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Why Does Lettuce Turn Pink? (And Is It Safe To Eat)

Quick Answer

There are lots of ways your lettuce can be turning pink while stored in your refrigerator and finding the culprit can be tricky. Possible reasons range from being near other ripening fruit and vegetables, high temperatures, or too much airflow – so it can be tricky preventing your lettuce from turning pink!

If you have ever kept lettuce in your refrigerator, you’ve probably noticed how it changes color over time. In fact, some lettuces even turn a strange pink-orange color!

So, what is this color and what does it mean? Can you still eat pink lettuce or should you throw it out? 

If you are wondering about why your leftover lettuce is turning pink in your refrigerator, then this is the place for you.

We are going to be talking about pink lettuce including what it is, does it ruin your lettuce, and how you can avoid it. So, check out the information below! 

Why Does Lettuce Turn Pink

Why Does Lettuce Turn Pink?

After lettuce has been left and forgotten in the bottom of your refrigerator, you may notice parts of the lettuce turning pink over time.

This mainly affects the white core stems of the lettuce but over time can also spread to the green leaves too. 

This change affects most lettuces but is most commonly seen in kitchen favorites like iceberg or romaine lettuce. So – what causes this pink discoloration on your lettuce? 

There are actually numerous reasons why your lettuce could be turning pink, meaning that there could be more than one culprit for transforming your lettuce from white to pink.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why your lettuce could be turning pink in your refrigerator. 

Ethylene Gas

The longer you leave your lettuce in your refrigerator, the more it will continue to ripen until it eventually goes bad.

This is true for all fruit and vegetables you leave in your refrigerator and there’s no way to stop this process from happening. 

What this means is that over time, your fruit and veggies are going to ripen and this will cause it to produce something called ethylene gas. 

Ethylene gas is a natural byproduct that is sometimes created as some fruit and vegetables ripen.

Now, lettuce does not produce a lot of ethylene gas (some produce none at all as they ripen) but other fruit and vegetables can produce a lot!

Such fruits and vegetables include apples (have you ever noticed how a cut apple will turn pink before it turns brown and rots?), avocados, and bananas. 

If you are also storing such fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator alongside your lettuce, then the ethylene gas they produce as they ripen will affect your lettuce.

Lettuce is actually very sensitive to ethylene gas so it will easily change color in areas from white to pink. 

This means that storing your lettuce alongside fruits and vegetables which produce a lot of ethylene gas will have an impact on your lettuce, turning it pink as more ethylene gas is produced. 

To avoid ethylene gas from turning your lettuce pink, you should store your lettuce separately from other fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator.

It’s best to store your fruit and veg in a draw together, and keep your lettuce apart on a different shelf. This will prevent the ethylene gas from reaching your lettuce and causing it to turn pink.

High Temperatures

However, ethylene gas is not the only reason why your lettuce could be turning pink. Another reason behind the discoloration could be that your lettuce is being exposed to high temperatures. 

When storing lettuce, it’s recommended that this leafy green is stored around 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less in order to reduce the risk of pathogens living and spreading on your food.

This is why most refrigerators are set at this temperature – and this temperature also helps your lettuce stay fresh for longer. 

However, your refrigerator does not stay at the same temperature all throughout the day. 

Every time you open your refrigerator, you are letting your refrigerator warm up to room temperature.

This means that the food within (including your lettuce) is being exposed to higher temperatures and allowing bacteria to grow rapidly. This can contribute to the discoloration you see on your lettuce. 

The warmer your lettuce is, the faster it ripens and goes bad. As lettuce goes bad, it starts to discolor and turn brown – and this pink discoloration could be the early start of that process. 

So, the reason behind the discoloration in your lettuce could be because your refrigerator is too warm.

Frequently opening and closing your refrigerator, not shutting the door properly, or leaving the door open for long periods of time can all contribute towards this.

Perhaps you don’t even store your lettuce in the refrigerator at all! 

Lettuce that has been left out at room temperatures should not be eaten after two hours, as lettuce needs to be stored in low temperatures to stop the spread of bacteria and pathogens.

So, make sure that you are storing your lettuce in the refrigerator where it belongs. 

You should store your lettuce in a draw or container to prevent these high temperatures from effecting your lettuce so easily.

Make sure your refrigerator is set to the right temperature, that the door stays shut as much as possible and that it is properly closed after each use. This will help it maintain a steady, cool temperature.

Oxygen Exposure

Once you have taken your lettuce out of its air-tight packaging, it is being exposed to high amounts of oxygen. 

In fact, most people recommend storing lettuce with plenty of airflow as it helps the lettuce stay crisp and fresher for longer.

However, this does come at a cost – as the exposure to high levels of oxygen does result in discoloration. 

This means that the reason why your lettuce is turning pink could be because you are not storing it in airtight containers or packaging. 

Oxidation is something that is difficult to avoid, and it results in discoloration with a lot of fruit and vegetables – lettuce included.

This means that over time, your lettuce will turn darker and eventually turn brown due to the exposure to oxygen but cutting off your lettuce from any air supply will result in it losing its crispy texture. 

So, whether or not you think it’s best to store your lettuce in an airtight container partly comes down to how soon you expect to use up your lettuce and how you want it to taste. 

If you don’t want your lettuce to turn pink due to oxidation, then you should store it in an airtight container. This will result in your lettuce losing its crunch but it does help keep it edible for longer. 

Is Pink Lettuce Safe To Eat?

Is Pink Lettuce Safe To Eat

Generally, it’s totally safe to still eat pink lettuce. 

Most of the time, your lettuce has turned pink because it has been exposed to other gasses like oxygen and ethylene gas.

In the case of oxygen, pink lettuce is still fine to eat but it’s generally encouraged that you use it up soon. Pink lettuce is the first stop towards brown lettuce, which has gone bad and is not fit to be eaten. 

The only time you should be concerned about pink lettuce and whether it is okay to eat is if your lettuce has been exposed to high temperatures. 

High temperatures generally means that bacteria has been allowed to grow and spread on your food, and pink lettuce could be a sign of this. However, it’s rare that this is the case. 

Most of the time, lettuce turns pink due to oxidation so this means that it’s perfectly fine to eat pink lettuce.

It’s not a sign of bacteria or mold – it’s just a side effect of lettuce existing and being stored until its next use.

In fact, pink lettuce is pretty inevitable and the longer you leave your lettuce in your refrigerator, the more pink it will turn no matter what you do. 

But – pink lettuce is safe to eat. It is a sign that your lettuce is not far off turning bad, so make sure you use it up when you start to see the signs! 

Final Thoughts

So, your lettuce turning pink is just a general sign of it ripening and aging like all fresh fruit and vegetables do.

This means that it’s safe for you to eat pink lettuce because it’s not caused by mold or bacteria. 

However, certain conditions can encourage your lettuce to turn pink sooner than usual.

This includes exposure to temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, exposure to high levels of oxygen, and exposure to ethylene gas produced by other ripening fruit and vegetables. 

You can take steps to help discourage your lettuce from turning pink but it is inevitable as all lettuce turns pink before eventually turning brown and going bad. 

So, if your lettuce is turning pink, you can still eat it – but use it up soon! 

Jess Smith