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How Long Should You Keep Fruits & Veggies?

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How Long Should You Keep Fruits & Veggies?

Sep 23, 2014

Have your salad fixings been in the fridge for a while? Registered dietitian Theresa Dvorak suggests when to eat them and when to throw them out. She offers some telltale signs of expired produce – but also advises that even when you think something has gone bad, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: The brown banana sitting in your refrigerator, is it bad? We don't know. So we're going to talk to Theresa Dvorak, registered dietitian at the University of Utah and she's going to tell us the answer coming up next on The Scope.

Recording: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You are listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: So Theresa, my mom tells me that brown bananas are bad. My grandma tells me brown bananas are bad. Are brown bananas bad?

Theresa: Not necessarily. So the browning of the banana is a normal response just to being exposed to oxygen or cooler temperatures like when you notice a banana if we put it in the refrigerator, it tends to go brown very quickly. However, when you peel that banana it looks exactly the same as if it was to sit on the counter. So even though it's turned brown it's not necessarily bad. Once it starts to maybe get a little oozy . . .

Interviewer: Oozy.

Theresa: It's a technical term.

Interviewer: Okay.

Theresa: If it starts to ooze or if by chance it turns moldy or something, certainly if anything is ever growing on your food, you always want to throw it away immediately. But just a browning of a fruit and vegetable isn't necessarily a sign that it has gotten bad, but it's a sign that we should eat it right away or prepare it right away and eat it as soon as possible.

Interviewer: All right. So let's say I don't eat it as soon as possible and I actually do leave it for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and turns brown, it's not oozing, but it's getting there and I eat it. Is it going to do anything to my body?

Theresa: Not necessarily unless, again, there is some kind of bacteria that has started to grow on it. So often if a fruit or a vegetable, again, starts to expel liquids or to have a smell to associate it with it, so you take a whiff of it and it smells a little vinegary or just kind of off, definitely those are points when we throw it away. But even just a softening of a fruit or a vegetable or the skin getting wrinkly isn't necessarily a sign that it has gone bad.

Usually if the fruit has completely disintegrated in the crisper and we've forgotten about it or its gotten a little slimy, then we certainly want to throw that away for individuals at risk for low immune function, so elderly, kids, anybody that's recovering from an injury or a sickness, or something like that, we want to be much more cautious with those individuals. A healthy person, a healthy gut can usually fight off some of the mild things, but it's always better to be safe than sorry and just to throw it away for the ten cents that the banana cost you.

Interviewer: Okay. So from what I'm hearing then, it's going to cause harm to your body in the form of probably stomach ache and that sort of stuff, but nothing too serious is what I'm getting.

Theresa: No, if there is enough bacteria growing on it and this is usually you can pretty visualize it, you can see that bacteria growth, that mold on the fruit or vegetable, that could cause some food borne illness, some food poisoning type of scenarios; so diarrhea, vomiting, not feeling good, feeling like you have the flu, those kinds of feelings. And so with food it's always better to err on the side of caution. If you're curious if it's been sitting in the fridge for three weeks or you don't remember when you bought it, pitch it, just get rid of it and start fresh.

Interviewer: All right. So is there a gray area? You talked about obviously the physical appearance of it and the smell, and if it tastes funky, then you probably shouldn't put it in your mouth. But if it's like two out of those things, if it looks okay, but it smells kind of on the edge, but it tastes really funky.

Theresa: Yeah, so a good example of that, I find, are pre-prepared salad mixings, salad greens. Sometimes the salad will look okay. It's not necessarily slimy that salad can sometimes get when it's exposed to too much moisture, but it has kind of a vinegary, off smell to it. I would definitely throw that away. Is it going to land you in the hospital? Probably not, again, unless you're one of those immuno suppressed populations. But it certainly can cause some stomach irritation and you're not going to feel so well for maybe a day or three.

Interviewer: A day or three. All right. So is there a rule of thumb that you should always keep in mind when dealing with raw veggies and fruits?

Theresa: So again, if it's slimy or if it's expelling any kind of liquid, if it has turned physically moldy that you can see a mold growing on it, those are times when I would throw it away directly. If it has a smell to it that's not kind of fresh, the smell of an orange, if it's not smelling like it should smell, I would definitely throw it away at that point. Fruits and vegetables are fairly inexpensive. And to prevent them going bad, try purchasing fewer fruits and vegetables and just purchasing them more often.

So maybe going to the grocery store, the farmer's market a bit more frequently rather than buying large amounts of fruits and vegetables, say like from Costco and you're not going to be eating them as quickly before they go bad, so that we're not wasting the food and wasting that money, purchasing them a bit more frequently, and be mindful of how frequently we're eating those fruits and vegetables.

Interviewer: Perfect. Any other thoughts?

Theresa: The biggest thing is to eat your fruits and vegetables. And when you're noticing that something has been in the fridge for a couple of days or on the counter for a couple of days, try and build a meal around that. We've got some great recipe sites, search engines that we can put in zucchini into the Food Network or just on Google and you're going to have millions of recipes and options.

Interviewer: Lots of options.

Theresa: So pick something especially once you're noticing that it's been sitting there for a couple of days.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is the Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.