How To Know If Strawberries Have Gone Bad

The pick-your-own strawberry farms in Illinois and nearby states had better start preparing now. They're going to enjoy a banner year when the season opens in June 2023. So will other farms around the country where the summer was similarly warm and sunny but not stifling hot. Warm weather helps produce sweet, juicy strawberries, not the slightly bitter type that intense heat leaves behind (per Iowa State University) . 

If you're a bona fide strawberry lover, you may wish to start preparing now, too. In addition to learning how to store the fruit before it goes bad, you can start collecting recipes that you'll invariably need once some of your harvest begins to turn soft and — to use a technical farming term — "mushy." In the process, your enthusiasm (and that of fellow strawberry lovers) may propel the fruit to the top of Americans' favorite-fruit list. That distinction now belongs to bananas, followed by strawberries, and then closely by apples and grapes, Statista says.

This may pose a lesser challenge than it seems. By 2013, Americans were eating a record-high of 8 pounds of strawberries per capita (meaning, per person), (via Statista). By 2021, the per-capital number had climbed to 8.5 pounds.

Judge a bad berry by its appearance, feel, and smell

Whether you gravitate to strawberries for their sweet, slightly tart flavor, or their vitamins and minerals, you probably don't want to miss a single fresh one. You won't when you learn how to distinguish the good ones from the bad ones.

Similar to other fruits and even vegetables, bad strawberries signal their condition based on how they look, feel, and smell. A fresh, ripe strawberry should be bright red and firm and smell sweet, Spoon University says. Mold can leave white or greenish-gray traces on strawberries (per New Health A spoiled strawberry may also be wrinkly — a sign that its hours (not days) are seriously numbered. Wrinkled strawberries should be consumed as soon as possible. If you're uncertain, touch and sniff tests will help you reach a verdict. A fresh strawberry feels solid; a bad one is already decaying and so will break open after a gentle squeeze. A spoiled strawberry also smells like one: rotten.

These are more reliable criteria than going by general shelf-life dates. Still, the dates are good to know, especially if they affect your storage decisions. Whole strawberries can last for one or two days on the counter, five to seven days in the refrigerator, and six to eight months in the freezer, New Health Advisor says. Cut strawberries have a shorter lifespan, lasting one day on the counter, one to three days in the refrigerator, and three or four months in the freezer.

Put wrinkled strawberries to good use

It's smart to pay extra attention to wrinkled strawberries. They're safe to eat unless they contain mold, Spoon University says. They probably won't taste as sweet as your firmer strawberries, but some people develop a fondness for the varying flavor. Since wrinkled strawberries should be used or consumed as soon as possible — within a day of spotting their wrinkled state — they're ideal to pop in the blender for smoothies and sauces, New Health Advisor says. In their already-mushy state, they will break down quickly, reducing your total prep time. Wrinkled strawberries can also be used to make strawberry muffins, cobblers, and pies.

As you will soon discover, separating wrinkled strawberries from firm strawberries provides a good opportunity to give the sweetest treasures the star treatment. In other words, if you're not going to devour them plain, then save them for some favorite, go-to strawberry baked goods. Taste of Home suggests strawberry cakechocolate-strawberry cakestrawberry shortcake, and strawberry trifle.

Then there is the crème de la crème of strawberry desserts: chocolate-covered strawberries. For the best result, be sure to dip the berries in high quality chocolate (like baking chocolate), Tastes Better From Scratch says. To hear other people tell it, your sweet tooth may never be the same.