Should you put fresh picked tomatoes in the refrigerator?

Quick Answer

Most experts advise against refrigerating freshly picked tomatoes. The cold temperature inside the refrigerator can damage tomatoes and degrade their texture and flavor. Instead, store freshly picked tomatoes at room temperature out of direct sunlight until they are fully ripe. Once ripe, tomatoes can be refrigerated for 2-3 days to slow further ripening.

What Happens When You Refrigerate Fresh Tomatoes?

When fresh tomatoes are refrigerated, even for short periods, several changes happen that negatively impact their quality:

  • Cell walls start to break down, causing tomatoes to become mushy in texture.
  • Refrigeration suspends ripening. Tomatoes will not continue to ripen once removed.
  • Flavor compounds like sugars and acids do not develop properly, leading to bland taste.
  • The skin loses its firmness and can become wrinkled.
  • Cold temperature damages membranes inside the tomato.
  • Tomatoes are more susceptible to rotting in the refrigerator.

These effects worsen the longer tomatoes are stored in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. Even a few days of refrigeration can degrade fresh tomatoes’ texture and taste.

Why You Should Avoid Refrigerating Freshly Picked Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a summer fruit that thrives in warm, sunny conditions. Once picked from the vine, tomatoes are still live, respiring plants.

Keeping freshly harvested tomatoes at room temperature allows normal ripening processes to continue:

  • Starches break down into sugars, improving sweetness.
  • Organic acids increase, enhancing flavor.
  • Pigments like lycopene develop more.
  • Aromatics become more intense.
  • Cell walls stay intact, keeping firm texture.

Refrigeration inhibits all these natural ripening activities, stopping quality development and leading to disappointing taste and texture.

For peak flavor and texture, freshly picked tomatoes should stay at room temperature until fully ripe. Signs of ripening include robust red color, slightly soft flesh, strong tomato aroma, and ability to detach easily from the vine.

What About Putting Green Tomatoes in the Fridge?

Green tomatoes are less susceptible to cold damage than ripe red tomatoes. The refrigerator can safely store green tomatoes for 1-2 weeks without significantly affecting their final quality when ripe. The cold temperature simply delays further ripening.

Once green tomatoes show signs of color change, remove them from refrigeration and let full ripening complete at room temperature.

While safe for short term storage, keeping unripe green tomatoes in the fridge for more than 2 weeks can degrade their flavor, texture, and ripening potential.

When Is Refrigerating Tomatoes Okay?

While refrigeration harms freshly picked tomatoes, ripe tomatoes can be placed in the refrigerator under certain conditions:

  • Overripe tomatoes – Tomatoes left to ripen fully at room temp can be refrigerated to slow further ripening and deterioration.
  • Tomato puree and sauces – Made from cooked, pureed tomatoes. The cooking process stops enzymatic activity that leads to cold damage.
  • Whole peeled tomatoes canned in juice – The canning process makes these refrigeration safe. Store unopened cans in a cool, dark place.
  • Cut tomatoes – Once cut, tomatoes should be covered and refrigerated for food safety, but best when used within a day.

In general, ripe whole tomatoes are only suited to brief refrigeration for 2-3 days maximum. Always let refrigerated tomatoes come fully to room temperature before serving for best flavor.

Proper Storage for Freshly Picked Tomatoes

To protect quality and allow tomatoes to continue ripening, follow these storage practices:

  • Leave tomatoes on the vine until fully ripe and ready to pick. Vine ripening results in best flavor.
  • Use any damaged or cracked tomatoes right away. Refrigerate and use within a day or two.
  • Set healthy tomatoes out on the counter top away from direct sun. Do not stack them.
  • Keep tomatoes between 55°F and 70°F for optimal storage temperature range.
  • Place green tomatoes in a paper bag to trap the ethylene gas that promotes ripening.
  • Check tomatoes daily and remove any that are overripe or rotting to prevent spoiling the others.
  • Once ripe, eat tomatoes within 2-3 days for best quality and flavor.

Proper storage keeps freshly picked tomatoes safe and retains their garden freshness until serving.

How to Tell When Tomatoes Are Ripe and Ready to Eat

Look for these signs that indicate peak ripeness in tomatoes:

  • Tomatoes detach easily from the vine with a gentle twist.
  • Skin color is fully red with no green areas.
  • Flesh yields slightly when squeezed gently.
  • There is a noticeable tomato aroma.
  • Interior appears juicy.
  • The blossom end is soft.

Ripe tomatoes should still have firm flesh with a meaty interior when cut open. Avoid tomatoes with wrinkled skin, bruises, or mushy areas.

Use ripe tomatoes right away for salads, sauces, sandwiches, and other fresh applications. Enjoy their garden-ripened sweetness and tangy flavor.

How Long Do Fresh Tomatoes Last?

How long fresh tomatoes last depends on ripeness stage and storage conditions:

Tomato Type Shelf Life at Room Temperature
Green tomatoes 2 weeks
Unripe turning tomatoes 5-7 days
Ripe tomatoes 2-3 days
Overripe tomatoes 2-3 days

Once refrigerated, ripe tomatoes are only good for another 1-2 days before further degradation of texture and flavor.

Pick tomatoes at peak ripeness and enjoy as quickly as possible for best eating quality. Discard tomatoes that become overripe or show signs of mold growth.

How to Store Tomatoes Short Term

Follow these tips for short term storage spanning 1-2 weeks:

  • Do not refrigerate unripe and freshly picked tomatoes. Keep at room temperature.
  • Set tomatoes out of direct sun to prevent overheating.
  • Place green tomatoes in a paper bag to accelerate ripening through ethylene exposure.
  • Keep different ripeness stages separate to prevent overripe tomatoes from speeding underripe ones.
  • Use ripe tomatoes within 2-3 days for best quality.
  • Refrigerate overripe tomatoes to slow further deterioration.

With proper storage, fresh tomatoes retain sweet, tangy flavor and firm texture for short term use.

Long Term Tomato Storage Methods

To enjoy fresh tomatoes long term, use these preservation methods:

Canning Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes retain flavor for 1-2 years when stored in a cool, dark place. Choose firm, unblemished ripe tomatoes. Wash, core, and peel before canning raw packed whole tomatoes or simmering tomatoes into purees and sauces. Add acids like lemon juice and follow approved canning methods.

Freezing Tomatoes

Frozen tomatoes keep 8-12 months. Wash tomatoes, remove cores, and cut into pieces. For whole tomatoes, peel or dip in boiling water to remove skins. Pack into freezer bags or containers, removing excess air. Seal and freeze. Use frozen tomatoes in cooked dishes like soups and sauces.

Drying Tomatoes

Dehydrated tomatoes have a shelf life up to 1 year when properly stored in an airtight container. Slice tomatoes about 1⁄2 inch thick and pre-treat by dipping in acids like lemon juice. Dry in a dehydrator or low oven until completely desiccated. Rehydrate dried tomatoes before use in soups, sauces, and stews.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste and puree can be canned or tube packaged to last 18-24 months refrigerated. Cook tomatoes into a thick concentrate or puree and process according to approved recipes. Store sealed tomato paste in the refrigerator or freezer after opening.

Pickled Tomatoes

Pickled tomatoes stored in vinegar last 2-3 months refrigerated. Use firm, green or underripe tomatoes. Cut tomatoes, pack into sterile jars with brine of vinegar and spices. Seal and store for at least 2 weeks before consuming. Keep refrigerated once opened.


Refrigerating freshly harvested tomatoes is not recommended. The cold temperature prevents normal ripening, damages cell structure, and degrades flavor. Leave freshly picked tomatoes at room temperature until fully ripe, around 55-70°F. Then consume ripe tomatoes within 2-3 days for best quality. Refrigerate only to slow further ripening of overripe tomatoes. Use preservation methods like canning, freezing, and drying to store tomatoes long term. With proper post-harvest handling, ripe garden tomatoes retain their sweetness, tangy taste, and firm texture to enjoy fully.

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