Storage Tips

How to Store Tomatoes So They Stay Plump & Fresh for a Very Long Time

To put them in the fridge, or to keep 'em counter-bound?

June 28, 2019

Whether you've just bought tomatoes—cherry tomatoes, unripe tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes—at the grocery store, ready to whip up a batch of tomato sauce or a fresh summer salad, it's important to know how to store tomatoes and to understand the tomato ripening process. There's lots of talk out there about ethylene gas, paper bags and plastic bags, and how to stop the tomato ripening process—but contrary to popular belief, the answer isn't necessarily to never refridgerate tomatoes. Read on to see why.

If you want to get a room full of tomato lovers fired up, announce to everyone that you put them in the fridge, and watch the vitriol flow. After all, refrigerating tomatoes is an absolute no-no—right?

As Harold McGee, our go-to guy for all food science questions, laid out in his book On Food and Cooking: “Tomatoes came originally from a warm climate, and should be stored at room temperature.” As in, on the countertop. He notes that anything other than fully ripe tomatoes really suffer after refrigeration in every way—flavor development, coloration, and mealy texture. 

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And the same goes for cherry tomatoes—those small, sweet ones born to brighten up any summer salad. However, the key phrase to pay attention to here is “anything other than fully ripe tomatoes.” Temperatures below 55° F (like the inside of your refrigerator) halt unripe tomatoes’ flavor-producing enzyme activity. McGee notes that while fully ripe fresh tomatoes are still susceptible to flavor loss when placed in the refrigerator, some of that enzyme activity can come back if they are allowed to recover for a day or two at room temperature before eating.

Serious Eats did extensive fresh tomato storage research and taste testing and found essentially the same thing: “Because peak-season market tomatoes are already perfectly ripe, they benefit very little from extra time in the heat, and in many cases they are harmed by it, while the refrigerator does minimal harm once tomatoes are ripe.” They kept tomatoes in the fridge for up to four days no problem.

How to Store Tomatoes When They're Ripe

Here's the takeaway: If you have a cool spot in your home, like a wine cellar or root cellar, with temperatures in the 55° F to 70° F range, store fully ripe tomatoes there. They’ll keep well for a day or two, and you won’t risk disrupting any flavor-producing enzyme activity. If, like us, you don’t have a wide variety of temperature zones in your home, rest assured that fully ripe tomatoes will survive refrigeration, just plan for some room temperature recovery time.

More: Here are 8 ways to use your perfectly ripe tomatoes.

How to Store Unripe Tomatoes

But what about tomatoes that aren’t quite ripe? You definitely shouldn’t put those unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator. They need to stay at room temperature, ideally in a single layer out of direct sunlight. And most importantly for keeping them fresher longer, store them stem side down while they finish ripening.

America’s Test Kitchen purports that the benefits are twofold: blocking where the tomato’s stem was prevents moisture from leaving the tomato and blocks air (and thus mold and bacteria) from entering the tomato.

You might have heard not to store tomatoes upside-down because the “shoulders” (the area around the stem scar) are delicate and susceptible to bruising. If you’re worried about that, America’s Test Kitchen has a solution: Place a piece of tape over the stem scar. They found it worked as well as storing tomatoes upside down. And for the super unripe ones, place them stem-side down in a paper bag, and let them ripen somewhere cool or room temperature. 

So, it's okay not to gobble up all your tomatoes immediately. Not that we're stopping you. And don't forget to make a few batches of tomato sauce for the freezer, while you're at it. 

Do you have any tricks for keeping your tomatoes fresh? Let us know in the comments! 

This post originally ran in August 2015, but we're bringing it back for all your summertime tomato storing needs.

Photos by James Ransom

 

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I like esoteric facts about vegetables and think ambling through a farmers market is a great way to start the day. My first cookbook, available now, is called Cooking with Scraps.

24 Comments

Cookie August 11, 2019
I have no problem keeping tomatoes for up to two weeks this way: Just as they get ripe, no later, wrap the tomato in a single layer of clean white paper towel and seal it all around with plastic wrap. This way, no air gets in, and the paper towel absorbs moisture which would otherwise cause the tomato to start deteriorating. You will be very surprised how long tomatoes will last this way without getting mealy -- even ripe heirlooms.
 
Smaug October 4, 2019
The plastic wrap will also prevent ethylene gas from escaping, which is not so good.
 
Cookie October 4, 2019
That's the whole point, stopping the ripening process. I should have been more clear that the tomatoes need to be just about ripe prior to being stored this way. Ethylene gas emitted by tomatoes is what turns the skins red and ripens them; but the gas does not continue to be produced when the fruit is chilled and the moisture controlled. Even works with heirlooms.
 
Smaug October 4, 2019
My point was that trapping ethylene gas will speed ripening- usually when you want to ripen something artificially, or cause bromeliads to bloom, they are put in some sort of bag or container, with an ethylene source if needed. I'm sure cold will slow the formation of ethylene considerably but still. As far as heirlooms- let this be my yearly tirade on the subject; "heirloom" tomato is a purely horticultural term, it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality or the nature of the fruits. Recipes calling for "heirloom" tomatoes are directing you to a huge variety of completely different fruits and really make no sense. Of course a lot of them weren't selected for their storage and shipping capabilities, but a lot of modern hybrids (not the ones you get at Safeway) weren't either.
 
Margi July 13, 2019
Where do you store a tomato if you’ve cut into it and didn’t use it all up? I store it in the refrigerator then- is that best?
 
Smaug July 13, 2019
Yes. I find that it's a little better to put it face down on a plate than to wrap it, it seems to have less inclination to get slimy. You don't want to keep it long.
 
Rachael B. October 4, 2019
I’ve had very good luck storing it on a small plate or even the little plastic cup that comes will pop container cinnamon rolls. If my tomatoes are larger I use the plastic lid that comes off Yoplait YoCrunch containers.
 
Adrienne B. July 7, 2019
I got some reusable cotton woven net bags for vegetables and put my tomatoes in there. I had bought some Roma tomatoes and thought I used them all up, until last night when I discovered one that had been hiding. It had been hiding for about three weeks. It had lost a little moisture but was fine cut up in a salad. I think the breathable bags really helped. I noticed that any vegetable I put in those bags lasted longer than plastic. A good deal all around.
 
Smaug June 28, 2019
I've never counted the days, but I have no problem keeping homegrown tomatoes (mostly low-moisture Early Girls) in a bowl on top of the refrigerator in my by no means cool kitchen for a week or two. Tomatoes ripened off the vine- and that includes commercial "vine ripened" tomatoes- tend to go off faster, in fact they can go bad before they're really ripe.
 
Tony T. October 26, 2017
There is Chinese Food which my favorite called tomato soup with eggs, it is so delicious.
Tony ~ happyinvitation.com~
 
AntoniaJames August 30, 2017
Yes, this is true! I read first about it on Serious Eats and consider it one of the most useful bits of advice I've gleaned on the internet in recent memory - not to mention that there's something quite refreshing about a cold, dead-ripe tomato on a hot summer day. A flavorful ripe heirloom tomato doesn't really need to come back up to room temperature. I'm grateful that others who don't regularly follow Serious Eats have the benefit of this helpful information. ;o)
 
Alexis A. August 21, 2017
i can keep tomatoes on the counter for a while; their downfall is fruit flies that appear out of nowhere and wreak havoc on anything with soft skin (tomatoes, peaches, cherries..etc)
 
Yvonne September 1, 2017
Try getting one of those picnic bowls that have a domed screen lid. It helped keep the fruit flies off our tomatoes that were in the kitchen. The real problem is that once they start buzzing around your house, they will lay eggs in the soil of your house plants and make more fruit flies, which hatch very quickly. You can curb that problem by sprinkling diatomaceous earth over the soil, which is completely non-toxic and natural, or sprinkle a thin layer of aquarium pebbles over your soil to prevent egg laying. We also used the fruit fly traps, and I later learned that you can mix your own solution and put it in a little bowl. You'll have to research the quantities but the ingredients are water, apple cider vinegar, and a drop or two of dish soap .
 
Ruth M. August 11, 2019
I vacuum up the fruit flies!
 
judy July 15, 2017
I put mine, unwashed in Debbie Meyer Green boxes. wipe out the moisture ever couple of days. They keep about 2 weeks, as long as there is no mold, so I check them before storing. These boxes work for keeping all kinds of fruits and veggies, in the fridge or out. Just need to manage the moisture. Just had some salad tonight with lettuce I put in the box and stored about 12 days ago. 3 leaves had to be tossed, the rest was crisp, fresh and delicious. The thing is that the best laid plans often go awry. and fruits and veggies I may plan to use soon, may not get used as soon as planned. The Green Boxes give me lots of leeway because spoilage is delayed quite a bit.
 
Mother D. July 20, 2016
I have been experimenting for the past 6 months or so storing unwashed, no vinegar/water rinsed tomatoes on the kitchen counter sitting on an up-turned recycled paper drink carrier one gets from drive-thru restaurants. Without fail, I have had tomatoes still edible; no mold, no soft on-the-verge of rotting spots by doing this at three weeks. There have been times when one or two require peeling after two weeks but for the most part, they have been sliceable for sandwiches or cut into wedges for salads. On-the vine or individual does not seem to make a difference.
 
Laura415 August 24, 2015
Canning tomatoes right now. Problem is 20lbs of tomatoes mostly ripe but some are softer than others. I got them on Thursday and needed them to last until Monday for a whole day of canning. Put them on cookie sheets not touching (took 3 for the whole 20lbs) They lasted nicely that way. Luckily my kitchen is not too hot since San Francisco summers are not known for being warm. I've also sometimes put the whole box of tomatoes on the fire escape each night and in a cool shady place inside during the day to keep them longer. I will try an experiment of putting any tomatoes that are getting too ripe in the fridge and compare their texture and taste to the unrefrigerated ones.
 
Joan C. August 24, 2015
Something that gets left out of the refrigerate/not refrigerate discussions is that room temperature varies greatly in kitchens. In hot Southern California or if you do a lot of baking anywhere your kitchen is warmer than someone else's kitchen. For that reason I keep onions and potatoes in the refrigerator which I am told repeatedly not to do. Unfortunately I need my onions and potatoes to last more than a day or two. Once anything is ripe it goes in the refrigerator too.
 
Glen B. June 7, 2018
How do you storage a tomato after it’s been cut. If we don’t eat the whole tomato how do we store it.
 
Kate's K. July 18, 2018
I turn it cut side down on a plate and refrigerate it covered with wax paper. The cut side seems to be less slimy when I use it again. This works got me - I just kept experimenting with different ways of storing them and this works best.
 
William April 10, 2019
I place a thin layer of vegetable oil on it and put it in a plastic container with a lid and in the fridge it goes,it should stay tasty for a couple days after.
 
Midnite B. August 20, 2015
Very Good Information to know. I have been juggling with "do I or don't I" keep fully ripened tomatoes in the frig. Now, I can tell hubby he can have his "cold" tomatoes if he wants!! Thanks again for the info.
 
Tammy,Kimbler August 18, 2015
I put my ripe tomatoes, the ones without unhealed cracks or bruises, in a box in a single layer, then set them on the floor in front of my air conditioning vent. It's just enough of a cooling effect to hold them a bit longer. If I want 4 or 5 days more, I put the box on the floor in the corner of the basement.
 
Bella B. August 18, 2015
Good to know. I have so many in my garden right now. I can't keep up with them ripening.

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