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I love spinach. Raw or cooked, it’s not often I go more than a few days without eating a bunch of this glorious leafy green. However, for those of you who don’t eat quite as much as I do, you may be wondering how long does spinach last, how do I know when it’s gone bad, and is there anything I can do to lengthen its shelf life?
All are great questions and well worthy of a post, so here we are! Let’s get to it.
How long does spinach last?
This vegetable is at the more delicate end of the green leafy scale – think more salad leaves than the hardier kale – so wondering how long spinach will last once you get it home is a fair enough question. However, as with most foodstuffs, the answer can vary somewhat.
Factors such as when it was picked and how it has been stored will come into play, as will the quality of the spinach itself. Some crops are better than others, and the time of year will play a part too.
Spinach can also be bought both fresh and frozen, so we’re going to take a look at both.
How long does spinach last in the fridge?
Store bought spinach will have a best by date printed on it if packaged, but if you’re buying from a farmer’s market or suchlike you’re going to have very little to go on other than your senses. That being said, your senses are by far the best guide you can have with fresh produce anyway. So, providing you know what to look out for (more of that below), you should be able to tell whether or not your spinach is still safe to eat.
In terms of the shelf life of spinach, much will depend upon whether or not the packaging has been opened or not. Unopened spinach remains within its protective bubble, while a bag that has been opened will be exposed to air and moisture. Both of which will quicken the deterioration of the produce.
It’s important to remember that “best by” guides are just that, a guide. They are not the same as expiration dates, so can be treated with a pinch of salt to some extent. An unopened bag of spinach can still be good a week after the best by date has passed, and even opened spinach, if stored correctly, will survive past that date (albeit for a shorter period, possibly up to five days).
The key thing is knowing how to tell if spinach is bad or not, so we’re going to go over that later in the post. We’ll also take a look at how to store spinach to extend its shelf life, too.
How long does spinach last in the freezer?
Frozen spinach actually lasts surprisingly well, considering its fragility. If frozen quickly and stored correctly, there’s no reason why you can’t still enjoy the green stuff 12 months down the line. However, if you intend to freeze your own spinach, it’s important that you do so while it’s as fresh as possible.
Another option is to buy your spinach already frozen. This is a good alternative, and the leaves can actually be more nutritious than fresh spinach in some instances. This is largely because of the speed with which the spinach is processed, which can often be less than 24 hours from being picked to being frozen. The downside is that frozen spinach just doesn’t taste as good as fresh, in my opinion.
One of the hardest things about buying frozen spinach is getting it home without it thawing out. Take a cooler with you to the store, along with some ice packs if you can, to help keep those green leafies frozen. As I mentioned at the top of this section, frozen spinach should last between 10 and 12 months, which makes it great to have in the freezer, just in case you can’t get your hands on the fresh stuff.
How to tell if spinach is bad
Now that we know how long spinach lasts in both the fridge and the freezer, it’s time to learn how to spot the tell-tale signs this green leafy vegetable gives off when it goes bad.
Your senses will be your best guide here, as we are naturally hardwired to instinctively know when something is up with our food. That said, we’ve become a little complacent (and lazy), so we often overlook these signs and go ahead anyway. Don’t do that. If you think your spinach is bad, it probably is.
Key things to look out for when determining if your spinach has gone bad are:
- Wilting and loss of crispness
- Darkening of the leaves
- Blackened edges or spots on the leaves
- Sliminess, or excessive moisture
- Strong odor, often a mustiness or sour smell
Is eating spoiled spinach safe?
Now, you shouldn’t need me to tell you this, but here we go! No, eating spoiled spinach isn’t safe. In fact, it can be pretty bad for you. Bacteria builds up quickly on rotting veggies and can thrive even at refrigerated temperatures.
Add to that the fact that leafy greens are notorious harborers of bacteria anyway and you can see why eating spoiled spinach is a bad idea. Food-borne illnesses are no joke, so if you’re unsure about your spinach, don’t eat it. Give your compost heap a treat instead.
Storing spinach tips
If you want to prolong the shelf life of spinach, there are a few things you can do to make it last longer and keep those leaves at their best.
First thing you need, however, is very fresh spinach. When you’re in the store, look out for the brightest, greenest, crispiest leaves you can find. The fresher it is now, the easier it will be to store, and the longer it will keep.
Look at the stems, too, and avoid any dry or discolored ones. The video below will give you a visual representation of what I’m talking about:
If you’re buying pre-packed bags, keep an eye out for those with lots of condensation inside. This excess moisture is not good for your spinach leaves and will cause the produce to deteriorate faster. Find the driest bag you can.
Spinach that has been pre-packed into sealed plastic bags should be stored in them, unopened, until you are ready to use them. These bags are sealed with protective packaging gasses, which while the thought of it is a little gross, they do work.
I prefer to buy fresh, unpacked, gas-free spinach, whenever I can, though. If you’re the same as me, you’re going to need a couple of things to store it properly: an airtight container and some paper towels.
Place a layer of towels at the bottom of your container and lay your spinach leaves on top. Add another layer of paper towels on top of your spinach and replace the lid. This will help draw any moisture away from the leaves, keeping them fresh and crispy for longer.
Place the container into your fridge towards the bottom. You want them to be as cold as possible without them freezing (around 38-40°F is optimal), so the bottom section half of your refrigerator is the place to put them.
Freezing spinach at home
Frozen spinach is no good raw, as it’ll naturally be soft and wilted once it thaws out, making it no use for salad recipes and such. So, as you’ll be cooking with it anyway, there’s a neat trick that’ll both improve the length of time you can keep spinach in the freezer and solve the problem of removing just enough for a portion without wasting the rest. Here’s what you do:
1. After washing your spinach (see below), go through your leaves and discard any that look less than fresh. Remove any thick, mature stems at this stage, too.
2. Bring a pot of fresh water to the boil and quickly give your spinach leaves a blanching. Just one or two minutes will do. Doing so helps preserve its color, taste, texture, and even helps trap their nutrients.
3. Drain and dunk your blanched spinach leaves into a bowl of ice water straight away. This stage will stop the cooking process and revitalize the leaves. Leave in the ice cold water for around two minutes.
4. Remove the spinach from the ice bath and squeeze out as much of the water as you possibly can. This won’t look pretty, but you’re going to be cooking with these leaves, remember, so no big deal. You can use a sieve and the back of a spoon if that’s easier on your hands.
5. Now it’s time to separate your spinach into portions. You can do this in various different ways, but I like to use either a large ice cube trays like these, or ball them up in your hands. It’s up to you which method you use, but the tray does help to keep them in shape and stops green liquid gathering in your freezer drawer!
6. Once frozen, remove from the tray, bag up (don’t forget to remove as much air from the bag as you can), and label. You’ve now got yourself some frozen, portion-sized spinach ready to use whenever you need it!
Washing spinach prior to use
Now you’re ready to eat your beautifully stored, lovely fresh leaves, it’s time to give them a good wash (no need to wash frozen spinach as you would have done this already). I prefer to wash spinach just before using it rather than washing and then storing as I find it works better that way. Sometimes the washing process can leave the leaves a little bruised, which will speed up their demise.
Pre-washed, bagged spinach will be largely grit-less, but I always like to wash it again as I’ve heard so many horror stories I’d rather do it myself at home just to be on the safe(r) side. Fresh, bunched spinach will often still have a lot of the sandy soil it was grown in attached, so cleaning that stuff is a no-brainer.
Thankfully, cleaning spinach is a simple process. Check out the video from Chris De La Rosa below if you’ve got a bunch of fresh leaves to wash:
We touched upon it earlier in the post, moisture is the enemy, so be sure to dry your spinach as much as you possibly can before moving onto the next step. The easiest way to do this is to get yourself a really good salad spinner and give your leaves a whirl. This method not only removes the most moisture, it also reduces the amount of paper towels you use considerably, which is a good thing, right?
We’re done! How long does spinach last, how to store it, how to wash it, and even how to tell if spinach has gone bad, all answered. Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below 😊