Berries are some of the most popular fruit snacks in the world, and many people grow or buy them. This poses a question, though, as many fruits are left out at room temperature for weeks without going bad (apples, for example). Can we leave berries out at room temperature like that?
Berries can be left at room temperature for about 24 hours, provided they are fresh, healthy, and not in direct sunlight. They will not rot quickly within that time, but keep them in the fridge if not planning to be used within 24 hours, as they will start wilting and then going bad.
There are instances when we absolutely shouldn’t leave berries out at room temperature. Read on to learn about berries being left at room temperature, what causes them to go bad, and how to keep them fresh.
How Long Are Berries Good at Room Temperature?
The reason fruit does not go bad quickly is because of the protective layer every fruit has. Fresh berries can be left out at room temperature for about 24 hours. After that point, either eat them or store them in the fridge.
Although it’s common sense to put berries in the fridge if we’re not going to eat them immediately, that’s not entirely necessary.
The official rule, endorsed by the FDA, is that perishables are good at room temperature if we eat them within two hours. We should throw them away if we still haven’t eaten them after two hours.
This rule applies to all perishables, but the question is – are berries perishable? For this, we have to turn to another source – the US Department of Agriculture doesn’t categorize fruits as perishables.
Perishable foods are meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and cooked food leftovers. By definition, these foods are likely to get spoiled if not refrigerated below 40°F.
This rule doesn’t apply to berries and other fruits. As we know, berries spend days in the open air, often at temperatures much higher than room temperature, before they’re picked. The same can be said for other fruits.
Some fruits, like berries, grapes (which are also, technically, berries), and apples, have a very thin top layer. If you were to peel it, the fruit would go bad very quickly.
Other fruits, such as oranges and lemons, have a thick top layer that keeps them from going bad for longer.
A few factors affect this, though – the exact variety of berries (some grow in naturally colder areas and don’t react well to higher temperatures) and their freshness are the two most important factors.
Cranberries, for example, can last much longer when left out at room temperature (up to 3 days), while blueberries only last a day.
If we’ve been storing berries in the fridge for the past three days and we take them out, they’ll go bad much quicker than fresh berries.
How Long Can Berries Sit Out?
The answer to how long berries can sit out depends on the 3 aspects of matter decay: oxygen, sunlight, and temperature. Berries left outside in the heat will likely go bad within a few hours compared to berries left in an air-conditioned home on the counter that can last a day or so.
If berries are left out, fruit flies will congregate on them after a while and eat them.
However, if we keep our berries in Tupperware, we’re eliminating oxygen from the equation, thus severely slowing down the decay rate. Go a step forward and put them in a shady spot, and the berries will last much longer than just a few hours.
Either way, leaving berries out unprotected is the worst way to store berries, as they’ll go bad in a matter of hours.
Can Berries Stay Unrefrigerated?
Berries can be left out without refrigeration, but only for a while. If they are not going to be eaten the same day, it would be best to put them in the fridge. Unrefrigerated berries are exposed to temperatures that speed up decay and will go bad within a day.
We commonly leave out berries for snacking on throughout the day. We try not to leave them out for more than daytime hours, simply because being out then opens the berries up to dehydrate and become less amazing looking.
They’re still totally edible, but they look less appealing. It’s always more fun to eat appealing-looking berries than wilty-looking ones.
Can Berries Be Left Out Overnight?
Berries will not go bad if they are left out overnight. There is no sunlight to heat the berries overnight, and the temperatures are usually lower than during the day. Leaving them out overnight is perfectly fine if the plan is to eat the berries in the morning or the next day.
However, it’s better to put the berries in the fridge overnight.
When Should Berries NOT Be Left Out at Room Temperature?
Do not leave berries out as part of a long-term storage plan or if you are planning to store them for any time longer than 1 day. Berries cannot be stored at room temperature for long, as they will go bad after a day.
If the plan is to use the berries in a few days, keep them in the fridge. When stored in the fridge, berries can last up to 9 days (take this with a grain of salt, as it depends on the state of the berries themselves and the temperature inside the fridge).
Don’t keep the berries out at room temperature if they’re not fresh – if they are a few days old and left out, they’ll go bad within a few hours. Once again, it’s best to store them in a fridge in this case.
Another scenario in which room temperature storage isn’t recommended is when the berries have been mushed. Maybe we’re making cake, a slushy, or a shake; whatever it is, mushed berries will go bad very quickly if they’re not properly refrigerated.
Berries can easily get mushed when too many are in a small container.
Lastly, don’t keep the berries out at room temperature if they are in direct sunlight. Although the temperature in the home might be normal, the sunlight will heat the berries, leading to decay.
Want to keep your berries at room temperature in long-term storage? You’ll have to freeze-dry them first! Make sure you read our guide: Freeze Drying Berries: How-to and FAQs Answered.
What If I Ate Bad Berries?
Berries are not poisonous, so eating bad (sour) berries will likely only cause indigestion. Even then, indigestion is unlikely because someone would have to eat a whole bowl of sour berries to get noticeably ill. Eating foul-smelling, moldy, or visibly contaminated berries can cause sickness.
Eating just a few bad berries won’t harm us in any way (aside from the bad taste we’ll have to wash out of our mouths).
A sour, bad berry is usually mushy – it becomes mushy as it breaks down. Since the berry is now open, it will start growing mold on the open surface.
Sour berries might also smell very bad. The mold will spread to other berries, so throwing away the moldy berries and washing the entire bowl is essential.
If food smells “off” or is visibly contaminated, it’s always safest to throw it away rather than consume it. Visible contamination, mold, or other foul smells could mean the food is likely to cause foodborne illness. So don’t eat it!
Verdict: Can Berries Be Left Out at Room Temperature?
Berries can be left out at room temperature if eaten within 24 hours. At that point, either eat them or store them in the fridge. Some berries, like cranberries, can last a bit longer.
If we leave the berries out in the heat and sunlight, it will take them much less than 24 hours to go bad. If we plan to eat the berries within a few days, we need to put them in the fridge – not leave them outside.
Berries are fun to grow, too. We can reap the rewards by eating delicious, flavorful berries that taste much better than anything we can buy at the store. Here are a couple of articles to get you started.
- Complete Guide to Berries: Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Care
- How Much Sun And Shade Can Berries Tolerate? A Complete Guide
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- AskUSDA. (n.d.). https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-foods-are-perishable.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022, February 17). Serving Up Safe Buffets. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/serving-safe-buffets