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27 Subtle Signs You Just Shouldn't Buy That Produce

Save yourself from the heartbreak of getting home from the supermarket only to discover the fruits and veggies you bought are bad.
red pepper

You already know eating more produce—both vegetables and fruits—is considered a key to a healthier life. But is all produce truly created equal? Well, as you're about to learn with these warning signs, they're not!

See, despite produce being overall good for you, full of necessary nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants, it's not always wise to just throw any old piece of produce into your shopping cart. Whether the piece of produce is overripe, not ripe enough, or has some other issue, there are a few important indicators to look out for when you're at the supermarket. No one wants to spend their money on food they can't eat. That's just sad, plain and simple.

Now, you're going to be fully armed with the keys to knowing exactly how to spot the perfect produce to take home with these helpful produce-shopping tips. Here are 27 subtle signs you just shouldn't buy that bad produce. And for more wisdom, here are simple tricks to make your produce last longer for you to try out, too.


It's brown underneath the stem of an avocado.

Check avocado stem

The No. 1 trick to ascertaining an avocado's ripeness lies right under its stem. Pop the little brown stem off and depending on what color the skin is underneath, you'll know if it's time to buy or not. If it's brown underneath the stem (or black), then it's overripe. Hard pass. If it's yellow or pale green, it's not ripe yet. If it's the exact green shade you'd typically find inside a ripe avocado, then it's good to go.


Tomatoes are too squishy or too firm.


When you give a tomato a light squeeze, it should have a little give. If your tomato is either too squishy or too firm, put it back.

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Melon sounds dull when you thump it.

thumping melon

Thumping a melon is an age-old trick. If you whack the side of the melon and hear a hollow inside, it's ready and ripe. If you thump it and it sounds dull inside, pass on that melon and find another.


Onions smell more pungent than usual.

Sliced red onions

OK—this one's a weird one because onions always smell, well, oniony. But if they smell particularly onion-y, then that's an indicator they have gone bad. You will be able to tell the difference, that's for sure.


Produce is significantly smaller than its counterparts.

different sized tomatoes

You'll want to forego any piece of produce that is significantly smaller than the rest of its kind. Smaller produce usually indicates it was harvested too early. Produce that has been harvested prematurely won't ripen the way it should. Skip it.


Produce is significantly bigger than its counterparts.

different sized apples

Similarly, it's not always a good idea to pick the biggest produce either. Produce that is significantly bigger than the rest of its counterparts generally indicates that it was picked too late, as in, left on the plant too long. Bigger produce isn't necessarily overripe or underripe, but it could mean that the produce will taste tougher.


Kale leaves are a pale yellow color.

kale in a bowl

Kale should be a dark, vibrant green color. If kale looks pale green, it will turn brown sooner rather than later. Once the leaves wilt, they will start to leak liquid, causing a gone-bad stench. Only choose kale that's rich and vibrant in color.

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Limes feel light.


Pick up a lime. Is it heavy or lighter than the rest? A lime should feel pretty heavy, indicating that it has more water content and therefore, will be juicier. If a lime feels hollow or light, put it back.


Berries smell too sweet.

Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries in crates

To test the ripeness of berries, give 'em a quick sniff. If they smell particularly sweet, the berries are likely close to turning bad. You'll want to leave the store with a better batch.


You can't differentiate a pineapple from a watermelon by smell.

pineapple and watermelon

Um, what? We know, it's weird, but hey, it works. If you close your eyes and smell a pineapple in one hand and a watermelon in your other, you should be able to tell which is which. If you can't differentiate the two, put 'em both back.


Zucchini is not firm when squeezed.

zucchini grocery store

Zucchini should be a little firm to the touch. If it feels too mushy when squeezed, try to find a firmer one.


Plums are too squishy or too firm.

Plums on a cloth

Plums are another type of produce that shouldn't be either too squishy or too firm. If you give them a quick squeeze, you should be able to tell if they are either too mushy or too firm.


Visible mold in berry container.

moldy berries

It should go without saying but if you can visibly note mold in a berry container (or on any piece of produce), then keep walking down the aisle.


Any produce has brown spots.

brown spots

Produce of any kind shouldn't have brown spots. Brown spots could be an indicator of black rot, which is a fungal disease that causes the fruit to blacken, rot, and shrivel.


Any produce feels mushy to the touch.


If you hold a piece of produce in your hand and it immediately feels mushy, it's probably bad or going bad.


Strawberries smell like mold.


Give your strawberries a smell. Do they smell fresh and sweet? Perfect. Do they smell like mold? No-go.


Banana peel feels thick to the touch.


A banana that's ripe and ready to be eaten should have a peel that's thin and can be broken and peeled easily. If the peel feels tough to rip or too thick, the banana's not ripe yet.


Potatoes smell bitter.

colorful potatoes

Potatoes that are ready to be eaten should smell earth-like and starchy. When potatoes start to go bad, they can give off a bitter smell. Even if the potato looks good visibly, it could have gone moldy inside, so be sure to smell it.


Oranges feel light.

oranges grocery store

The juicier the orange, the higher the water content. You'll be able to tell if an orange is adequately juicy if it feels heavy in your hand. If it feels light or hollow, find a heavier orange.


Nectarines don't smell fragrant.


Smell your nectarines. It should give off a fragrant and sweet scent. If the nectarine isn't properly ripened, it will give off virtually no smell at all.


Asparagus has dark green or black tips.

jewel osco asparagus

As asparagus goes back, the tips of the vegetable start to darken. First, they'll turn dark green and then eventually, black. If you notice the tips of asparagus turning dark green, pick a bunch with lighter green tips instead.


Bell peppers have wrinkles.


Ripe bell peppers have a firm skin. The closer bell peppers—no matter if the color is orange, yellow, red, or green—are to spoiling, the more soft and wrinkly their skin becomes. If the bell pepper is so soft its skin feels slimy, mold is close to developing.


Grapefruit feels light.

red ruby grapefruit

Like its citrus counterparts limes and oranges, grapefruit should feel heavy in your hand. If a grapefruit feels light, it has a lighter water content and therefore isn't as juicy (aka ripe) as it should be.


Grapes appear pale.

Red grapes

Grapes should be dark-colored in appearance. Grapes that are pale-colored aren't as fresh or ripe. If grapes are discolored, appear withered, or look brown, it's also worth skipping over them.


Mushrooms smell like fish.

Portobello mushrooms

Um, ew! But believe it or not, it's true. To put mushrooms to the test, simply give 'em a whiff. If they smell more like salmon than they do veggies, then you'll definitely want to pass.

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Stephanie Osmanski
Stephanie Osmanski is a freelance sustainability, health, and wellness writer. Read more
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