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What do cranberries look like when they go bad?


Cranberries are a popular fruit, especially around the holidays. They have a tart, tangy taste that people enjoy in sauces, chutneys, juices and more. But like any fresh produce, cranberries don’t last forever. At some point, they will go bad. Knowing what spoiled cranberries look like can help you avoid accidentally eating them. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about identifying bad cranberries.

What Do Fresh Cranberries Look Like?

Before learning about spoiled cranberries, it helps to know what fresh ones look like. When cranberries are freshly harvested, they have a bright, glossy appearance. The skin should be firm and plump, without any wrinkles or soft spots. The coloring ranges from light pink to deep crimson. Fresh cranberries also feel heavy for their size, because they have a high interior water content.

When purchasing fresh cranberries, look for ones without any blemishes or cuts in the skin. Avoid any that are discolored or look slightly withered. The stems should be intact too. Properly stored fresh cranberries can last in the refrigerator for several weeks. But once they go bad, there are some clear signs to look for.


One of the first signs that cranberries have gone bad is discoloration. As the fruits start to spoil, the coloring becomes dull and muted. The vibrant red hues turn darker or even brownish. You may see soft black or blue spots on the skin as well. These spots indicate mold growth, meaning the cranberries are rotting. Discard any that are discolored or sporting dark blotches.


Fresh cranberries should be plump and firm. As they go bad, the fruits start to shrivel up and become wrinkled. The skin loses its smooth appearance and puckers inward. Soft, wrinkled cranberries have lost moisture content and are past their prime. The texture also becomes weaker and spongier than healthy cranberries. Always inspect fruits for signs of shriveling, which signals decay.

Moldy Growth

Perhaps the most obvious indicator of spoiled cranberries is visible mold. At first, you may notice thin, spiderweb-like tendrils on the skins. Given time, mold on cranberries develops into furry or fuzzy splotches, usually white, blue, grey or green in color. The mold may cover just small patches or take over the entire surface. Cranberries showing any mold growth should be discarded right away, since mold spores can spread to nearby fruits.


As cranberries begin fermenting, the sugars within start to break down and produce carbon dioxide, alcohol and acidity. Signs of fermented cranberries include bubbling liquids within the bag, froth or foam leaking from berries, white film accumulating on the surface, and the smell of alcohol or vinegar. The fruits will also become soft and misshapen as the interior components change. Discard any cranberries showing evidence of fermentation.

Off Odors

Fresh cranberries should have a pleasantly tart, fruity smell. As they start deteriorating, you may notice odd or unpleasant odors. The fruits themselves may smell sour, moldy, fermented, rotten or medicinal. There could also be a lingering chemical odor, if the berries were treated with a preservative that has now gone bad. Trust your nose – if the cranberries give off any funky or unfamiliar scents, it’s safest to avoid eating them.

Difference Between Fresh and Spoiled Cranberries

Fresh Cranberries Spoiled Cranberries
Bright, glossy appearance Dull, muted coloring
Firm, plump skin Wrinkled, shriveled skin
Intact, no blemishes Bruises, soft spots or cuts
Tart, fruity smell Moldy, sour, fermented or chemical smell
Heavy for size Light and soft

This table summarizes the major differences in appearance, texture and smell between fresh cranberries and those that have spoiled. Keep an eye out for these signs of decay to determine if your cranberries are still good or need to be discarded.

How Long Do Cranberries Last?

When properly stored, fresh cranberries can last for several weeks past their purchase date. To extend their shelf life, keep cranberries refrigerated in a plastic bag. Unwashed, unsweetened cranberries typically stay good for about 2-3 weeks in the fridge and 4-6 months in the freezer. Once frozen, cranberries should not be refrozen if thawed.

For cooked cranberries, lifespan depends a lot on the recipe. Homemade cranberry sauce lasts around 2 weeks refrigerated. Commercially packaged cranberry condiments and juices typically stay good for several months unopened. But once opened, these should be used within 2-4 weeks. Dried cranberries have a shelf life of up to a year when stored in a cool, dark pantry.

No matter what form they take, cranberries that are past their prime need to be discarded. Pay attention to expiration or use-by dates. And if in doubt, remember the signs like mold, smell and texture changes that indicate cranberries have gone bad.

What Causes Cranberries to Spoil?

Cranberries, like other fresh fruits, naturally deteriorate over time after harvest. Enzymes within the cranberries cause them to ripen and eventually break down. Microbes and fungi also contribute to rotting as they grow on the fruit. Physical damage, such as cuts or bruising, speeds up decay by exposing interior flesh and juice.

Warm temperatures, moisture and air all accelerate the natural breakdown of cranberries. That’s why proper refrigeration extends their shelf life significantly. Preparation methods also affect how quickly they spoil. Dried, freeze-dried, canned and juiced cranberries resist spoilage better than plain raw berries. But no processing method can prevent cranberries from eventually going bad.

Can You Eat Spoiled Cranberries?

It is not recommended to eat cranberries that have gone bad. Consuming spoiled cranberries poses a few potential health hazards:

– Foodborne Illness: Harmful bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, can grow along with mold on rotting cranberries. These bacteria can cause serious food poisoning when ingested.

– Toxins: Moldy fruits contain mycotoxins that can cause allergic reactions or toxicity if consumed. Off odors also indicate possible chemical contamination.

– Choking Hazard: Soft, fermented cranberries have an unusual texture that could make them difficult to swallow or pose a choking risk.

While accidentally ingesting a couple bad cranberries likely won’t make you sick, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always inspect fruits thoroughly and throw away any that show signs of spoilage. Cooking rotten cranberries does not make them safe for consumption either. If in doubt, it’s best to just discard them.


Cranberries are a healthy, tart and tasty fruit. But like all produce, they have a limited shelf life and will go bad eventually. Signs that cranberries have spoiled include discoloration, wrinkling, mold, fermentation and foul odors. Consuming rancid cranberries can cause foodborne illness and should be avoided. With proper refrigerated storage, fresh cranberries can last 2-3 weeks before deteriorating. Keep an eye out for any decay indicators and don’t hesitate to throw away bad cranberries to keep the good ones from also spoiling. Taking steps to store and handle cranberries properly will help you get the most out of this delightful, seasonal treat.