What Keeps Cut Lettuce Fresh? Paper Towels vs. Vacuum-Sealing

Sneak Preview: What keeps cut lettuce fresh longer? This is the result of my paper towels vs. vacuum sealing experiment.

2 jars -one vacuum-packed compared to jar containing paper towel on topPin

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What is the best way to keep cut lettuce from going bad? Is it vacuum-sealing lettuce into a glass jar, or can you lay a paper towel inside it?

A reader left the following comment not long ago:  “The food saver is expensive and a lot of effort. You can get the same result by placing half a paper napkin on top of your lettuce before you seal the jar. It absorbs the liquid, keeping the lettuce good for a solid week.”

I ran a simple test to determine if this reader was right. Keep reading to find out the results.


Can a Paper Towel Replace Vacuum-Sealing Lettuce into a Glass Jar?

The paper towel idea came from one of my first posts about vacuum-sealing cut lettuce. Preserving chopped romaine this way helps me avoid wasting money on lettuce gone bad.

adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”gH8Iq0qE” upload-date=”Tue Jan 22 2019 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)” name=”How To Vacuum-Pack Chopped Lettuce To Prolong Freshness” description=”A tutorial showing how to vacuum-pack chopped lettuce into Mason Jars for prolonged storage up to 10 days. No brown edges or wilted leaves.”]

I’m used to these kinds of challenges from a select few commenters. I take them seriously.

You can read about two previous experiments. The first was a comparison of various attempts to keep lettuce fresh. The other was an experiment about cutting lettuce with a plastic knife.


How Do I Know My Lettuce is Going Bad?

You can tell when lettuce is going bad when the edges turn brown. The leaves will become limp and thin as the lettuce dries out. The lettuce may take on an acrid odor.

The lettuce will stay fresh longer if you do not cut the leaves. Once you cut or chop the leaves, the edges will go bad quickly if not preserved. My answer to this problem is vacuum-sealing the chopped lettuce.

The deterioration process slows considerably when no oxygen is present in the Mason jar with the cut lettuce. With that in mind, let’s establish the rules for our little experiment.


Rules for Comparing Paper Towels with Vacuum Sealing

  • Cut lettuce into small, ready-to-eat pieces. That’s important. When I walk in the door, I want my lettuce salad ready for lunch in less than a minute. Easy-to-grab junk food is less tempting when I’m famished if I have a jar of chopped lettuce at hand.
  • Store the jars in the same location in the same refrigerator. The jars are also filled with the same heads of lettuce, so the original freshness is the same.

In each picture, the paper towel jar is on the left, and the vacuum-sealed jar is on the right. As you can see in the first picture above, the cut romaine is equally fresh on Day 1.

comparing  after 7 daysPin

Can you see that the paper towel sample is showing its age?

after 11 daysPin

Which jar would you choose? (See random thought #4 below.)

Random Observations

  1. I can’t resist commenting on my reader’s assessment of the vacuum-sealing idea. Yes, vacuum-pack machines can be expensive. But I have written about two excellent alternatives that are much, much cheaper. See this post and this one, too. Reynolds Handi-Vac; Wide-Mouth Vacuum Attachment
  2. About the work involved: It may take an hour to prepare 5-6 jars the first time. But after a little practice, you should be able to reduce the time to 30 minutes or less.
  3. Consider the healthy eating habits you promote by making your salad easy to grab and eat.
  4. Eleven days is pushing it, even for vacuum-sealed lettuce. You may detect the slightest older-lettuce smell in a jar this old. But the smell is gone within a few seconds (when the oxygen hits it). You could always give the lettuce a quick rinse.

Warning: Always store vacuum-sealed cut romaine in the refrigerator. Make no mistake! Vacuum sealing is not a heat-processed canning procedure.

p.s. Thanks to the reader who left this comment. I always welcome new ideas and try as many as possible.


If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! 

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14 Comments

  1. Never thought to spread the word.
    Nice you are doing so.

    Been doing this since 2004 with a Foodsaver 1050 and Pump n Seal manual pump.
    Parents were chemists and physicists and taught us a lot so it seemed obvious to try it on just about everything including lettuce.
    A good vacuum sealer will pay for itself in a year for a family of 4 so think of it as an investment.

    I retired the 1050 last year and bought a Nesco VS-12 after some research when Keepa told me it was on sale at Amazon Mexico.

    Love your yogurt articles. Everything I need in one place.
    Never thought of coffee filters since I’ve only drunk French press cold brew.
    Am using 200 mesh 30 X 46 cm nut milk bags but I only make 2-3 liters at a time.
    Just bought Bunn 12 cup filters https://www.amazon.com.mx/gp/product/B071JVHZKP/and have a stainless colander and bowl they will fit perfectly.
    After yogurt, filters will be used for the inside of door, under sink, bokashi bin. https://www.amazon.com/Tiyafuro-Kitchen-Cupboard-Bathroom-Mountable/dp/B089WGNML5/ along with the parchment paper.
    Perfect for layering between the daily food scraps.
    Thanks for the complete, easy to understand information.

    1. Thanks for your interesting comments, Rich.

  2. Hello,
    Regarding the lettuce being vacuumed packed in a jar; are you rinsing the lettuce before packing?
    Thanks,
    Deb
    I presently wrap my Romaine in 1/2 sheet of paper towel and heavy duty foil with no prerinse…

    1. Yes, I wash the lettuce thoroughly, chop it and spin it dry before packing it. Your method works well, too, if you don’t mind prepping it before you make your salad. Since I eat a huge salad daily, it is more convenient for me to vacuum-pack enough chopped and clean lettuce for 10 days. When I walk into the kitchen to eat lunch, I can put together a salad in less than two minutes. This is a big deal to me becaus–if a salad not quick and easy, I will end up eating something else that is quick and easy–and not nearly as healthy.

  3. I love your comparisons!! I have to tell you that I have been saving my precut veggies like cucumbers, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers and in ziplock bags with an absorbent paper towel (viva) in the bottom and they last forever. The type paper towel makes a huge difference. I just took out diced onions last night that are 11 days old and they were still perfectly crisp. Mushrooms will last up to 3 1/2 weeks if you remember to change out the paper towels.

    1. Hi JoAnna,
      Good to hear from you. This is interesting, but I have a couple of questions. 1. What other brands of paper towels have you tried to compare to Viva? And question #2: How often do you change the paper towel inside the bag? Or do you ever change the towels? Just curious. Can’t wait to hear from you.

  4. I got a great food saver vacuum sealer from Kohl’s. We don’t have space in our current kitchen to keep it out – so I don’t use it as much as I should. Love it! I hadn’t tried it for lettuce that’s a great instruction tip.
    Kohls does great housewares sales I plus there was an extra discount when I checked out so it was more than 50% off and I feel like the way it helps me preserve food that would otherwise get thrown away is worth the investment. We bulk buy meat and vacuum seal it for the freezer – definitely worth the investment.

    1. Good to know, Jan. Thanks for sharing. I have the same issue with space and vacuum sealers. That’s why the handheld sealers are my best friend.

  5. Carolyn Maybury says:

    Wow, the food I like to eat… thank you!

  6. I always used a moist paper towel, but it still would look similar to teh dry.
    Vacuum sealing is CHEAP if you buy these things…under $20, which we’d spend easily on that ROMAINE (not sure how other lettuces last vacuum sealed) we all throw out because it’s gone bad… just put the handi-vac nozzle on top of the foodsaver lid and press button to count of 5 (do not overdo or you will not be able to get the lid off!) Sometimes you can find the Reynolds Handi-Vac at Ollie’s Outlets:
    $10.25+ Reynolds Handi-Vac (https://www.amazon.com/Reynolds-00590-Handi-Vac-Vacuum-Sealing-Starter/dp/B000XY8PDW/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1504278104&sr=1-1&keywords=Reynolds+Handi-Vac)
    $8.94 – FoodSaver Mason Jar Sealing Lid (make your you purchase wide mouthed or regular mouthed depending on what you use). ($8.94 https://www.amazon.com/FoodSaver-T03-0023-01-Wide-Mouth-Jar-Sealer/dp/B00005TN7H/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504278059&sr=8-1&keywords=foodsaver+mason+jar+lid)

    1. Ido, THANK-YOU SO MUCH for providing the links. I just did not take the time to put them in my post but I’m going to go back and add something to my post to let people know you added them.

      I have never not been able to get the lid off of my jar. An old-fashioned opener helps but I can usually get it off with my fingers after years of practice. Thanks so much for writing.

  7. Amanda Rhodes says:

    Very cool experiment! I need to save this idea for future science fairs!
    My random thought: I like the weird looks I get when I pull out a jar of lettuce from my lunch at work. It always brings about questions. 🙂

    1. Yes, good idea on the science fair project. Not difficult and easy-to-see results!