent is often described as being moldy, musty, rotten or like chemicals. If you detect a strong, sour smell from your celery, do not eat it.
A clear ammonia-like odor is another giveaway that celery has spoiled. This unpleasant chemical smell is very distinct and signals bacterial growth. Celery takes on an ammonia scent as proteins break down and asparagine converts to ammonia gas. The ammonia smell means the celery needs to be tossed.
In addition to an odd aroma, bad celery will simply taste “off” – you’ll know it when you taste it. The flavors will taste stale, bitter, sour or generally unpleasant. Fresh celery should have a clean, crisp taste. Any bitterness, softness, sourness or general “off” taste is your cue that the celery is past safe eating. Trust your senses – if it tastes funky, chuck it out!
Very Strong Taste
As celery starts to go bad, you may notice an overly strong taste, even if you don’t detect a foul smell. As compounds like sugars break down, the taste becomes much more concentrated and strong. This is your body’s warning sign that the celery is fermented or overripe. The strong taste indicates spoilage.
If you detect definite moldy, musty or earthy flavors, this is a clear sign fungus has formed and the celery is very spoiled. Moldy foods have high concentrations of bacteria and can make you ill, even if you can’t see actual mold. Definitely throw away any celery with an evident moldy taste.
How to Store Celery
Proper storage is crucial to keeping celery fresh and crisp. Follow these tips on the best ways to store celery.
How Long Does Celery Last?
Here are some general guidelines on how long celery will last stored under proper conditions:
|Storage Type||Shelf Life|
|Whole celery in fridge||2-3 weeks|
|Cut celery in sealed container||3-5 days|
|Frozen, unblanched||6-9 months|
|Frozen, blanched||9-12 months|
Purchasing and Preparing Celery
When buying celery, look for crisp, tight stalks with no brown or yellow spots. The leaves should be pale to bright green. Avoid limp stalks or those with signs of decay.
Rinse celery under cool water before storing. Trim the base and leaves, leaving about an inch attached. Pat dry with paper towels.
Storing Whole Celery
Whole celery will last the longest when stored properly. Here are some tips:
Keep celery chilled at all times for maximum freshness. Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer, away from ethylene-producing fruits like apples and pears. The ideal temperature is 32-36°F.
Use a Plastic Bag
Place the celery in a perforated plastic bag or wrap in aluminum foil before refrigerating. This prevents moisture loss. Make sure the bag has holes for ventilation.
Mist the celery with water every few days and replace the plastic bag to maintain humidity. The moisture will prevent shriveling and wilting.
Avoid Freezer Burn
Do not freeze whole celery stalks. The cold temperature damages the cell structure, causing limpness and freezer burn.
Storing Cut Celery
Once celery is chopped or processed, it is more perishable. Follow these guidelines:
Refrigerate in an Airtight Container
Cut celery should be stored in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. Make sure to press out any excess air before sealing to prevent oxidation.
Use Within 5-7 Days
Chopped or processed celery has a shorter shelf life. It will start to degrade after about one week in the refrigerator. Use within 5-7 days for best quality.
Consider Blanching Before Freezing
To extend its shelf life, blanch cut celery before freezing. Blanching stops enzyme actions that can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
Freeze on a Sheet Pan
Spread chopped celery out on a sheet pan and freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag. This prevents clumping so you can remove a small amount at a time.
Best Uses for Frozen Celery
Frozen celery is best used for cooking in soups, stews, and casseroles. It becomes soft once thawed and loses its crunch.
What To Look For When Checking Freshness
It’s important to inspect celery before using. Here are some signs that celery has spoiled and should be discarded:
Fresh celery is crisp and rigid. Wilted or limp stalks indicate spoilage.
Avoid celery with brown, black or slimy spots. This shows decay. Yellowing also means the celery is past its prime.
Celery should not smell bitter, sour or off in any way. Discard if it smells unpleasant.
Any visible mold is a sign of spoilage. Toss the celery if there is mold on the stalks or leaves.
The celery ribs should be tightly joined together. Separation of the stalks is another sign of aging.
Storing Other Celery Parts
Beyond the stalks, other parts of celery can also be saved. Here are some tips:
The leaves are very perishable but can be stored like herbs. Either refrigerate in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks or freeze for 3-6 months.
Use the tender heart celery within 3-5 days. Store refrigerated in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel inside.
Dry the seeds fully then store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place. They will last up to a year.
Can You Get Sick from Eating Bad Lettuce?
Yes, eating spoiled lettuce can make you ill. The nutrient-rich environment of deteriorating lettuce leaves allows illness-causing bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria to thrive.
Consuming contaminated lettuce can cause symptoms like:
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
The risks are greater for young children, seniors, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. Foodborne illness can come on rapidly, within hours of ingestion in some cases. Seek medical treatment if diarrhea lasts more than 3 days or is accompanied by high fever, bloody stool, vomiting, or signs of dehydration.
Prevent problems by inspecting lettuce carefully and discarding deteriorated leaves promptly. Proper refrigeration and food prep hygiene are also key. However, when in doubt, remember “When in doubt, throw it out.” Don’t take chances with spoiled produce.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why does my lettuce get slimy in the fridge?
Lettuce gets slimy when spoilage bacteria like pseudomonas flourish. This usually happens when lettuce is stored in temperatures above 40°F and in moist conditions. Prevent slime by refrigerating lettuce below 40°F in an unsealed container without excess moisture.
2. Does lettuce last longer stored on the counter or in the fridge?
Always refrigerate lettuce. Cool temperatures of 32-40°F slow spoilage. Lettuce left on the counter at room temp will deteriorate rapidly within hours from accelerated respiration and microbial growth.
3. Can I freeze whole lettuce heads?
No, freezing whole raw lettuce heads causes the leaves to turn dark and mushy when thawed. The high water content ruins the cell structure. Only prepared dishes like cooked casseroles and blanched, chopped lettuce can be frozen successfully.
4. Is browning on cut lettuce dangerous?
Browning of sliced lettuce is due to oxidation, not spoilage. It’s harmless, but rinse browning pieces in cool water to refresh flavor and appearance. Discard any lettuce that smells bad, is slimy, or has mold despite browning.
5. Why do my salads wilt so quickly?
Moisture and heat are the enemies of crisp lettuce. Use dry lettuce, don’t overdress the salad, and keep chilled until serving to prevent wilting. Acidic ingredients also cause lettuce to wilt faster, so add those just before eating.
With its high water content and lack of protective peel or skin, lettuce is prone to spoilage if not handled properly. But by selecting fresh, undamaged heads, optimal refrigeration, and avoiding excess moisture, you can keep lettuce crunchy and tasty for up to 2-3 weeks.
Inspect leaves frequently and discard any that are limp, slimy, discolored or moldy. Don’t take chances with lettuce that looks spoiled – “when in doubt, throw it out”. Follow the storage, freezing, and food safety tips above and you’ll be able to enjoy fresh, healthy lettuce for your salads, sandwiches, and sides.