How to Store Salad so It Stays Fresh (and Foodborne Illness-Free) for Days on End

Photo: Stocksy/ J. Anthony
Even if the rest of our lives feel like complete chaos, grabbing a meal-prepped salad out of the fridge for lunch somehow always makes you feel like you have it together. I am someone who meal preps on Sundays. I'm an organized queen. 

But as much as we may channel this boss (you-know-what) energy, it's time to face the facts: Pre-prepped salads tend to taste great the first day or so... right until they turn into a big ol' pile of mush in the blink of an eye. To help you avoid future forkfuls of withered kale once and for add, registered dietitian and meal prep expert Lindsay Livingston, RD, is sharing exactly how to keep salad fresh, crisp, and free from icky rotten leaves.

Experts In This Article

How to keep salad fresh in the fridge for longer in five simple steps

1. Keep the dressing separate

According to Livingston, drowning your greens in dressing ahead of time is a surefire way to shorten a salad's lifespan. "You want to keep the dressing separate until right before serving," she says. That's because moisture is the number one enemy of delicate greens.

New goal: Keep your leafy veggies nice and dry for as long as virtually possible—and a smart, separate-compartment storage system is all you need.

So, what is the best container to keep salad fresh? Livingston recommends investing in a small container that you can pour your dressing in, versus pouring it onto your greens during meal prep or in the morning before you head out the door. The longer you can keep the moisture (from the dressing) away from the tender salad greens, the better. That said, if adding in a separate container into the mix sounds like a hassle (and one more thing to have to clean), then you can use a regular ol' Mason jar. The catch? Making a salad that won't get soggy by layering it in the container correctly.

To do so, follow this simple formula: dressing, toppings, salad greens. "Another option is to make Mason jar salads and layer the dressing at the very bottom, toppings in the middle, and greens on top and then dump into a bowl and mix just before serving," Livingston says. When kept upright, the dressing remains at the bottom and limits the amount of moisture that can penetrate the leaves. (Salad greens should be the layer furthest away from the dressing, aka the very top.) Finally, toss in other veggies like shredded carrots or sliced bell peppers with the greens to create a tighter barrier between the liquid and the delicate greens.

"Layer the dressing at the very bottom, toppings in the middle, and greens on top—and then dump into a bowl and mix just before serving," Livingston says.

2. Dry your greens thoroughly before putting them away

Remember: When making salads, moisture is public enemy number one. This is why drying your salad base after washing it extremely thoroughly is a must. You can use clean towels, but Livingston says a salad spinner may be more effective. (It's also handy for reviving wilted salad greens when in a pinch).

Not only will this help prolong the freshness of your salad, it'll also help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness. Keep in mind that any remaining damp spots on your lettuce can become a breeding ground for bacteria, making it sad and slimy (and, you know, inedible). Instead, you'll want to implement every trick in the book for how to keep lettuce crisp, like avoiding adding salt too soon, which can draw out moisture thanks to osmosis.

3. Store your lettuce in a resealable bag (with a paper towel)

Looking for ways to keep bagged salad fresh? Say no more. A few paper towels is all you'll need. Once you've dried your greens well, Livingston recommends gently wrapping them in a dry paper towel to help soak up moisture and any condensation that can accumulate and lead to faster wilting. "What I do is, I cut or tear the lettuce, wash it, spin it dry, and store it in a sealable container with a paper towel, with all the air removed from the bag before sealing," she says. Keeping the air out will help further ward off early spoilage, she adds. (An airtight container will also do.)

Pro tip: If your salad greens come in a plastic container, open the lid, place a layer of paper towels to cover the greens, close the lid, and then store the container lid-side-down in the refrigerator. Doing so, as demonstrated in a TikTok video by @kimberlygrimes83, will help absorb any moisture buildup.

@kimberlygrimes83 This arugula has been stored in my fridge this way since the 15th and shows no signs of wilting! 🙌🏻 . . . . . . #kitchenhacks #foodhacks #kitchentips #salad #saladtip #eatyourgreens #revitalizeculturalpride ♬ original sound - Kimberly Grimes

4. Wait to the add toppings as long as possible

Different salad add-ins have different lifespans, and Livingston says it's worth knowing which ones are long-lasting and which ones aren't. "Most vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, onion, radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes should hold up well," she says, saying that these get the green light to mix together with your greens ahead of time. (She adds that grains such as farro and quinoa tend to hold up well.)

On the other hand, avocado, apples, and other oxidation-prone fruits and veggies should be added à la minute. "It's better to add these the day you're eating the salad, instead of too many days in advance," Livingston says. If you do want to add the ingredients in advance, ingredients that don't require slicing may work best, like berries. Surplus of fruit once you're done meal prepping your salads for the week? No problem. Learn how to keep fruit salad fresh to pair with your entrée.

5. Store ready-to-eat salads in glass instead of plastic

According to Livingston, the more oxygen exposure, the quicker salad will spoil. This is why what you choose to store your salads in matters so much. While plastic containers may have been your go-to before, Livingston says glass does a much better job with moisture control for salad storage. "Mason jars work well, as does a glass Pyrex bowl that seals tight with a lid," she says. Bonus points if the storage container comes with a separate compartment for the dressing.

While plastic containers may have been your go-to before, Livingston says glass does a much better job with moisture control for salad storage.

Keeping these five tips in mind while meal prepping your food for the week will have your lunch looking and tasting good past the first couple days. Sad desk salad? We don't know her. But, in the event that your salad prepping doesn't go as plan, stay one step ahead of the game and learn how to bring wilted greens back to life. Spoiler: This only works if they aren't slimy, and only wilted.

Indeed: Food waste doesn't stand a chance around here, folks.

First new order of business? Learn how to make an easy kale salad with a refreshing honey lemon vinaigrette: 

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