Apples are one of the most popular and beloved fruits, enjoyed by people of all ages for their sweet, crisp flavor. However, like any fresh produce, apples have a limited shelf life. Eating spoiled, rotten apples can cause foodborne illness.
Knowing how to choose fresh apples, proper storage methods, signs of spoilage, and when an apple has gone bad is key to enjoying apples while avoiding food safety issues. This article will cover what causes apples to deteriorate, how to tell if an apple has spoiled, ideal storage conditions, freezing apples, food safety, and frequently asked questions.
Follow these guidelines to keep your apples fresh for as long as possible.
Signs of a Fresh Apple
When selecting fresh apples, look for the following characteristics:
- Firm, not mushy – Fresh apples feel firm and dense when gently squeezed, not soft or squishy.
- Smooth, unbroken skin – The skin should be taut, with no wrinkles, holes, or cuts. Avoid apples with bruises or indentations.
- Bright, vibrant color – Apples should look bright and glossy. Dull apples may be old or stored improperly.
- Fresh, apple aroma – A fresh apple has a fruity aroma. Avoid apples with a fermented or mushy smell.
- Intact stem – The stem should be green and firmly attached. Avoid apples with missing or dark stems.
- No mold – Check closely for any fuzz, spots or growths, which signal decay.
- Cold temperature – For longest life, choose apples refrigerated in the produce section.
What Causes Apples to Go Bad?
Several factors can cause apples to deteriorate and go bad:
- Cuts, bruises – Any breaks in the apple skin allow entry of bacteria and moisture that hasten spoilage. Damaged apples spoil faster.
- Ethylene gas – Apples naturally produce ethylene gas that accelerates ripening. Storing with other produce may increase exposure.
- Yeasts and molds – Yeasts and molds create the fuzzy growth that signals rotting. They thrive in humid environments and grow rapidly on bruised apples.
- Temperature fluctuations – Heat speeds up decomposition. Cold storage between 32-40°F slows apple respiration and microbial growth for longer shelf life.
- Age – Apples continue to respire slowly after picking. Older apples deteriorate faster than newly picked ones.
Storing apples properly and using them promptly can prevent premature spoilage.
19 Signs That Your Apple Is Bad
Apples will eventually start deteriorating and show signs they have gone bad. Being able to identify when an apple is past its prime can help avoid foodborne illness from eating spoiled fruit.
Visible Signs an Apple Has Gone Bad
Watch for these common visible cues that an apple is rotten and needs to be discarded:
1. Mold Growth
Perhaps the most obvious indicator is fuzzy mold growing on the apple. Molds can appear in various colors – black, green, white or blue. Tiny spots will enlarge to cover the entire apple. Even if mold isn’t visible, harmful mycotoxins may be present. Any mold growth means the apple must be tossed.
2. Brown/Black Spots
Dark blemishes on the apple’s skin signify spoilage. These spots appear as the apple flesh underneath begins to rot. Cut open the apple – if the inside matches the skin spots, it’s bad. Small spots can be cut out, but pervasive spots indicate overripe fruit.
3. Wrinkled Skin
A wrinkled, shriveled appearance signifies an old, dehydrated apple. Moisture loss causes the skin to pucker and wrinkle. Wrinkling is accelerated if stored in dry environments. The skin may also become leathery or tough. Shriveled apples should be discarded.
Injuries to the apple provide entry points for microbes. Even small dents, cracks or bruises allow fungi and bacteria to take hold. A rotting apple is soft at the site of injury. Damaged and bruised apples spoil fastest, so eat them first.
5. Gas Pockets Under Skin
Pockets of air under the skin reveal fermentation inside. Gases are produced as yeasts and bacteria break down the flesh. Internal pressure pushes out the skin, forming bubbles underneath. Gas pockets mean the apple is overripe and spoiled.
6. Sunken Flesh
As moisture evaporates, the flesh begins to shrink and sink, causing dimples or sunken cavities. Older apples lose their plumpness and pucker inward as the flesh deteriorates. Any sunken flesh is a clear warning sign.
7. Soft Spots
Soft, mushy spots signal advanced spoilage. Healthy apples feel uniformly firm. Decomposing areas will feel abnormally soft as pectin breaks down. The soft spots rapidly expand as cell walls disintegrate. Time to toss!
8. Off Colors
While apples naturally vary in color, unusual colors may indicate spoilage. Greenish-yellow skin, or dark freckle-like spots signify overripe fruit. As cells deteriorate, the coloring changes. Unnatural hues point to a rotten apple.
Textural Signs of a Spoiled Apple
Feeling an apple’s texture provides more Ripening clues:
A soft, spongy texture is a sure sign an apple has gone bad. Healthy apples feel crisp and firm. As starch changes to sugar during ripening, apples soften. An overly soft apple has converted its starch and is overripe.
10. Mealy Texture
A mealy or grainy flesh reveals an old apple. The cells break down and become dry and grainy. Mealiness is caused by overexposure to ethylene gas. A dry, crumbly interior means the apple is unsuitable for eating.
11. Mushy Spots
Areas of watery mushiness are a red flag. Healthy apples are consistently juicy-crisp. Decomposing spots will feel abnormally mushy or slimy as the structure deteriorates. Isolate mushy sections when cutting.
12. Lack of Crunch
If an apple lacks its characteristic crunch, it’s likely gone mealy or soft. The signature crisp snap of a fresh apple comes from turgid cells. As moisture is lost, apples become soft and limp rather than crunchy. Lack of crispness indicates an overripe apple.
13. Difficulty Piercing Skin
A tough apple skin that resists piercing is a sign of an old apple. Young apples have thin, easy to penetrate skin. The skin toughens and thickens with age, making it hard to pierce with a fork or even bite through. Tough-skinned apples are over the hill.
14. Dry Flesh
A dry, crumbly or stringy interior points to a dried out apple. Juicy apples begin drying out as they pass their prime. The flesh becomes grainy and dry rather than moist and crisp. Noamount of chewing will bring back the lost moisture.
Smell and Taste Signs an Apple is Rotten
Rely on your nose and taste buds as additional indicators:
15. Fermented Odors
A spongy, winy or beer-like aroma indicates fermentation. Yeasts feed on sugars and convert them to alcohol, releasing carbon dioxide. The gas pockets create the off-odors. An alcoholic scent means the apple is overripe and spoiled.
16. Moldy Odor
If an apple smells musty, earthy or stale, mold is present. Invisible mold growth produces unique volatile organic compounds causing these smells. Do not eat apples with an evident moldy odor, even without visible fuzz.
17. Overly Sweet Smell
An intensely sweet smell reveals overripe fruit. Sugars and volatile esters concentrate as moisture evaporates. The cloying sweetness is an indicator the apple is past its prime.
18. Rotten Scent
The unmistakable stench of rotten eggs or garbage means the apple is decomposing and spoiled. anaerobic bacteria like Clostridium produce foul hydrogen sulfide and amines that give spoiled apples their nauseating smell.
19. Strange Aftertaste
Along with odd aromas, a strange aftertaste signals a spoiled apple. There may be metallic, chemical or soapy flavors. If the apple tastes artificial rather than like a fresh, crisp apple, it should not be eaten.
How to Store an Apple
Proper storage is key to preserving an apple’s freshness and flavor. Follow these guidelines on the best temperature, humidity, location and methods for storing apples.
Apple Storage Duration
Here are general guidelines for apple storage life:
|Storage Type||Shelf Life|
|Cooler (whole)||2-3 months|
|Refrigerator (whole)||2-4 weeks|
|Refrigerator (cut)||1-2 days|
Shelf life varies by apple variety and storage conditions.
Purchasing Apples for Storage
When selecting apples for storage, look for:
- Firm – Avoid bruised, punctured or mushy spots. Should feel hard.
- Intact skin – No cuts or breaks in the skin which allow moisture loss and decay.
- Good coloring – Indicator of maturity. Avoid dull or faded color.
- Taut stem – Loose, dangling stems are a sign of age. Stems should be attached.
- Proper maturity – Not underripe but also not overripe. Ideal sweet spot for storage.
Common Apple Varieties
- Fuji – Sweet, crisp flavor. Excellent for eating fresh or cooking.
- Gala – Very sweet taste. Soft flesh. Good for snacking.
- Granny Smith – Tart, firm flesh. Great for pies and baking.
- Honeycrisp – Very crisp texture with mild sweetness. Stores well.
- Red Delicious – Mellower sweetness. Tender flesh. Better fresh eating quality.
Storing Whole Apples
Keep whole, uncut apples in optimal conditions for longest viability:
Store apples at 32°F – 40°F in the refrigerator crisper drawer. The cold slows ripening and degradation.
Maintain humidity around 90% to prevent moisture loss and shriveling. Use crisper bins or bags.
Keep apples in a bag or bin that allows for some air circulation. Lack of oxygen speeds spoilage.
Separate from Other Produce
Store apples away from ethylene producers like bananas, tomatoes and melons which stimulate ripening.
Maximizing Refrigerator Storage
Use these tips to extend the fridge life of fresh apples:
Avoid bruises, punctures and skin damage during transport and storage. These provide entry points for microbes.
Give apples their own designated crisper drawer or shelf. Do not overfill area or stack too deeply.
Inspect stored apples every 3-5 days and cull any with soft spots or other signs of spoilage before they affect neighboring apples.
Use perforated plastic bags and occasionally mist apples with water to maintain a humid environment and prevent shriveling.
Eat Tart Varieties First
Tart apple varieties like Granny Smith hold well in storage. Eat sweeter apples sooner before they become mealy.
Storing Cut Apples
Once an apple is sliced into or peeled, it has a shorter shelf life. Follow these guidelines:
Store in Acidic Liquid
Place cut apples in a bowl with lemon or pineapple juice. The acid helps preserve color and flavor.
Use Air-Tight Container
Seal sliced apples in an airtight container or bag, pressing out excess air. Oxygen exposure causes browning.
Refrigerate Below 40°F
Keep cut apples chilled at all times. Higher temperatures increase risk of bacterial and fungal growth.
Eat Within 2 Days
Consume sliced apples within 1-2 days for best quality. Texture and moisture content decline quickly.
Discard If Wet or Slimy
Do not consume cut apples that leak liquid or appear slimy as this indicates spoilage.
Apples can be frozen for enjoyment beyond their fresh storage life:
Wash and Dry
Rinse apples in cool water and dry thoroughly before freezing. Excess moisture can cause freeze burn.
Cut apples into uniform slices or chunks to ensure even freezing. Irregular sizes freeze at different rates.
Pretreat to Prevent Browning
Coat cut apples in lemon juice, pineapple juice or fruit preserver to prevent oxidation.
Arrange in Single Layer on Sheet Pan
Freeze apple slices or pieces in a single layer on a parchment-lined pan until hard. Then transfer to freezer bags.
Remove Air from Bags
Exclude excess air from apple freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Leave 1/2 inch headspace in rigid containers.
Label and Date
Note apple variety and date frozen. Use within 8-12 months for best quality.
Can You Get Sick from Eating a Bad Apple?
It’s generally not dangerous to accidentally eat portions of an apple with surface mold. However, rotting apples can harbor bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli that could cause illness if consumed in large amounts.
Symptoms may include:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Fever, headache, body aches
Certain vulnerable groups like the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for illness from contaminated apples. Di
Is It Safe to Eat Moldy Apples?
It’s best to avoid eating apples with any mold growth. Surface mold is not inherently hazardous if accidentally ingested in small amounts, but decayed apples may contain deeper fungal growth and bacteria responsible for foodborne illness. For safety:
- Cut away moldy portions 1 inch around the affected area
- Discard apples showing widespread mold, rot, or internal mold around core
- Cook apples thoroughly if salvaging questionable pieces
- Don’t eat mold present in apple juice, cider, or cooked apple products
Washing won’t remove molds or mycotoxins. When in doubt about mold safety, remember “When in doubt, throw it out” or use caution cooking thoroughly.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do my apples get mushy quickly?
Ripeness, storage temperature, and bruising impact how fast apples soften. Ripe apples deteriorate quicker. Store apples in the fridge crisper at 32-40°F to slow softening. Prevent bruising which accelerates moisture loss and bacteria growth leading to a mushy texture.
2. Is it ok to eat apples with brown spots?
Minor brown spotting on the skin or flesh is harmless, but deep, spreading brown areas indicate rotting. Remove extensive brown areas before eating. Discard apples with brown, mushy spots permeating the flesh.
3. Can you freeze applesauce?
Yes, homemade or store-bought applesauce freezes very well for 6-12 months. Allow it to cool fully before transferring to airtight freezer containers. Leave 1⁄2 inch headspace. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.
4. Why is my frozen apple pie runny and soggy?
Often a result of thawing too quickly. Frozen apple pies should be thawed gradually over 24-48 hours in the fridge. Microwaving or leaving at room temperature causes a watery, ruptured crust.
5. How long can apple slices be left unrefrigerated?
2 hours maximum. Cut apples brown quickly from oxidation. For longer room temperature storage, dip slices in lemon juice and drain well. Refrigerate apple slices within 2 hours for safety and best quality.
Apples last for weeks or months when stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer. But eventually signs of spoilage like mold, mushy texture, and off-aromas signal it’s time to discard them. Practicing good hygiene and using apples within the recommended storage times will ensure you can enjoy their sweet flavor and crunchy bite while avoiding possible foodborne illness.