Keeping track of the perishable foods in your fridge isn't always easy, and periodically you'll find a past-its-prime surprise lurking in a back corner. Deciding what to do on those occasions isn't always straightforward. A bag of mushy lettuce is an easy call, but other vegetables, including cauliflower, require a closer look. The entire head doesn't spoil all at once, so part of your cauliflower might still be usable.
A Close Inspection
The first visible stage in spoilage, with cauliflower, is the appearance of dark brown or gray speckles on the florets' surface. If it's only freckled lightly, you can usually trim off the affected areas. If the dark spots appear deep and all over, snap off a few florets and slice them in half lengthwise. If the discoloration runs all the way through the florets, throw them out. Florets without the discoloration are still usable. If florets have become soft and mushy -- with or without discoloration -- the vegetable is spoiled. Throw the cauliflower out if the head is riddled with mold or insect damage, or if it has a sharp, pungent and distasteful odor.
Storage and Usage Tips
Cauliflower lasts best when it's left largely intact, and kept cold and moist. Put a dampened sheet of paper towel in the bottom of the bag to provide humidity, then stand the head upright on its stem so moisture can't pool inside the florets. The vegetable is best within the first week, though it can last longer if it's fresh. Once the florets lose their fresh snap and begin to grow rubbery, they should be cooked rather than served raw. Trimmed, partial or damaged florets are best used in soups and purees, where their esthetic shortcomings won't be a factor.