Lettuce Woes...

Sorry if it’s been hit on before, I usually have little success with searching for a topic for some reason.

Would ya’ll mind sharing how your store your salads? I know…dumb question but we’re starting to get a VERY short hold time of our hand-torn (iceberg-romaine-spring mix blend) salads once we take it from the walk-in to the salad prep table.

Current practice is prepping a bus tub of salad mix, tightly lidding, and holding in the walk-in, removing a 1/3 pan size to the salad table as needed. (We hold 2-1/3 size pans at a time) In the last couple of weeks we may see one tub hold with zero browning all day long, but the next tub will be fine in the tub only to brown out in a matter of an hour or so on the table. The next batch may brown half away while still in the tub.

My temps in both units are consistent at 38 degrees, no change in suppliers or preparation practices.

Are you tearing the lettuce or cutting it with a knife?

Edit: You clearly wrote “hand-torn.” Sorry. Reading for comprehension was the big loser in my post.

we get ours pre-torn in bags. Prep is weighing into portion bags and holding for service. Prep 5# at a time. Hold in cooler.

One thing I can suggest looking at is the ‘expiration’ date on the produce as it comes in . . . if you have one. It is possible your variation is due to inventory turnover at your supplier. You could be getting some stuff that has been in their stock a few extra days, and therefor browning quicker. Is it wilt/slime or just off-coloring?

Could also be a matter of more fagile lettuce from producers side. You are probably getting oxidation at the edges of the tears, which is from ruptured cell membranes most often that I have experienced. Knife-cutting you already know will do this. If the lettuce is not as ‘sturdy’ when picked then even the hand tearing will brown it up.

Try a light misting with diluted lemon juice, maybe 3 TBL to a quart of water. Then toss. The acid should help reduce and slow the oxidation/browning process. Try it at tubbing time or at remove to prep table time.

We get fresh romaine from our local growers and cut with knife. From our experience hydroponically grown lettuce doesn’t get that browning compared to the field grown ones. Perhaps your distributor changed their source?


I think it’s overall a bad time for lettuce as well, so that may be where you’re seeing some problems at. Our lettuce has been in bad shape for at least a month now. Both the icebergs and romaines are smaller and yielding less than they do in the summer months.

Our lettuce is coming from Mexico right now, as opposed to California (where we get it from during the summer months.) Just the fact that the distribution chain is longer is going to lead to inferior produce. It’s kind of the price we have to pay to offer green salads in an area that has cold winters.

Thanks guys for the input. I checked the dates on the cartons Nick and we should still be well within it’s lifetime. I did read a story online somewhere about lettuce red-lining or browning out which I think was attributed to growing conditions, seemed to me like it was saying there wasn’t much we end-users could do right now except wait it out.

I’d wondered about spraying the tub down with a “Fruit Fresh” wash or something…may be worth a try on a batch and see how it holds.

We chop all our lettuce by knife and store it in water in the walk-in which keeps it from browning. We drain batches throughout the day as needed. In the line we keep it in metal pans (to keep it cooler), in drawers, with a lid on always.

If we have a slow lunch or dinner we may have to toss some out due to browning but our process keeps waste at a minimal.

Pirate, I’d read or heard about storing in water, and in fact I’d swear when I worked a life-time ago during college in a couple of pizza places, we did store our prepped lettuce submerged. I tried that routine a few times and was taken aback when we actually had significantly MORE browning out. I may try it again b/c I believe it gives you a much nicer, crisper, lettuce. Maybe this time I’ll not put in the spring mix and shredded carrots till put in the salad table, maybe we were getting discoloration from those colored lettuces or something odd. The quest continues!

Try cutting first. Submerge in water for rinse. Lift out of the water into a lettuce crisper. Spin it till it’s dry. I think the Getting the moisture out may help. Crispers are expensive but well worth it.

There are safe products to use to reduce oxidation, the most common is citric acid, you soak the cut lettuce in a solution, and drain or spin it dry before holding.
Back in the day it used to be sodium-metabisulfites that were used for this, but there use was found to trigger asthma in some people and many places have moved away from those products.

Do not cut with a steel knife, and hit it with an anti-oxidation treatment that is not dangerous to the general public.

When I trained in Chicago with an executive chef at a privately owned hotel/restaurant that did large events with onsite parties as large as 2000 and off-site over 10000… lettuce was always a pain to work with. Everyone is on the right track here for the most part. There are people that still use the holding in water way but that has been seen to promote growth of any bad bacteria that is not washed away by cleaning. We had large crisper tubs that held a tote of lettuce each that had a second insert that let any extra water drain off while the lettuce was in the coolers. This always seems to give a fairly useful life out of the lettuce heads. Now this was only with heads and uncut lettuce. We also had smaller totes that were the same double system but once the lettuce was processed it was rinsed one last time and then spun out before being toted up again. I did a little looking online and the Continental Crisper Bins look a lot like what we used to use. They cost a couple hundred each but would probably pay for themselves fairly quickly in food cost savings. Hope this helps a little. :mrgreen:

We have always heard to use a plastic knife, not metal as is bruises lettuce quicker too…

the yellow-green produce bags really has given me a lot of extra time as well

Sorry I’m a month late on this, but I read something last night that I thought might be useful. Thanks to Brad’s recommendation of “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, I read on page 269 of the 2004 edition “In the case of precut lettuce for salads, enzyme activity and browning can be reduced by immersing the freshly cut leaves in a pot of water at 115f/47c for three minutes before chilling and bagging them.” Other information included coating the cut surfaces with lemon juice as the browning enzymes work slowly in acidic conditions. Chilling below 40f/4c will slow the enzymes somewhat and immersing the cut pieces in cold water will reduce the availability of oxygen.