How long do tomatoes last is a common question that many people ask, especially if they have a surplus of tomatoes from their garden or have purchased too many at the store. Tomatoes are a versatile fruit (although often considered a vegetable) that can be used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, sauces, and soups. However, their shelf life can be a concern, and it’s important to know how long they will last before spoiling. In this article, we will explore the factors that affect the lifespan of tomatoes and provide tips on how to store them properly to extend their freshness.
What is the shelf life of fresh tomatoes?
Fresh tomatoes are best enjoyed when consumed within a relatively short period after ripening. At room temperature, ripe tomatoes will generally last 3 to 4 days before becoming overripe and spoiling. The warmer the room temperature, the faster tomatoes will decay.
Once fully ripe, tomatoes should be refrigerated within 1 to 2 days to slow down ripening and preserve freshness. In the refrigerator, ripe tomatoes will last 4 to 7 days. However, refrigeration can cause tomatoes to become slightly soft and mealy. It also reduces their aroma and flavor compounds. For the best quality and flavor, keep tomatoes on the counter to ripen fully, then promptly refrigerate and enjoy within a week.
When storing tomatoes, place them stem-end down on a plate or container in a single layer. Do not stack them on top of each other. Keep cut tomatoes well wrapped in the refrigerator and use within 1 to 2 days. To refrigerate, gently place whole tomatoes in a plastic bag with openings or holes for airflow. This contains moisture while preventing excess condensation buildup. Check refrigerated tomatoes regularly and remove any that are damaged or spoiled, as one can cause the others around it to decay quickly.
Although tomatoes may be edible for a short period beyond their prime, their texture, taste, and nutritional content start deteriorating after a week. For the highest quality eating experience, use ripe tomatoes as soon as possible within 7 days of refrigeration. Follow these tips for the perfect tomato flavor and freshness. With such a short shelf life, it is well worth enjoying tomatoes at their peak ripeness and beauty. (edited)
How long do sliced ripe tomatoes last?
Once ripe tomatoes have been cut or sliced open, they decay at an accelerated rate and have a very short shelf life. Sliced tomatoes left unrefrigerated at room temperature will usually only last 1 to 2 hours before quality starts deteriorating. Bacterial growth increases rapidly on cut tomato surfaces, causing spoilage. For best quality, refrigerate sliced tomatoes promptly within 2 hours of cutting. In the refrigerator, properly stored sliced ripe tomatoes will generally last 1 to 3 days.
To properly refrigerate sliced tomatoes, place them in an airtight container or zipper-lock plastic bag. Press out as much air as possible before sealing the container. This prevents exposure to oxygen, moisture loss, and oxidation. The sealed container should then be placed on a plate to catch any excess liquid as the tomatoes release their juices. Change the container daily to avoid standing liquid.
Check refrigerated sliced tomatoes daily and remove any pieces that show signs of spoilage like mold, slimy spots, or rancid smells. One spoiled slice can contaminate the others. For safety, discard all slices after 3 days even if they still look and smell normal. Bacteria levels on cut tomatoes may be unsafe after this period.
Sliced ripe tomatoes are very perishable, so for the best quality and food safety, use them within 1 to 3 days. Although refrigeration slows decaying, sliced tomatoes are best eaten soon after cutting. Their delicate texture, bright color, and robust flavor start to fade noticeably within a couple of days. For an enjoyable eating experience with tomatoes, keep wedges or slices as fresh as possible.
How can I tell if tomatoes are bad?
There are several signs to look for when determining if tomatoes have gone bad. As tomatoes overripen or spoil, their appearance, texture, and aroma start to change noticeably. Bad tomatoes that should be discarded include those that are:
Soft, mushy, or leaking liquid – Tomatoes that have become very soft, dented, or leak excess liquid have overripened and started decaying. Bacterial growth causes them to break down and spoil.
Moldy – White, green, or black spots on the tomato skin indicate the growth of mold. Mold also causes decaying and spoilage. Discard tomatoes with any signs of mold.
Slimy or foul-smelling – Tomatoes that develop a foul, sour, or rotten smell have spoiled. As bacteria grow, they produce foul-smelling gases. Slimy, sticky areas on the skin or at the stem also indicate spoilage.
Wrinkled or damaged skins – Tomato skins that become extremely wrinkled, cracked, or damaged provide entry points for bacteria and spoilage. Although not always spoiled, heavily wrinkled or cracked tomatoes deteriorate faster.
Dull in color – Tomatoes that are spoiled often become dull, brownish, or grayish. Bright red, fully ripe tomatoes start losing their color as they go bad due to oxidation and moisture loss.
While certain tomatoes can be salvaged if they are slightly overripe but not spoiled, it is best to discard tomatoes with multiple signs of spoilage or those you deem unsafe to eat. When in doubt, it is best to throw them out. Fresh, unspoiled ripe tomatoes will remain plump, bright red, blemish-free, and aromatic, and have only a slight softness while still retaining their juicy texture.
How long are tomatoes good after they’re used in a dish?
Tomatoes used in cooked dishes generally have a shorter shelf life than fresh raw tomatoes. The cooking process exposes them to heat, moisture, and oxygen, all of which speed up deterioration. As a result, tomatoes in dishes are more susceptible to spoilage by bacteria, mold, and oxidation. For safety and best quality, eat tomato-based dishes promptly within the following periods:
Soups, stews, and chili – 3 to 4 days. Tomato-based soups, stews, and chili will usually stay fresh for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. They contain other ingredients like vegetables and stock that can also spoil, so eat leftovers within 4 days. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 F before eating.
Pasta sauce – 5 to 7 days. Homemade or store-bought pasta sauce will last up to 1 week refrigerated. Make sure the sauce is cooled, covered, and reheated thoroughly when eating leftovers. Discard if mold appears or it develops a foul odor.
Salsa – 3 to 5 days. Refrigerated salsa lasts up to 5 days if properly made and stored. Salsa contains tomatoes, chili peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and spices – all of which spoil within a week. Reheat leftovers before eating and discard salsa if it shows signs of spoilage like mold.
Tomato sandwiches – 1 to 2 days. Tomato sandwiches or burgers made with sliced tomatoes should be eaten within 2 days. The bread and any mayonnaise or dressings accelerate spoilage and bacterial growth.
Casseroles or baked dishes – 3 to 5 days. Tomato-based casseroles, lasagna, or other baked dishes will generally last 3 to 5 days refrigerated. Eat leftovers within a week for safety and quality.
As with any leftovers, inspect tomato-based dishes before eating and discard anything spoiled. Although properly stored leftovers may still look and smell normal after a week, bacteria levels may be unsafe. When in doubt, it is best to throw out tomato-based leftovers after 5 to 7 days for food safety.
How long do cooked tomatoes last?
Cooked tomatoes have a shorter shelf life than raw tomatoes due to the effects of heat and oxygen exposure during cooking. The canning, blanching, or roasting process used to cook tomatoes degrades their texture, color, and flavor over time. For the best quality, eat cooked tomatoes promptly within the following periods:
Canned tomatoes – 12 to 18 months. Commercially canned tomatoes will last up to 18 months in the pantry. For home-canned tomatoes, last 6 to 12 months. Discard cans that bulge, leak, or spurt liquid when opened.
Sun-dried tomatoes – 1 to 2 weeks refrigerated, 6 to 12 months frozen. Rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes last 1 to 2 weeks refrigerated. Frozen sundried tomatoes will last 6 to 12 months. Keep refrigerated after opening and use immediately.
Roasted tomatoes – 3 to 5 days refrigerated, 6 to 8 months frozen. Roast tomatoes and eat them within a week, or freeze roasted tomatoes for up to 8 months. Let cool, then place in an airtight container or zipper bag.
Tomato paste – 1 to 2 weeks refrigerated, 6 to 12 months frozen. The opened tomato paste will last up to 2 weeks refrigerated. Tomato paste can last 6 to 12 months frozen. Discard if moldy or slimy.
Tomato sauce – 5 to 7 days refrigerated, 6 to 8 months frozen. Cooked tomato sauce lasts up to 1 week refrigerated or can be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Cool the sauce, then refrigerate or freeze in airtight containers or bags.
Stewed tomatoes – 3 to 5 days. Tomato stew made with vegetables and broth will last up to 5 days refrigerated. Eat promptly as other ingredients like peppers, onions, and garlic can also spoil.
For the best quality and safety, eat cooked tomatoes within the recommended periods. Although properly stored cooked tomatoes may look and smell normal for longer, nutritional content and flavor start deteriorating noticeably within a week. Be cautious of cooked tomato products older than the recommended shelf life. When in doubt, discard cooked tomatoes to avoid risking foodborne illness.
How long do tomatoes last in vinegar?
Tomatoes preserved in vinegar, such as pickled tomatoes, last significantly longer than fresh tomatoes due to the acidic environment. The vinegar inhibits the growth of bacteria, molds, and yeast that cause spoilage. Pickled tomatoes stored properly in the refrigerator can last 2 to 3 months. For the best quality, eat pickled tomatoes within 2 months.
To properly store pickled tomatoes:
Use vinegar with an acidity of 5% or higher, such as white distilled vinegar or cider vinegar. The higher the acid content better preserves the tomatoes.
Use sterilized jars and lids. Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water and rinse well. Submerge in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool before filling.
Pack tomatoes tightly into jars. Remove stems, wash, and pat tomatoes dry. Place small cherry tomatoes whole, slice or wedge larger tomatoes.
Cover tomatoes completely with vinegar. Add any spices like garlic, dill, and mustard seeds as desired. Vinegar should cover tomatoes by at least 1 inch.
Seal the jars according to canning instructions. For refrigerator pickles, simply close the lid. For shelf-stable pickles, fully seal jars with lids and rims and process them in a boiling water bath.
Refrigerate pickles for at least 2 weeks before eating. This allows flavors to develop fully. Refrigerated pickles last 2 to 3 months. Shelf-stable pickles last 6 to 12 months.
Check jars before eating and discard if unsealed, bulging, or foul-smelling. Pickles showing signs of spoilage may be unsafe to eat.
For the best quality, eat refrigerated pickles within 2 months. Pickles may develop a dull color and soft texture over longer periods although they remain shelf-stable.
To extend shelf life, use fully ripe but firm tomatoes, vinegar with higher acidity, and sterilized jars, and ensure seals are airtight and properly vacuum sealed following approved canning methods.
How Long Do Tomatoes Last in the Fridge?
Once ripe, tomatoes will generally last 4 to 7 days when properly refrigerated. The colder temperatures in the fridge slow down deterioration, but tomatoes are still a perishable item. For the best quality, use refrigerated ripe tomatoes within a week. Although edible for a short time after, texture, flavor, and nutrition start fading noticeably within 7 days.
To properly refrigerate tomatoes:
Allow tomatoes to ripen fully on the counter first. Only refrigerate ripe tomatoes. Unripe tomatoes will not continue ripening in the fridge.
Place tomatoes stem-end down on a plate, container, or shallow tray. Do not stack tomatoes on top of each other. Stacking causes crushing and uneven ripening.
Gently place tomatoes in a reusable container or bag with perforations or holes. This allows for moisture control while still permitting airflow. Do not seal tomatoes airtight, as this accelerates spoilage.
Position tomatoes in the main compartment of the fridge, not in the door. The door area exposes tomatoes to temperature fluctuations that can lead to shriveling and spoilage.
Check tomatoes daily and remove any that show signs of spoilage like mold spots, slime, or foul odor. One spoiled tomato releases ethylene gas that can spoil surrounding tomatoes.
For cut tomatoes, only expect 1 to 2 days of fridge life. Keep cut surfaces as dry as possible and well-covered. Cut tomatoes decay much faster.
While tomatoes may remain safe to eat for a short time beyond 7 days, quality suffers substantially. For the best taste, texture, nutrition, and food safety, eat refrigerated ripe tomatoes within 7 days.
Following proper refrigeration methods can help maximize the shelf life of ripe tomatoes, but as with any perishable item, eat them as soon as possible for the highest quality. When in doubt about the freshness or safety of tomatoes, it is best to discard them. Botulism risk may exist beyond 1 week, even if tomatoes look and smell normal.
How to store tomatoes
Storing tomatoes properly can help extend their shelf life and maintain their freshness. Here are some tips on how to store tomatoes:
How To Store Unripe Tomatoes
Unripe tomatoes require careful storage conditions to ripen properly while avoiding spoilage. Unripe tomatoes are firm, partially green, and not yet fully flavorful or juicy. To ripen tomatoes and develop the best flavor, follow these storage tips:
Do not refrigerate unripe tomatoes. Colder temperatures prevent further ripening. Keep unripe tomatoes at room temperature on a countertop away from direct sunlight.
Place tomatoes stem-end down. This allows ethylene gas to circulate freely around the tomato during ripening. Ethylene gas drives ripening, so trapping it at the stem end delays the process.
Space tomatoes out, do not stack them. Stacking unripe tomatoes on top of each other prevents even exposure to ethylene gas and causes uneven ripening. Separate tomatoes when storing.
Check tomatoes daily and remove any spoiled ones. As tomatoes ripen, they soften and become more prone to spoilage and mold growth. Inspect tomatoes regularly and discard any spoiled tomatoes to avoid speeding up the spoilage of surrounding tomatoes.
Place unripe tomatoes in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper to speed up ripening. The bag or wrap traps ethylene gas but still allows for airflow. This concentrated ethylene environment accelerates ripening.
Expect ripening to take 3 to 5 days at room temperature. The exact time will depend on the type of tomato and ripeness when storing. Check tomatoes for changes in texture and color.
Once ripe, refrigerate tomatoes within 2 days. Although ripe tomatoes can be left at room temperature briefly, refrigerate them as soon as they reach your desired ripeness to avoid over-ripening and spoilage.
If tomatoes do not ripen after 5 to 7 days, they likely will not soften further. Unripe tomatoes that fail to develop full color or soften during countertop storage are best discarded as quality and flavor do not continue improving.
How To Store Ripe Tomatoes
Ripe tomatoes are juicy, soft, and full of flavor when ready to eat. However, their delicate nature means ripe tomatoes spoil quickly without proper storage. For the best quality and food safety, follow these tips for storing ripe tomatoes:
Refrigerate ripe tomatoes within 2 days. Although ripe tomatoes can be left at room temperature briefly, refrigerate them as soon as possible after ripening fully. Room temperature storage beyond 2 days leads to significant over-ripening and spoilage.
Place tomatoes stem-end down on a plate or shallow container. Do not stack ripe tomatoes on top of each other. Stacking causes crushing, uneven cooling, and faster spoilage.
Gently place tomatoes in a reusable container or bag before refrigerating. Poke a few holes in the bag or container to allow for moisture control while still permitting airflow. Do not seal tomatoes airtight, as this accelerates decay.
Position tomatoes in the main compartment of the fridge, not in the door. The door exposes tomatoes to a higher risk of temperature changes leading to spoilage.
Ripe tomatoes will last 4 to 7 days when properly refrigerated. Although edible for a short time after, quality deteriorates noticeably within the first week of refrigeration. For the best taste and texture, enjoy tomatoes as soon as possible within 7 days.
Inspect tomatoes daily and remove any spoiled ones to avoid accelerating the decay of surrounding tomatoes. Look for mold spots, excess softness, or foul odors which indicate spoilage.
Cut or sliced ripe tomatoes should be eaten within 1 to 2 days. Keep cut surfaces as dry as possible and loosely covered. Cut tomatoes decay much faster than whole tomatoes.
If mold, slime, or foul smell develops, discard the tomatoes. Although tomatoes may look and smell normal for a time, bacteria levels could be unsafe after a week. When in doubt, it is best to throw ripe tomatoes out after 7 days.
Tomato storage tips
Here are some useful tomato storage tips:
Do not refrigerate unripe tomatoes. Keep unripe tomatoes at room temperature to continue ripening. Colder temperatures halt ripening. Check daily and refrigerate once ripe.
Allow tomatoes to ripen on the counter, not in the sun. A countertop away from direct sunlight is ideal. The sun’s heat causes tomatoes to over-ripen and spoil quickly.
Place unripe tomatoes stem-end down on a plate or container. This allows ripening ethylene gas to circulate freely. Stacking prevents even ripening.
Gently place ripe tomatoes in a bag or container with holes before refrigerating. This controls moisture while allowing airflow. Do not seal airtight, which speeds up decay.
Refrigerate ripe tomatoes within 2 days. Although left briefly at room temperature, refrigerate ripe tomatoes soon after harvesting or purchase for the best quality.
Position tomatoes in the fridge’s main compartment, not the door. The door exposes them to damaging temperature changes.
Ripe tomatoes last 4 to 7 days in the fridge. Use within a week for the best taste and nutrition. Inspect daily and remove spoiled tomatoes promptly.
Cut tomatoes spoil faster. Keep cut surfaces as dry as possible and eat within 1 to 2 days.
Check tomatoes for common signs of spoilage like mold, slime, foul odor, and excess softness. When in doubt, discard tomatoes. They can be unsafe to eat even if they look normal.
Place tomatoes stem-end down on a plate or tray before refrigerating. Never stack ripe tomatoes, which causes crushing, uneven ripening, and accelerated spoilage.
Use ripe tomatoes as soon as possible. Although properly stored tomatoes last a week, quality fades noticeably over time. For the best experience, use within 4 to 5 days.
If done ripening, unripe tomatoes will not soften further. Discard hard, unripe tomatoes after a week at room temperature. Further ripening does not improve quality.
Should I store tomatoes in the refrigerator?
Whether to refrigerate tomatoes depends on their ripeness:
Unripe tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Keep unripe tomatoes at room temperature to continue ripening. Cold temperatures will halt ripening. Check daily and refrigerate once ripe.
Ripe tomatoes should be refrigerated within 2 days of becoming fully ripe. Although ripe tomatoes can be left at room temperature briefly, refrigerate them soon after harvesting or purchasing for best quality. Room temperature storage beyond 2 days leads to over-ripening and spoilage.
Sliced or cut tomatoes should always be refrigerated promptly after cutting. Cut surfaces degrade rapidly at room temperature as oxygen exposure and moisture loss cause oxidation and spoilage. Refrigeration slows this process.
Place tomatoes stem-end down on a plate or shallow container. Do not stack, which causes excess moisture and uneven cooling.
Gently place in a bag or container with holes or perforations before refrigerating. This controls moisture while allowing airflow. Do not seal airtight, which speeds up decay.
Position in the main compartment of the refrigerator, not in the door. The door exposes tomatoes to temperature changes that accelerate spoilage.
Ripe tomatoes last 4 to 7 days refrigerated. Although edible for a short time after, quality deteriorates noticeably within the first week. For the best experience, use within 7 days.
Sliced or cut tomatoes should be eaten within 1 to 2 days. Keep cut surfaces as dry as possible and loosely covered. Cut tomatoes decay much faster than whole tomatoes.
Check tomatoes daily and remove any spoiled ones. One spoiled tomato releases compounds that spoil surrounding tomatoes. Remove spoiled pieces from cut tomatoes as well.
Properly refrigerating ripe and cut tomatoes helps maximize their short shelf life, but as with any perishable produce, eat them as soon as possible for the best quality and to avoid risking foodborne illness. For an enjoyable experience, keep tomatoes as freshly picked as possible!
How to make tomatoes last longer
Here are some tips to help tomatoes last longer:
Choose disease-resistant varieties. Some tomatoes are bred specifically for longer shelf life and disease resistance. Beefsteak, Roma, and plum tomatoes generally last longer than heirloom varieties.
Pick tomatoes at the proper ripeness. Harvest tomatoes once they are fully colored but still firm, not soft or squishy. Under-ripe tomatoes will not ripen further off the vine and overripe tomatoes spoil quickly.
Leave stems attached until ready to eat. Tomato stems maintain moisture and freshness. Gently twist or cut tomatoes from the vine to keep stems on. Only remove just before slicing or eating.
Avoid stacking tomatoes. Stacking causes uneven ripening, crushing damage, and faster decay. Always keep tomatoes separated on a flat surface with air circulation.
Gently place tomatoes in a perforated bag or container. Punch several holes in a reusable bag or container before placing tomatoes inside. This controls moisture while allowing airflow. Do not seal tomatoes airtight.
Store tomatoes at room temperature. Keep tomatoes on a countertop out of direct sunlight. Room temperature slows spoilage while allowing further ripening. Only refrigerate ripe tomatoes.
Check tomatoes daily and remove spoiled ones promptly. Discard tomatoes with spots, leaks, or other defects to avoid spoilage of adjacent tomatoes. One spoiled tomato releases compounds that speed up decay in others.
Rinse just before eating. Only rinse tomatoes right before slicing or eating. Excess moisture on the surface or stem stimulates decay. Gently pat dry with a towel.
Consider grape or cherry tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes generally have a longer shelf life than large beefsteak tomatoes. More skin and less flesh means less spoilage. They also ripen more uniformly due to a higher skin-to-flesh ratio.
Use ripe tomatoes within a week. Although some tips can extend tomato shelf life to 2 weeks, quality deteriorates noticeably after 7 days. For the best experience, use ripe tomatoes as soon as possible within a week.