Buying healthy foods like spinach is easy, but making sure actually to eat them is often surprisingly difficult. That’s why that bag of spinach you were supposed to eat last week is still in the fridge. It’s a couple of days past its date, and you’re wondering if it’s bad already.
All veggies go bad sooner or later, and spinach is no exception. In fact, spinach is highly perishable, and it loses some of its nutrients even faster (more on that later), so it’s best to eat it fresh. But if yours sits in storage for quite some time already, you need to know how to tell if it’s spoiled.
In this article, we go through storage, shelf life, and spoilage of spinach. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place.
(credit: Pille-Riin Priske)
- How To Store Spinach
- How Long Does Spinach Last
- How To Tell If Spinach Is Bad?
- Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- How Spinach Can Give You Food Poisoning
- Picking Spinach – How To Harvest Spinach
- When to Pick Spinach
- How to Harvest Spinach
- Preserving Spinach
- What’s in season: spinach
- How to buy
- How to store
- How to prepare
- How to cook
- In Season Fruit and Vegetable Shopping Guide
How To Store Spinach
The best short description of storage practices comes from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (TN), and it goes like this:
Store spinach unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator.
That pretty much says it all. The plastic bag helps keep away ethylene that might be produced by other fruits and veggies and therefore help the spinach retain quality for longer.
Keeping it unwashed is best not because washing somehow makes spinach go bad faster, but because it’s difficult to completely dry out the greens afterward. Any leftover water drops would make the spinach go slimy and spoil much faster. In short, pre-washed spinach is perfectly fine, but if you’re buying it fresh, wash it right before using.
Once you’ve cooked the spinach, keep it in the fridge in an airtight container. Pretty much the same you do with all other cooked foods.
(credit: Heather Barnes)
How Long Does Spinach Last
Spinach, like kale, doesn’t last that long, and it’s difficult (if not impossible) to give an exact period.
If we’re talking about fresh spinach you’re buying in the farmer’s market, it can maintain quality for even up to two weeks (UC). When it comes to a pre-packaged one you buy in the supermarket, it usually comes with a date on the label, and it’s a pretty good estimate of how long the spinach will keep peak quality. You can usually get an extra 3 to 5 days, but that’s about it. Of course, these are best-case scenarios, and often spinach shows signs of decay earlier.
If you’re eating spinach mainly for its nutrients, make sure you eat it as fresh as possible. That’s because, according to Penn State University, the nutrient profile of spinach degrades over time quite quickly (PSU):
That seven-day-old bag of spinach in your refrigerator may not make you as strong as your grandma told you, because, according to Penn State food scientists, spinach stored for a long time loses much of its nutrient content.
When it comes to cooked spinach, it keeps for around 3 to 5 days in the fridge.
|Spinach (fresh)||Up to two weeks or 2 – 5 days past its date|
|Spinach (cooked)||3 to 5 days|
Please note the period above is only a rough estimate.
(credit: chiara conti) Tip
If your spinach regularly goes bad because you forget about it or can’t be bothered with using it, switch to buying frozen spinach. You can use it whenever you want and you don’t have to worry about it going bad.
How To Tell If Spinach Is Bad?
Old or poorly stored spinach can show several signs of decay. Some of them mean it’s gone and you should throw it out, while others not necessarily so.
If your spinach is moldy or slimy, consider it done for and discard it. I believe this isn’t anything new to you, but it’s worth reiterating nonetheless. If it looks plain bad, don’t eat it.
Yellowing and wilting leaves are another sign of old spinach. Should you discard it, though? It’s up to you. If only a handful of leaves are yellowish or begin to wilt, I usually use it anyway. But if the whole thing is yellow, I get rid of it. The bottom line is that’s a matter of personal preference. And as usual, if you’re not quite sure if it’s still okay to eat it, discard it.
If you’re considering eating spinach that’s starting to wilt and turn yellow, it’s best to use it in a cooked dish. The taste of the green will be acceptable at best, so using it in a dish will help to cover that up.
- TN The University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture: Spinach
- UC UC Postharvest Technology Center: Spinach
- PSU Penn State University: Storage time and temperature effects nutrients in spinach
Food Storage – How long can you keep…
- How long does raw spinach last in the fridge? The precise answer to that question depends to a large extent on storage conditions – after purchasing, keep spinach refrigerated at all times.
- To maximize the shelf life of raw spinach, refrigerate in a plastic bag; do not wash until ready to use.
- Properly stored, raw spinach will usually keep well for about 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator.
- Do you need to wash raw spinach before eating it? Yes, spinach should be thoroughly washed in running water before eating.
- How long does spinach last in the fridge once it has been cooked? Cooked spinach will usually stay good for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator and 10 to 12 months in the freezer.
- Can you freeze raw spinach? Yes, to freeze: (1) Wash spinach thoroughly and cut off woody stems; (2) Blanch (plunge into boiling water) for two minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water; (3) Drain off excess moisture, package in airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze immediately.
- How long does spinach last in the freezer? Properly stored, it will maintain best quality for about 10 to 12 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
- The freezer time shown is for best quality only – spinach that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.
- How to tell if spinach is bad or spoiled? Spinach that is spoiling will typically become soft, mushy and discolored; discard any spinach that has an off smell or appearance.
Sources: For details about data sources used for food storage information, please
How Spinach Can Give You Food Poisoning
For a food so healthy, spinach and other salad greens have caused a surprising amount of illness-18 outbreaks of food poisoning in the last decade, to be precise. In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists leafy greens as the No. 1 offender for food poisoning, even above known hazards like raw eggs. Cookie dough is safer than salad? Say it isn’t so!
Why So Dirty?
The problem isn’t in the vitamin-packed vegetables themselves, but rather tenacious bacteria, like E. coli, that can live just below the surface of the leaf. Not only are greens subject to cross-contamination from the outside, but they’re particularly vulnerable to drawing up germs in the soil and water. (Yikes! Also, make sure to avoid these 4 Food Mistakes that Make You Sick.)
Currently, commercial growers powerwash greens with bleach to remove icky germs. And while that’s great for cleaning the outside of the plant, neither that nor a good sink scrub at home can dislodge sub-surface toxins. Even worse, according to NPR, re-washing your pre-washed greens at home may make the problem worse by adding bacteria from your hands, sink, and dishes. Ah, the perks of clean eating.
What Can We Do About It?
Thankfully, scientists have just developed a new cleansing process that targets the hidden germs in the porous surface of spinach, lettuce, and other leaves. By adding a titanium dioxide “photocatalyst” to the washing solution, researchers from the University of California-Riverside say they are able to kill 99 percent of bacteria that hide deep within the leaves. Even better, they say, this is a cheap and easy fix for farmers. Unfortunately, it’s not in use yet, but the researchers say they hope to see it implemented soon.
This is great news for salad lovers. But know this: The risk of contracting a foodbourne illness from spinach is relatively low in the grand scheme of things. You’re more likely to get a cavity from eating junk food than you are to get food poisoning from your healthy salad. Plus, a veggie-packed smoothie or bowl of greens is still one of the best things you can eat for your health. (In fact, it’s one of The 8 Healthy Foods You Should Eat Every Day.) In addition to nourishing vitamins and filling fiber, greens can also help you make better food choices all around, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Researchers found that thylakoids, a naturally-occurring substance in spinach, decrease hunger and kill cravings for junk food by encouraging the release of satiety hormones. (Interestingly enough, the results were split by gender-men showed an overall decrease in hunger and cravings; women saw suppressed cravings for sweets.) The bummer: Even Popeye couldn’t eat enough spinach to match the amount of thylakoid extract used in the study, but it’s still evidence of the powers of greens.
But new research is constantly coming out showing new ways that eating vegetables is beneficial to our health: Just in the last year we’ve learned that eating greens daily helps reset your body clock, boosts your brain, and even decreases your risk of death from any cause. So load up at the salad bar and you too can say “I stay strong to the finish ’cause I eats my spinach,” just like our favorite cartoon strongman. (And hey, if you use a little Olive Oil too, all the better!)
- By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Picking Spinach – How To Harvest Spinach
Spinach is a green leafy vegetable rich in iron and vitamin C that can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. It is a fast growing plant and in most areas you can get multiple crops in the growing season. Spinach tends to bolt and get bitter when temperatures soar, so harvest time is important to get the best leaves. Choosing when to pick spinach depends on whether you want baby leaves or full grown. Picking spinach as needed is called “cut and come again” and is a good way to harvest this highly perishable vegetable.
When to Pick Spinach
When to pick spinach is an important consideration in order to get the best tasting leaves and prevent bolting. Spinach is a cool season crop that will flower or bolt when the sun is high and temperatures are warm. Most varieties mature in 37 to 45 days and can be harvested as soon as it is a rosette with five or six leaves. Baby spinach leaves have a sweeter flavor and more tender texture.
Spinach leaves should be removed before they get yellow and within a week of full leaf formation. There are a few methods on how to harvest spinach as a complete harvest or continuous harvest.
How to Harvest Spinach
Small spinach leaves can be harvested with scissors by simply cutting the leaves at the stem. One way to do this is start harvesting the outer, older leaves first and then gradually working your way in to the center of the plant as those leaves mature. You can also just cut the whole plant off at the base. Harvesting spinach by this method will often allow it to re-sprout and give you another partial harvest. When considering how to pick spinach, decide if you will use the entire plant immediately or just need a few leaves.
Picking spinach will accelerate its decay since the leaves don’t keep well. There are ways to preserve the vegetable but it needs a proper cleaning first. Spinach should be soaked or rinsed several times to remove the dirt and any discolored or damaged leaves taken out of the harvest.
Fresh spinach can be kept in the refrigerator for ten to fourteen days. The best temperature to keep spinach is 41 to 50 F. (5-10 C.). Bundle the stems together lightly and place them in a paper towel in a plastic bag. Handle spinach leaves gently as they are prone to bruising.
After harvesting spinach, use what leaves you can as a fresh vegetable. In a bumper crop, you can steam or sauté the extra leaves and chop them. Freeze the resulting product in sealed containers or bags. Plant a fall crop in early August for harvest all the way into October or until freezing temperatures arrive.
What’s in season: spinach
Spinach is one of our first spring crops. It’s a good source of dietary fibre and contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients including lutein, which is associated with good eye health.
However, contrary to popular belief spinach isn’t a brilliant source of iron. This myth was spread when in 1870 a German scientist accidentally moved a decimal point, giving spinach 10 times more iron than it actually contains.
FIfty years later, the cartoon character Popeye was used by the canned spinach industry to exploit the myth. It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that the mistake was spotted but many people still believe it today.
How to buy
Spinach is available year round – or buy from frozen. However it’s at it’s best when it’s fresh between March and June. When buying, look for bright green leaves, a fresh smell and no yellow or wilting leaves. It reduces to around a quarter of its size when cooked.
How to store
Keep in the fridge in a perforated bag for up to four days.
How to prepare
If using bagged, pre-washed spinach give it a quick rinse. If using fresh spinach, wash thoroughly to remove any residue soil or chemicals. Shake off the water and drain. Cut off any thick stems.
How to cook
Don’t boil spinach – steam, stir-fry or microwave to preserve the nutrients.
Here are a few of spinach recipes for you to try. You can find more in our recipe finder.
Spinach, lemon and feta salad
A light spinach salad with a zesty dressing, the perfect accompaniment to a summer barbecue.
Spinach, red onion and potato tortilla. This is perfect warm or cold – perfect for lunch on the go, a picnic or barbecue.
Spinach and mushroom lasagne. A lower-fat lasagne made with creamy spinach and mushroom sauce topped with cheesy fresh tomatoes.
Spinach is a versatile vegetable that is popular worldwide. Nearly every cuisine features it somewhere in its repertoire. It is a shiny green leafed vegetable, which is believed to have originated in Asia. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It shrinks a lot when cooked but has a strong flavour. Spinach is rich in Vitamin A and is a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, folic acid,Calcium and iron.
Preparation and Using
Spinach leaves should be green and washed well before use, and large stalks should be removed. Spinach can be boiled, steamed,blanched and refreshed, stir-fried or eaten raw.It reduces significantly when cooked. The water that clings to spinach after washing is sufficient when boiling – spinach will steam in its own liquid. It should be drained thoroughly before use. It can be chopped and served with butter as a vegetable, or served with other spring vegetables such as baby carrots or young broad beans. It is used raw in salads and should be mixed with other leaves such as lettuce and rocket.
There are hundreds of dishes containing spinach (Florentine dishes) and it is used to flavour and colour pasta. Spinach can also be used in frittatas, quiches, cannelloni, tortellini,terrines, roulades, paupiettes, soups, and purées. Ingredients and flavours that go well with spinach include nutmeg, ricotta, pesto,eggs, oysters, parmesan, cream, beans, feta cheese, Emmenthal, Gruyere and dolce latté cheese.
In Season Fruit and Vegetable Shopping Guide
In season produce may taste better + cost less.
The list below is a general guide to when veggies and fruits are in season in the Pacific Northwest. Some differences will occur because of varied weather in some areas of the Pacific Northwest or weather changes from year to year. The items with an asterisk (*) after them are not grown in the Pacific Northwest but they are listed because they are popular and can be bought in the Pacific Northwest.
Year-round mostly for sale at a steady price: Bananas*, Garlic, Mushrooms, Onions, Potatoes
December: Beets, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Grapefruit*, Kale, Oranges – navel*, Spinach, Winter squash
January: Beets, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Grapefruit*, Kale, Oranges – navel*, Winter squash
February: Cabbage, Grapefruit*, Kale, Oranges – navel*, Winter squash
March: Grapefruit*, Oranges – navel and valencia*
April: Asparagus, Grapefruit*, Oranges – navel and valencia*, Rhubarb
May: Asparagus, Grapefruit*, Kale, Lettuce, Oranges – navel and valencia*, Rhubarb, Spinach