Why You Should Put Bagged Salad In A Cooler For The Ride Home

As you may have heard often when you were growing up, food isn't cheap — and it's even more expensive today. So the last thing you want to do is let fresh produce spoil. And if you buy the bagged salads sold at grocery stores, with the lettuce and other components pre-chopped, you're already at a slight disadvantage: Bagged salads spoil more quickly than whole, unsliced veggies.

But you don't need to give up on your time-saving pre-made salads entirely if you're willing to take some extra steps to ensure prolonged freshness. Your best bet is to start storing it thoughtfully well before it even reaches your refrigerator. Just be prepared by bringing a small cooler along with you to the grocery store.

Of course, this is easiest for folks who have their own cars, so the cooler can wait in the trunk until you get back with your purchases; pedestrian shoppers would theoretically have to carry it on their person. (But if you're car-free and a devoted salad lover, we won't stop you.) An insulated cooler can make a real difference in keeping your salad fresh, especially if you live in warm climates.

Crisp greens for hot days

If you're buying bagged salads in an Alaskan February, you can probably skip the cooler trick. But if the weather is warm where you live, even a fifteen or 20-minute drive home in a hot trunk can make chopped lettuce start to wilt. And of course, nothing will make you crave fresh greens like hot, humid weather.

The key to keeping any kind of greens fresh and crisp, chopped or not, is to protect them from heat and excessive moisture. Storing them in a cooler made to do just that will keep the spoilage process from getting a leg up on you on the way home.

Once you get the salad safely (and coolly) home, there are some other precautionary steps you can take. Start by opening up the bag and picking out any leaves that look or smell like they might be starting to go. Removing any limp, brownish, or slimy leaves will keep the other, crisper leaves from prematurely wilting.

Then, toss the bag and store the greens in a firm receptacle that will keep out external air and moisture, like a glass storage container. Pad the bottom of the container with some paper towels or natural-fiber tea towels to absorb any unwanted moisture, and keep it in your crisper drawer until you're ready to serve.

Don't give up on slightly sad lettuce just yet

It's incredibly frustrating, though not at all uncommon for a bagged salad to turn within just a day or two of purchase. Taking proactive steps to maximize a salad's freshness, however, can extend its fridge life for as long as seven days. Ideally, you wouldn't wait that long to use bagged salad, but as long as it's less than a week old and still looks and smells appetizing, it should be fine to eat.

If you miss the window of peak freshness and your lettuce starts to look a little sad, all may not yet be lost, so don't make the mistake of throwing out salad greens that still have some life in them. As long as the leaves are just a little wilted, not rotten, there's a trick you can use to revive them. Give your leaves a quick,five-minute dip in a bowl of ice water, then take them out and gently dry them with paper towels before proceeding to build your salad. That'll help soft leaves stiffen up and achieve that fresh, firm texture once again. Be sure to prep just before eating — letting a salad sit out for too long will dampen its crispness.