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What Prevents Lettuce from Going Bad? Paper Towels vs. Vacuum-Sealing

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

Not long ago, a reader left the following comment:  “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 decided to run a simple test to find out if my reader was right. Keep reading to find out the results.

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

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.

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 when lettuce is going bad?

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

As long as you do not cut the leaves, the lettuce will stay fresh longer. 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.

When no oxygen is present in the Mason jar with the cut lettuce, the deterioration process slows down considerably. With that in mind, let’s set out 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. I want my lettuce salad to be ready to eat in less than a minute when I walk in the door for lunch. 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-packed 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 days

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

after 11 days

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 upwards to 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. Promise!!
  3. Consider the healthy eating habits you are promoting by making your salad easy to grab and eat.
  4. Eleven days is pushing it, even for vacuum-sealed lettuce. It’s possible you will detect the slightest older-lettuce smell in a jar this old. But within a few seconds, (when the oxygen hits it), the smell is gone. 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 like to try as many as I can.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: paula at

Hope to see you again soon!

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