Is it OK to eat old celery?

Celery is a common vegetable found in many households. It has a crisp, watery texture and a mild, green flavor. Celery is often used as a low-calorie snack or added to soups, stews, and salads.

However, celery does not have an indefinite shelf life. Over time, celery will start to lose its freshness, crispness, and flavor. So when does celery go bad and is it still safe to eat? Let’s take a closer look.

How can you tell if celery has gone bad?

There are a few obvious signs that indicate your celery has spoiled and is past its prime:

– Change in texture – Celery becomes limp, bendy or mushy. Fresh celery should be crunchy and snappy.

– Brown or slimy stalks – The stalks will be discolored or develop a slimy texture on the surface.

– Strong bitter flavor – As celery spoils, it develops a harsh, bitter taste.

– Drying out – Celery that is way past its prime will become dry and shriveled.

– Mold growth – You may see fuzzy mold growing on old celery. Discard celery immediately if it has mold.

– Unpleasant stale, rotten smell – Fresh celery has a bright, vegetal aroma. Rotten celery smells off, stale and unpleasant.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to throw out the celery. At this point, the texture and flavor have deteriorated. Eating spoiled celery also increases the risk of foodborne illness.

How long does celery last?

How quickly celery goes bad depends on a few factors:

– Storage method – Celery lasts longer when properly stored. Keep celery loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Unwashed, dry celery can last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Celery that is pre-cut or sliced will deteriorate faster.

– Temperature – The ideal storage temperature for celery is 32°F-42°F. Higher fridge temperatures will hasten spoilage.

– Harvest time – Celery that is freshly harvested will last longer than celery that has been in storage and transport. Look for crisp stalks without signs of shriveling.

– Damage – Any bruises, cuts or breakage in the stalks create entry points for mold and bacteria to take hold. Damaged celery spoils faster.

Under optimal storage conditions, whole celery heads can last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Once cut, celery should be used within 3-5 days. Pre-cut celery in sealed bags may last up to 10 days past the printed date.

Is it safe to eat older celery?

If your celery has a few blemishes or is slightly past its prime, it may still be perfectly safe to eat. You can trim and discard any mushy or discolored parts of the stalks. The remaining celery can be washed, crisped up in ice water and used within a couple more days.

However, once celery takes on an off smell, texture or appearance, it is no longer appetizing or safe. At this point, bacteria have begun to multiply to potentially hazardous levels. Consuming rotten celery can cause foodborne illness.

The core parts of the celery stalks deteriorate faster. So, you may be able to salvage the tender leafy tops of older celery for a bit longer. But the stalks themselves should be discarded if they are slimy, brown or smell rotten.

Some guides recommend using certain tests or tricks to try and revive limp celery. For example, soaking old celery stalks in water is often suggested. However, this is not guaranteed to restore spoiled celery to a completely fresh, safe state.

What bacteria can grow on spoiled celery?

A number of potentially harmful pathogens can grow and multiply on celery that has been left too long in the fridge:

– Listeria monocytogenes: This bacteria can cause listeriosis, with symptoms like fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. Pregnant women, newborns and those with impaired immune systems are at highest risk.

– Clostridium botulinum: This bacteria releases a neurotoxin that causes botulism, a severe paralytic illness that can be fatal.

– Salmonella: Salmonella infection causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea within 12-72 hours after eating contaminated food.

– E. coli: Certain strains of Escherichia coli can lead to gastrointestinal distress and severe complications.

– Bacillus cereus: This spore-forming bacteria can create toxins in food that lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

Leaving celery too long at room temperature provides optimal conditions for these bacteria to rapidly multiply. While refrigeration slows their growth, they can still reach dangerous levels in produce that is over the hill.

What are other risks of eating spoiled celery?

Outside of foodborne pathogens, deteriorated celery also contains increased concentrations of pectin and ferulic acid.

Pectin is a soluble fiber, but overripe celery has much higher levels that can be difficult to digest. This can cause gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas and diarrhea in some people.

Ferulic acid is a natural phytochemical found in celery. As celery spoils, ferulic acid content greatly increases, making the rotten vegetable very bitter and unpalatable. Consuming high amounts of ferulic acid can potentially cause headaches, skin irritation and low blood pressure.

So it’s clear that rotten celery not only poses a food safety risk, but it also provides an unpleasant eating experience. For the best flavor, texture and nutrition, you’re better off discarding old celery that shows any signs of spoilage.

How can you keep celery fresh longer?

To extend the shelf life of celery for as long as possible, be sure to:

– Select fresh, crisp celery free of blemishes
– Clean dirt off leaves but don’t soak or wash until ready to use
– Trim bottoms and tops
– Store loosely wrapped in plastic bag in the vegetable drawer
– Keep celery hydrated by misting occasionally with water
– Use within 1-2 weeks for whole heads
– Refrigerate cut celery in an airtight container and use within 3-5 days

Precut celery can be stored a bit longer by submerging it in water in an airtight container. But the best strategy is to buy smaller bunches so you can use the celery before it goes bad. Damaged or torn stalks and leaves deteriorate faster, so remove these before refrigeration.

With proper storage methods, celery can maintain its freshness and crisp texture for up to several weeks. But once celery has taken on an off color, texture or smell, it’s best to discard it and buy a new bunch.

What are some substitutes for fresh celery?

If you don’t have fresh celery on hand, there are a few suitable replacements you can use:

– Celery seeds – Ground celery seeds add great flavor. Use 1/4 teaspoon for every 1 celery stalk the recipe calls for.

– Celery salt – Made from ground celery seeds, celery salt provides concentrated celery flavor. Use a ratio of 1/4 teaspoon per 1 celery stalk.

– Celery flakes or powder – Dried celery flakes or powder also work well for seasoning. Use about 1 teaspoon per 1 stalk.

– Fennel – The crisp anise-like flavor of fresh fennel can stand in for celery in dishes like salads, slaws and soups.

– Celeriac – This knobby root vegetable has a mild celery taste. shredded or diced celeriac can be substituted in equal amounts.

– Fennel fronds – The delicate leaves of the fennel bulb have a celery-like flavor for garnishes.

– Onion and parsley – Combining minced onion and parsley provides subtle aromatics similar to celery.

– Carrots – Grated carrots add texture and crunchiness that evokes celery.

When celery is a key component, like in tuna or egg salad, substitutes may not replicate the same taste and mouthfeel. But in cooked dishes, these alternatives can provide enough celery essence without overpowering other ingredients.

What are some ways to use up celery before it goes bad?

If you have celery that’s nearing the end of its prime, put it to use before it spoils by:

– Adding it to soups or stews – Celery is a standard ingredient in chicken noodle soup, minestrone, beef stew and more. It will add flavor and nutrients.

– Juicing it – Celery juice makes for a healthy, hydrating beverage. Blend it with fruits like apples or greens.

– Making celery slaw or salad – Thinly slice celery stalks and leaves for a crisp slaw with a zesty dressing.

– Using it in stir-fries – Slice celery and use it in fried rice, lo mein noodles or a veggie-packed stir-fry.

– Mixing into tuna, egg or chicken salad – Chopped celery gives these salads extra crunch and freshness.

– Snacking on raw celery sticks – Peanut butter and raisins turn celery into a snack. Or dip in hummus or another veggie dip.

– Adding it to grain bowls – Toss finely chopped celery into bowl meals with grains, greens, chickpeas and tahini dressing.

– Making celery juice or puree – Blend or juice celery for a boost of nutrients in smoothies like green juices.

– Freezing chopped celery – Dice, blanch briefly then freeze portions to add to future soups, stews and stocks.

With its high water content and low calorie density, celery makes for a healthy, hydrating, and fiber-filled addition to many dishes and snacks. Take advantage of celery before it over ripens by incorporating it into your recipes.


Celery is one vegetable that does not have an indefinite shelf life. Left too long in the refrigerator, celery will eventually lose its appealing texture and flavor. More concerning, spoiled celery can harbor dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Telltale signs that celery has gone bad include limpness, brown spots, foul odors and a bitter taste. These indicate the celery is rotted and should be discarded. Even misting old celery in water will not restore it to a completely fresh state.

For best quality, use refrigerated celery within 1-2 weeks before excessive pectin, ferulic acid and bacterial growth occurs. Precut celery should be eaten sooner, within 3-5 days. Following proper storage methods and using celery promptly can help extend its shelf life. But any celery that shows signs of spoilage should not be consumed.

While rotten celery poses health risks, fresh celery can be safely enjoyed in recipes, juices and snacks. Its crisp texture and mild taste complements many dishes. To avoid waste, use aging celery in cooking before it goes bad completely. With some foresight and proper handling, celery can be a healthy and tasty addition to the diet.

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