Do Cranberries Go Bad?

When you start seeing fresh cranberries in the produce aisles of the grocery stores you frequent, you know they’re in season. And it’s all too easy to buy one bag too many when they look so fresh and yummy, and the price is reasonable.

If you’ve bought more cranberries than you need, you need to know how to store them and what’s their shelf life. No matter if you’re making cranberry sauce as a side for Thanksgiving, or any other dish that includes those bright red fruits, you don’t want the rest to go to waste.

This article is here to help you avoid that. In it, we cover storage (and freezing), shelf life, and going bad of cranberries. After reading it, you should know what to do about your cranberries, so you use all of them. Let’s dive in.

How To Store Cranberries

Cranberries require refrigeration (PSE, NCFHP, USC). Sure, they aren’t in the refrigerators in the grocery store or farmer’s market, but they won’t sit there for too long. And you probably want to retain the quality of the berries for the longest, so keep them chilled in the fridge. If you’re buying bagged cranberries, throw them into the crisper drawer in your refrigerator.

Tip

If you’re buying cranberries in bulk, transfer them to an airtight container or resealable freezer bag before chilling in the fridge.

While cranberries have a much longer shelf life than other berries, freezing them is also an option. And a perfect one if you already know that you have more than you need within a couple of weeks.

Alternatively, you can always make homemade cranberry juice. That’s a good way to use a bunch of cranberries in no time.

Bowl of cranberries
(credit: Marina Khrapova)

How To Freeze Cranberries

Cranberry is one of the fruits that everyone agrees can be frozen, no matter if you ask US Cranberries (USC) or universities such as Pennsylvania (PSE) or Michigan (MSUE).

When it comes to how to do it, there are two popular options: dry freezing and freezing cranberries in their packaging.

Tip

If you’ve bought bagged cranberries, just chuck the bag into the freezer (MSUE, USC, PSE). If you’ve bought them in bulk, transfer them to a freezer bag first, then do the same.

The second, somewhat more involved, method of freezing these fruits is dry freezing. There’s nothing difficult or super time-consuming about it, but it’s still much more hands-on than merely putting the bag into the freezer. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Prep the cranberries. Sort out any bad ones, and place the good ones on a cookie tray in a single layer.
  2. Flash freeze the fruits. Put the tray into the freezer and leave there for a couple of hours. I usually put it there in the evening and have the fruit frozen solid in the morning. If you’d like to read more about this process, check out our guide to flash freezing.
  3. Transfer frozen berries to a freezer bag or airtight container. The packaging protects the fruit from the cold, and it’s more convenient than keeping a tray in the freezer. Label the package if you like.
  4. Put it back in the freezer.

Frozen cranberries retain quality for 8 to 12 months ([MSUE, PSE, USC]).

Frozen cranberries in a bowl
(credit: Anna Auza)

How To Defrost Cranberries

If you’re cooking with cranberries, there’s no need for thawing the fruits (USC). Instead, take them from the freezer, rinse with cold water, drain the excess water, and add to the dish you’re whipping up. Please remember about washing the berries, unless, of course, you’ve washed them before freezing. Almost all cranberries come unwashed.

If you actually need to defrost the fruit (e.g., for a salad), put it into the fridge for a couple of hours, then wash and dry. Again, keep in mind that cranberries should be washed before you eat them.

How Long Do Cranberries Last

If you buy cranberries in bulk and leave them in an open bag in the fridge, they retain quality for about two weeks (PSE). If you’ve bought them bagged or followed the advice about putting them in a freezer bag, they keep quality for about a month (USC, NCFHFP, PSE).

As usual, pre-packed cranberries come with a date on the label, and that date is a pretty good estimate of how long they will keep up for. Of course, the red fruits will probably last a couple of days, maybe a week, past that date, but that’s about it. The longer you store them, the more soft and bruised ones you will find.

Tip

When buying cranberries in bulk, transfer them in a freezer bag, and label with purchase date. This way you won’t have to remember when you’ve bought them and know approximately how much time you have until you need to use all of them.

Fridge
CranberriesBest-by date + 5 – 7 days or 2 – 4 weeks

Please note the periods above are only estimates.

How To Tell If Cranberries Are Bad?

For starters, let me make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to how a ripe and fresh cranberry should be like. National Center for Home Food Preservation describes it as follows (NCFHFP):

The berries should be brightly colored: fully red or yellowish-red with a smooth, glossy and firm skin.

Everything that doesn’t fit that description is a bad cranberry, and you should sort it out. In particular, discard berries that:

  • are soft, shriveled, or wrinkled (i.e., looks dried out)
  • have surface blemishes, bruises, signs of mold
  • smell off, sour, or funny

If you’re not certain that the cranberries that you have are perfectly fine, discard them. Whenever you feel there’s something off about a food product, you’re usually right. And it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sources