Is bruised produce safe to eat?

Tips on choosing and storing fresh produce to get the most out of market season.

It’s that time of year again; the weather is hot, produce is in season and we are ready to buy all the fresh fruit we can get. When we go to the market, we look for the firmest and brightest colored produce we can find, tossing those with bruises and soft spots to the side. Yet after leaving the produce on the counter at home for a few days, the same dark spots develop and cause us to throw the otherwise good food away. But why waste money by throwing out uneaten produce? Is it really spoiled and unsafe to eat?

The fact of the matter is no— bruising does not indicate the produce is past its prime and has gone bad. It simply is a reaction that occurs as cells break down and are exposed to oxygen that causes the browning. The reaction does change the color as well as make the tissue feel softer or even mushy but it is not an indication that the fruit should no longer be eaten. The bruise is simply displeasing aesthetically but not a health hazard. Researchers explain that eating a brown part of lettuce, for example, isn’t bad for you. Many people cut off the darkened spot due to it simply being unappealing.

There are ways to slow the browning and bruising process in produce you bring home such as keeping the most susceptible produce away from high-ethylene fruits. Ethylene is a gas naturally emitted by fruits that increase the ripening process causing them to brown faster. Examples of high-ethylene fruits include apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes and cantaloupe. To further prevent bruising from occurring, keep produce that you are not ready to eat in the refrigerator. 

You may also notice fruits turning brown once they have been cut to serve. This is an enzymatic reaction due to exposure to oxygen that naturally occurs in the fruit’s tissues. You can slow this process by sprinkling cut produce with ascorbic acids such as lemon juice or even a little vinegar.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you examine fruit thoroughly before you eat it. Though slight bruising may not be dangerous to our health, if left for too long bruising can lead to molding as the tissues break down, creating a soft and moist environment perfect for mold and/or bacteria growth. Also, be sure to check if there are any cracks or breaks in the skin that may have led to the browning and bruising of the produce, as this could be a sign of potential contamination.

Enjoy Michigan’s harvest this year, and if you have questions about foods, their preservation, or food safety, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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