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How To Tell If A Tomato Is Bad

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Slice them, dice them, sauté, or puree them; tomatoes can be eaten raw as a garnish for salads, sandwiches, and appetizers or used to prepare pasta sauces, meat, and vegetable dishes, as well as several types of soups and stews.

A good source of vitamins and minerals, fresh tomatoes are available throughout the year, while they are most abundant at the end of the summer months.

Tomatoes are at their best when they are ripe and freshly picked off the vine. However, like most fruit and vegetables, they are perishable and tend to spoil after a few days.

Therefore, before you use them to make homemade salsa or a refreshing salad, you may want to make sure that they haven’t gone bad.

So, how can you tell if a tomato is bad? The best way to gauge the health of a tomato is by inspecting it thoroughly. If anything feels off about the way it looks, feels, or smells, it is best to discard it. Mold, a rotten smell, or any kind of decay are all signs that a tomato is bad.

Read on to find out the various ways to tell if a tomato has gone bad, how long they typically last, the best ways to store them, and much more!

Ways To Tell If A Tomato Is Bad

A tomato, like most other fruit and vegetables, will start to show signs of spoilage in the way that it looks, feels, and smells. Here are a few ways to tell if it has gone bad:

How It Looks

A fresh and perfectly ripe tomato will look juicy, plump and, depending on the variety, a vibrant red or yellow, which is why the first step is to check its appearance.

Tomatoes that have gone bad will often have a fuzzy growth of mold on them which may be white, green, or grey. They may sometimes even be oozing liquid.

Also, if you notice that the tomato is starting to crack and develop wrinkly skin, even though it doesn’t have moldy growth or oozing liquid at this point, you may not want to eat it because it may not be at its best quality.

At times, the signs of a bad tomato do not manifest on the outside and you may be oblivious to its condition until you slice it open.

If it has mold spots, discoloration in certain areas, and feels slimy, it is not safe for consumption and must be discarded immediately.

How It Feels

Another way to tell whether a tomato has gone bad is by using your sense of touch and giving it a light squeeze. A fresh tomato will have just a slight give to it and will feel mostly firm to the touch.

However, if it is soft and squishy and, upon squeezing if it feels as if it might pop, the tomato has gone bad and must be discarded.

If you notice liquid leaking from inside the tomato, it’s a sign of the tomato being overripe, in which case, it must be used immediately, preferably in cooked dishes, since its texture is starting to soften.

How It Smells

If the tomato looks and feels fine, chances are that it is. However, to be sure, it wouldn’t hurt to put your olfactory system to the test as well since sometimes the smell of a bad tomato is what gives it away.

Fresh tomatoes have a nice earthy aroma, but if you notice a musty, moldy, or sour smell, you may want to discard them.

The same goes for sliced and diced tomatoes and a good way to tell whether they have gone bad is to give them a good whiff.

How Long Do Tomatoes Last?

There is no precise answer to how long tomatoes last as it depends on a couple of factors such as when they were harvested, when they were purchased, and how ripe they are.

Generally speaking, unripe tomatoes will become fully ripe in 1-5 days when left at room temperature, after which they can last for up to a week on your kitchen counter and around 2 weeks when stored in the refrigerator.

Canned tomatoes, on the other hand, last considerably longer and can stay good for up to 18 months if left unopened. Once opened, they must be stored in the refrigerator where they should stay good for around 7 days.

Here is a summary of how long unripe, ripe, and canned tomatoes last at room temperature and in the refrigerator:

Type of tomatoAt room temperatureIn the refrigerator
Unripe tomatoes1 to 5 days-
Ripe tomatoes1 week2 weeks
Canned tomatoes12 to 18 months if unopened5 to 7 days if opened

How To Store Tomatoes

When storing tomatoes, it is important to see what ripeness stage they are on so that they can last for the longest possible time.

Unripe Tomatoes

For unripe tomatoes that are green or have patches of green and are much harder, the kitchen countertop or the pantry is the best place to store them.

To naturally ripen them, remove any stalks or stems and place them scar side down to prevent any air or moisture from entering the tomatoes that could lead to mold growth.

To ripen them quickly, place them in a breathable bag, ideally a paper bag or a plastic bag with holes in it, to trap ethylene gas so that it is reabsorbed by the tomatoes.

You may also store them with other ethylene-producing foods such as bananas and avocados to make them ripe quicker.

Keeping unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator is not the best idea since it can significantly slow down the ripening process and, in some cases, even stop it altogether, resulting in tomatoes that will never become fully ripe.

For the same reason, they shouldn’t be stored in the freezer either.

Ripe Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes are best eaten as soon as possible because they are at their peak quality and will start to deteriorate over time.

If you are unable to use your ripe tomatoes immediately, you should store them in the refrigerator to slow down or stop the ripening process and keep them from spoiling too quickly.

According to some experts, you should place the refrigerated tomatoes at room temperature for 24 hours before using them since this little trick helps regain some of the flavor lost during the refrigeration process.

If you have a lot of tomatoes that are at their peak quality and you know you won’t be using them immediately, you can also freeze them.

To freeze ripe tomatoes, wash them properly and pat them dry. Next, place them on a baking sheet, making sure they aren’t touching each other, and put them in the freezer. 

Once they are frozen, transfer them into a freezer-safe bag or container and store them in the freezer where, if properly stored, they will maintain their best quality for about 3 months but will remain edible beyond that time.

You need to keep in mind though, that the freezing process damages the cells of the tomatoes, causing them to turn soft when thawed. For this reason, they may not be ideal to use or eat fresh and should be used for cooking only.

Related Questions

Now that you know how to tell if a tomato is bad and the best way to store ripe and unripe tomatoes, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!

Can you cut the moldy part of the tomato and eat the rest?

According to the USDA, since soft-fleshed fruit and vegetables like tomatoes are more susceptible to mold penetration, it is best to not risk it and discard the entire moldy tomato.

Mold has long threadlike roots that can penetrate the soft skin and flesh of tomatoes very easily, and even if you cut the moldy part, there’s no telling how much microscopic mold the tomato has that isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Can you get sick from eating moldy tomatoes?

Tomatoes with white, grey, or black mold growing on them should be discarded immediately since some of the fungi that develop on fruit and vegetables can make you sick.

In addition to that, if you suffer from allergies, certain molds that grow on foods may be bad news for you since they can aggravate your symptoms and cause sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and other similar symptoms.

Make sure to be careful when you throw away moldy food as well to prevent any spores from flying around the kitchen.

How do you store cut tomatoes?

For times when you cut a tomato and have leftovers, such as when using it for a sandwich or burger, you must store it in the refrigerator to maximize its shelf life.

Place the cut tomatoes in an airtight container into the refrigerator at around 55°F. Make sure to not place them in the coldest part of the fridge and consume them within 2-3 days.

Here’s a great video from the folks over at Bon Appétit covering a bunch of different ways to prepare a tomato!

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