Auburn, Alabama—Expiration dates are posted on all packaged and/or processed food items found in the grocery store. However, fruits and vegetables are left for us to wonder if they are safe or not to eat. This can cause confusion when trying to remember how long certain produce items will stay fresh and where they can be stored.
What are the beginning signs of an unsafe fruit or vegetable? Regional Extension Agent Janet Johnson said bruises or signs of wilting are the first signs of spoilage. The bad or wilted part can be removed and the fruit or vegetable may still be safe to eat. However, this all depends on the fruit or vegetable but if a slimy or foul odor is present, throw it away.
Many fruits and vegetables should be stored at room temperature and can generally last for several days. Others require refrigeration and vary on shelf life.
“Common fruits that must be stored in the refrigerator include berries, grapes and plums, and they should be washed only before consumption,” Johnson said. “Fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, and pears should be ripened at room temperature and then stored in the refrigerator.”
Produce expiration dates:
The expiration dates, or shelf life, for vegetables vary but generally follow the following guidelines. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green onions, lima beans, peas, yellow squash, carrots, beets, and turnips will only last about 5 days. Cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, peppers and whole tomatoes can usually last slightly longer, or about one week. Let tomatoes ripen at room temperature. Lettuce, spinach and leafy greens should be washed, drained and stored for about 5 days. Citrus fruits, carrots, beets and turnips can last about 2 weeks.
Some vegetables can be stored at room temperature but should be kept in a slightly cooler area, like 50 to 60 degrees, and should be loosely wrapped and kept in a dark location. These items include onions, potatoes, rutabagas, butternut or spaghetti squash.
Determining if a fruit is ripe and ready to consume can often be difficult. Of course it depends on the type of fruit, but generally the color, texture, or firmness of the fruit can determine when ripe.
Some fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored in the freezer, with proper preparation.
“Vegetables high in water content, such as lettuce, do not freeze well,” Johnson said. “Other vegetables should be blanched (boiled for a short time to stop enzymatic activity), cooled and drained before freezing.”
Don’t wash blueberries before freezing. Most fruits should be frozen in syrup to help retain the texture.
How strict should you follow the dates and sign of expiration? Don’t consume processed foods beyond the dates on packaged and/or processed foods.. The only exceptions are based on whether or not the food can be frozen. This will extend the food’s shelf life. Expiration dates do not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables since proper or improper storage strongly affects how long produce will last.
Fruit and vegetable quality is not based on a date. Proper storage conditions determine the length of shelf life. If improperly stored, most items will not last as long.
Don’t eat produce that has visible mold. Instead throw away the entire fruit or vegetable.
For more information about understanding date labeling on prepackaged foods, contact your county Extension office.