International Produce Training

Lettuce- Rusty Brown Discoloration

Assume for a minute you are inspecting a load of lettuce.  You come across some heads (See image below) that have a distinct discoloration affecting the veins and midribs.  One thing you know for certain is the discoloration definitely materially affects the appearance of the head, thus you would score it as a defect.

But what is this defect called?  This picture was sent to me from a person training to be a fruit and vegetable inspector in South Korea.  Although I only have a few pictures to view, it appears this inspector-in-training may have found lettuce affected with a defect called Rusty Brown Discoloration.  The cause of this defect is unknown, but has been found in lettuce grown in Arizona or California.  This defect is not commonly found, and I would venture to guess most of the younger USDA inspectors have never seen this defect in their careers.  I have seen Rusty Brown Discoloration only a few times during my 30 plus years, and I have yet to come across it during the past 15 years.

Again, because I only have a picture to go by, I am not 100% sure this lettuce is affected by Rusty Brown Discoloration, but the symptoms make it highly likely.  The discoloration will affect the midribs and veins and will eventually cover the entire crown.  The discoloration spreads quickly on the head, and is always scored as a serious defect.  The U.S. No. 1 Grade for Lettuce only allows 6% serious damage defects.

Shown above is the official USDA visual aid depicting Rusty Brown Discoloration.  This visual aid was developed in 1970.  Please share your thoughts if you have seen this defect recently, as everyone would enjoy hearing the comments associated with this defect.

7 Comments on “Lettuce- Rusty Brown Discoloration”

Gaylene Rea Says:

I was surprised to read that you had never seen this brown on lettuce. My grandmother used to call it “rust”. It is very prevelent now on the lettuce we are getting here in the midwest at Walmart. I’ve seen it for the last 2 years at least. And now, I can expect to throw sometimes half a head away because of it, and the limpness of the leaves. The heads also have a lot of very thick white ribbing at the base of the head that is not appetizing at all.
I was happy to find what it is called.

linda hodges Says:

I work in a restaurant and have seen this freqently over the past several years. The non rusty parts of the head of lettuce are usually crisp and fresh. I seached the condition to find out what causes it.I am surprised to hear it called “rare”.

Lucy Says:

Seems like every head of lettuce I buy is like that. I end up throwing half of the head away. Waste of money.

Thomas Hanson Says:

I have quit buying the heads and now only buy the packaged shredded lettuce.

Karen Strong Says:

seriously? rusty lettuce is extremely common in CT. Perhaps ypu don’t really grocery stores to never have seen it.

Valerie Says:

See it all the time. I eat salad several times a week. Go thru a lot of lettuce and I see this all the time. Very frustrating, I throw a lot of lettuce down the garbage disposal. Seems pretty common here in Florida as well.

BettyM Says:

Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer in Indiana ALL have brown ribs on iceberg lettuce and I will NOT eat it. I want to know what causes this, the lettuce will rot quickly, and no store manager even knows or cares about the cause for this. Lettuce isn’t cheap!

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