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How to Tell If a Tomato is Bad: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Tell If a Tomato is Bad: A Comprehensive Guide

Find out how to tell if a tomato is bad, understand its shelf life, and gain valuable insights on handling tomatoes to guarantee safety and quality.

Tomatoes, a fruit enjoyed worldwide in various cuisines, must stay fresh for better taste, texture, and our well-being. Fresh tomatoes enhance recipes, while spoiled ones can spoil the experience and risk our health. 

This guide will provide you with essential information on how to tell if a tomato is bad, how long tomatoes and cherry tomatoes last, and what to look for to ensure you’re consuming fresh, high-quality tomatoes.

How to Tell If a Tomato is Bad

Tomatoes, like all fresh produce, have a limited shelf life. 

Knowing how to tell if a tomato is bad is crucial in order to avoid consuming spoiled or poor-quality tomatoes, which can negatively impact the taste of your dishes and may also pose health risks.

Visual Inspection

To check if a tomato is bad, start by looking at it:

  • Mold or fungus. If you notice any fuzzy, white, green, or black patches on the surface of the tomato, this is a clear sign of mold or fungal growth. Don’t consume the tomato, and discard it immediately.
  • Discoloration. A ripe tomato should have a vibrant red or deep orange color, depending on the variety. If you notice any dark or black spots on the skin or if the color appears dull or uneven, the tomato may be overripe or starting to rot.
  • Wrinkled skin. Fresh tomatoes should have smooth, firm skin. If the skin looks wrinkled or shriveled, the tomato is likely dehydrated or past its prime.


Tomato quality is also about its feel:

  • Overripe tomatoes. If the tomato feels overly soft or mushy, it is likely overripe and shouldn’t be consumed. Overripe tomatoes may have a mealy texture and lack flavor.
  • Rotten tomatoes. If the tomato feels excessively soft, slimy, or has a foul smell, it has likely started to rot and should be discarded.

So how do you know if tomatoes have gone bad? Look, smell, and touch.

How Long Do Tomatoes Last

The shelf life of a tomato depends on various factors, including its variety, ripeness, and storage conditions. Generally, fresh tomatoes can last for the following durations:

  • Unripe tomatoes. Unripe green tomatoes can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks while they ripen. After they ripen, they usually stay fresh for about 5 more days. In total, you can expect them to last around 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Ripe tomatoes. Keep ripe tomatoes at room temperature for up to 5 days. For longer shelf life, keep them in a cool, dark spot, and don’t stack them to avoid bruising.
  • Refrigerated tomatoes. Though not usually recommended, fresh whole tomatoes can last for up to 2 weeks. Meanwhile, cut or chopped tomatoes will last about 1 to 2 days if refrigerated.
Tomato TypeStorage MethodShelf Life
Unripe TomatoesRoom temperature while ripening: 1-2 weeks; After ripening: 5 daysTotal: 2-3 weeks
Ripe TomatoesRoom temperature: Up to 5 days; Cool, dark place: Prolonged shelf lifeUp to 5 days
Refrigerated TomatoesFresh whole tomatoes: Up to 2 weeks; Cut or chopped tomatoes: 1-2 days1-2 weeks (whole), 1-2 days (cut/chopped)

How to know if a cherry tomato is bad

Cherry tomatoes are smaller and sweeter than their larger counterparts, but determining whether they are bad follows a similar process.

Visual Inspection

  • Mold or fungus. Discard cherry tomatoes with any signs of mold or fungal growth.
  • Discoloration. Cherry tomatoes should have a vibrant, uniform color. Any dark spots or uneven coloring may indicate spoilage.
  • Split Skin. Cherry tomatoes with split or cracked skin can be an entry point for bacteria, so it’s best to avoid consuming them.


  • Overripe cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes that feel overly soft

How long do cherry tomatoes last?

Cherry tomatoes last 1 to 2 days at room temperature and up to 5 days in the fridge, shorter than other tomatoes.

To keep cherry tomatoes fresh, store them in a single layer in a cool, dark place. Though it’s possible, it’s recommended not to store them in the fridge, as this can make them lose flavor and texture.

Are soft tomatoes bad?

It depends. A tomato that’s slightly soft and may be a little misshapen (especially if it was squashed slightly by heavy groceries) is usually just overripe and still safe to eat. 

However, if the tomato is mushy or has any soft spots, breaks in the skin, has a rank, sour, spoiled, “off” or “decayed” smell (that may or may not be attracting fruit flies or other bugs), it is likely spoiled and should be thrown away.

How can you tell if a tomato is good?

So, how can you tell if a tomato is good to eat fresh or use in recipes? It involves examining its appearance, texture, and aroma. 

Here are the key factors to consider when assessing the quality of a tomato:

  • Appearance. A good tomato should have a vibrant and uniform color, depending on its variety. For red tomatoes, look for a deep red hue, while other varieties, such as heirlooms or green tomatoes, might have different shades. The skin should be smooth, glossy, and free from any blemishes, dark spots, or signs of mold.
  • Texture. A ripe tomato should be firm to the touch, with a slight give when you gently press it with your fingers. If it feels rock-hard, it’s likely underripe, and if it’s too soft or mushy, it’s likely overripe or spoiled. The skin should also be taut and free from wrinkles or shriveling.
  • Aroma. A good tomato should have a fresh, slightly sweet, and earthy aroma. This fragrance is often more noticeable near the stem end of the fruit. If the tomato has no aroma, it may be underripe or lacking in flavor. Conversely, if it has an off or sour smell, it’s likely spoiled or on the verge of spoiling.
  • Stem. If the tomato still has its stem or calyx (the green leafy part), it should be bright green and fresh-looking. A very dry or wilted stem might indicate that the tomato is past its prime.

Important things to know about cut tomatoes and raw tomatoes.

Why are cut tomatoes a potentially hazardous food?

Tomatoes have been linked to several foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years. These outbreaks have been caused by Salmonella bacteria, which can grow on the surface of tomatoes. 

Salmonella can also be present in irrigation water, water flumes, or wash water.  Once Salmonella has attached to the surface of a tomato, it’s difficult to remove, even with antimicrobial agents.

For safety, wash tomatoes well before eating. Store them in a cool, dry spot and eat within a few days of buying.

Here are some additional tips for handling tomatoes safely:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling tomatoes.
  • Wash tomatoes under running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t wash tomatoes in a sink that’s used for raw meat or poultry.
  • Store tomatoes in a cool, dry place.
  • Eat tomatoes within a few days of purchase.

Is tomato a risk for food poisoning?

The FDA Food Code is a set of regulations that food service establishments and retail food stores must follow to ensure the safety of their food. 

The code was updated in 2007 to include a new definition of “potentially hazardous food” (PHF), which includes cut tomatoes. 

This means that cut tomatoes must be refrigerated at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

If you add cut tomatoes to a dish, it becomes a PHF unless the dish’s other components change the tomatoes’ PHF status. 

For example, salsa with chopped tomatoes acidified with vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice is not a PHF, but salsa with cut tomatoes and without sufficient acidifying agent is a PHF.

How to tell if a green tomato is safe to eat

Green tomatoes are safe to eat, but they may not taste as good as ripe tomatoes when eaten raw. They also contain more of a substance called solanine, which can be toxic in large amounts. 

If you do choose to eat green tomatoes, be sure to cook them thoroughly to reduce the amount of solanine. Here are some tips for telling if a green tomato is safe to eat:

  • Look for tomatoes that are firm and have smooth, unblemished skin.
  • Avoid tomatoes that are soft, wrinkled, or have any bruises or blemishes.
  • If you’re not sure whether a tomato is safe to eat, err on the side of caution and throw it away.

Here are some ways to cook green tomatoes:

  • Fry them. Slice the tomatoes and dredge them in flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs. Then, fry them in hot oil until they’re golden brown.
  • Pickle them. Slice the tomatoes and place them in a jar with vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices. Let them pickle for at least a week before eating.
  • Make a green tomato pie. Slice the tomatoes and place them in a pie crust with onions, sugar, salt, and spices. Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and the tomatoes are tender.

The bottom line

Identifying the quality of a tomato is crucial not only for the sake of flavor but also for health reasons. By understanding the signs of a bad tomato–such as an off-putting smell, wrinkled skin, mold, or a mushy texture–consumers can ensure they are using produce that is both delicious and safe. 

By being discerning in our selection and storage practices, we can maximize the shelf life of tomatoes and reduce food waste. Always trust your senses, and when in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard any questionable produce.

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