Bought or harvested a bunch of tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), and not sure how long they’ll stay good to eat? How long do tomatoes last?
Or maybe you’ve heard that you should never refrigerate tomatoes, and you’re wondering if that’s a fact or not. Perhaps that’s one of those things people say that isn’t quite true?
In this article, I’m going to talk about (without going into science and unnecessary details):
- Storing tomatoes at home, and whether or not you should refrigerate them
- Shelf life of tomatoes, and how long you can expect them to last, depending on how you store them
- Choosing the best tomatoes in the supermarket or grocery store
- When to toss your old tomatoes
Interested? Let’s dive right in.
How To Store Tomatoes
Store your tomatoes at room temperature until they ripen. Once they’re at their peak, you can either leave them on the counter or refrigerate them. That choice depends on how long you need them to last.
While you’ve probably heard that you should never refrigerate tomatoes, that’s not necessarily the case. If you go about it the right way, your tomatoes won’t suffer from major flavor loss and will retain quality for much longer.
Many sources fail to mention that flavor loss due to refrigeration is much more pronounced in unripe tomatoes than in fully ripen ones.
In other words, if you let your tomatoes ripen on the counter and then place them in the fridge, you’re going to be a-okay.
Want to learn more about the science behind tomato storage? I linked to a lengthy SeriousEats essay on the topic in the sources section of the article. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and give it a read if you’re interested.
Knowing that, let’s talk about details.
How To Store Unripe Tomatoes
Remove the stems and store your unripe tomatoes at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. There’s still debate on whether you should place them stem end up or down, but it probably doesn’t make that much of a difference.
Leaving unripe tomatoes in direct sunlight causes uneven ripening, and we want to avoid that.
Speaking of storage spots, you can also keep your tomatoes in a cold pantry or any other place that’s a bit colder than room temperature but warmer than the fridge. It will extend the storage time of your tomatoes and slow down the ripening process.
Once your tomatoes are ripe, that means they’re full color and yield a bit under gentle pressure, you can leave them on the counter or refrigerate them.
How To Store Ripe Tomatoes
If you decide to leave your ripe tomatoes on the counter, all you need is to keep them in a cool spot and out of direct sunlight. And watch them closely, as they soften and go bad quickly.
If you want to refrigerate them, place them in the crisper drawer and in a container that allows them to breathe.
A plastic bag with some holes or a half-open freezer bag works well. The same is true for those clamshell containers cherry tomatoes are often sold in. Or cardboard containers wrapped with plastic with slits.
Such packaging keeps as much moisture in as possible, but also allows the fruit to remove excess if there’s any. If there’s nothing to hold moisture, tomatoes lose water quite quickly and become soft and wrinkly.
Serve your tomatoes at room temperature. If they sit in the fridge, give them an hour on the counter before serving to get back some of their original flavor.
How Long Do Tomatoes Last?
Unripe tomatoes take about two days to a week to ripen. Once ripe, they last for about 3 to 4 days on the counter or up to 10 days if you refrigerate them.
Cherry tomatoes retain quality for approximately 4 to 6 days at room temperature or up to two weeks in the fridge. In short, they stay good for a bit longer than their big brothers.
I don’t have any trustworthy data that confirms cherry tomatoes retain quality better than regular tomatoes. But I eat cherry (and grape) tomatoes often, and it certainly feels like that’s the case.
As you already know, as long as you let your tomatoes ripen first, you can then refrigerate them with little ill consequences. And the fridge is key if you’ve bought a bunch and need them to last as long as they can.
Of course, the periods I gave you are only rough estimates. How long yours will last depends on many other conditions, including some of which you have no control over.
- how many days the seller stored those tomatoes before you bought them
- the conditions they were stored in (temperature, breathing room, etc.)
- the quality of the tomatoes (e.g., you can’t examine cherry tomatoes with your hands if they’re in a closed clamshell container)
Because of that, don’t assume yours will last for the full period I gave you. Most of the time they will, but sometimes they won’t. That’s expected for most fruits and veggies.
To make sure your tomatoes keep for as long as possible, take an extra minute when choosing yours in the grocery store or supermarket. Let’s talk about how to do that.
|Unripe tomatoes||2 – 7 days or until ripe|
|Ripe tomatoes||3 – 4 days||7 – 10 days|
|Cherry tomatoes||4 – 6 days||7 – 14 days|
How To Select Tomatoes At Retail
Select tomatoes or cherry tomatoes that:
- Have bright and well-colored skin. That full color is one of the signs of ripeness. If it’s not quite there, e.g., the tomatoes are light pink or reddish, they’ll need a couple of extra days to ripen.
- Yield slightly under gentle pressure. Remember the pressure test for mangoes? The idea is the same here. Also, the skin should get right back to how it looked once you release pressure. No changes or deformities.
- Have no wrinkles, bruises, and dark spots. In other words, the fruit on the outside looks perfectly healthy.
- If attached to vines, they should be bright green and flexible. It’s like choosing grapes – we look for healthy-looking vines, not dark ones that are dehydrated and break easily. The firmness and color of the fruit are much more important than the vine’s quality, though.
If you’re buying yellow tomatoes, they should be just-yellow, not golden yellow or yellow-going-orange. The latter often indicates the tomatoes are overripe.
How To Tell If Your Tomatoes Have Gone Bad?
Throw out your tomatoes when:
- There’s mold. If there’s any fuzzy action, no matter the color, that fruit is done for. Cutting out the bad part, as you do in the case of broccoli or carrots, doesn’t apply here.
- They’re leaking liquid or are super soft and wrinkly. All are signs of noticeable water loss, and at that point, those tomatoes are no good. It’s okay if your tomatoes are slightly on the softer side, though.
- They smell off. If the odor they give off is putrid, bitter, or they simply smell “funny,” toss them.
Besides that, let’s briefly talk about taste.
If you’re one of the people who toss their tomatoes in the fridge after getting back from the supermarket, you might be used to tasteless tomatoes. Or that they are flavorful only when they’re in season.
That’s because refrigeration inhibits flavor development in unripe tomatoes. If you up your storage game by following my suggestions, the flavor of your average tomato should be at least a bit better.
But if you did everything properly storage-wise, and your tomatoes still taste so-so, it’s up to you if you eat them or not. They aren’t spoiled or anything; they just don’t have the flavor you’re looking for.