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Here’s How To Tell If Fresh Cranberries Are Bad

Buying a bag of cranberries for the holiday season seems like an easy task but how do you know if they’re fresh? I’ll walk you through the best way to tell if you’ve got a good batch and how to keep them that way.

A close up of a pile of cranberries.
Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

Fresh cranberries are one of the few foods that we still eat almost exclusively seasonally. Sure you can buy frozen cranberries or a can of cranberry sauce anytime of year but fresh cranberries start popping up in late October and are gone by the end of December.

Because we so infrequently buy and cook with cranberries, it’s hard to know when they are tasty and sweet and when they’ve gone bad. The biggest issue is that they are always sold in a plastic bag which makes it really hard to tell if they are firm and ripe or dented and moldy.

Let’s take a look at how to tell if cranberries are bad.

What Are Cranberries?

A white bowl filled with cranberries with several more on the table next to it.
Photo by Melissa Di Rocco on Unsplash

Before we dive too deep into storage and ripeness, let’s learn a little more about these delicious tart berries.

Cranberries are one of only three berries native to North America (the other two are blueberries and Concord grapes). Native Americans harvested the berries and used them for everything from a food source to medicinal purposes and even as a dye for fabrics.

They have a very unique flavor. So sour they are almost inedible raw but once cooked they sweeten up a bit and have essence of citrus and grassiness.

Cranberries have a firm crunchy texture when raw but are generally too sour to eat without cooking first. You can buy them fresh, frozen, as canned cranberry jelly, cranberry juice, or dried cranberries.

They are chockfull of health benefits and nutrients including: rich in antioxidants, high in vitamin C, vitamin E, and fiber, and a natural remedy for curing urinary tract infections. In fact, their nutritional value is so prized that the majority of the annual cranberry crop is processed into cranberry products like vitamins, cranberry extracts, and supplements.

How To Tell If Cranberries Are Bad

A bag of fresh cranberries

The first thing you want to do is check the expiration date on the label before you buy them. Once you get them home you are looking for firm, red fruits. The best quality cranberries will be glossy and smooth. Here are the most common signs of spoilage.


If you can see visible mold on the outside of the cranberries, they are definitely bad and should be thrown away.


Raw cranberries should be firm. You don’t want soft cranberries. If they are mushy they are bad and should be tossed.


Sometimes a few of the cranberries will have dents in them and not be perfectly round. This is okay as long as those dents are soft, the cranberries don’t smell funny, and there’s no sign of mold.

Soft, Shriveled, Wrinkled

This is a sign that they are old and dried out. Use them within a day or so or freeze immediately. They are on their way to going bad.

*Does cranberry juice go bad? Cranberry juice, either unsweetened or mixed with other fruit juices, will last a long time. Unopened cranberry juice will last up to two years. If the container is opened it will keep in the fridge for up three weeks.

How To Store Cranberries

A cutting board with scissors on it, a few sprigs of rosemary, and a measuring cup filled with cranberries.
Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

The shelf life of cranberries is really pretty long. With proper storage they can last three to four weeks. Compared to other berries like raspberries, that’s a long time!

The best storage conditions are in your refrigerator to maximize their shelf life. Even if they were sitting at room temperature at the grocery store, they will last twice as long in the fridge at home.

If you’ve bought pre-packed cranberries, it’s a good idea to remove them from the plastic bag they came in and place them in a colander. Check to see if there are any moldy berries and remove those before storing.

As for dried cranberries they can live in a cool, dry place like your pantry for up to a year and frozen cranberries will last in the freezer for up to a year as well.

Can You Freeze Them?

Yes, absolutely! When cranberries are on sale after Thanksgiving I buy up a few bags and freeze them to have all winter. Freezing cranberries using the dry freezing is a bit more time-consuming than buying already frozen ones, but not hard. Here’s the best way to freeze them:

  1. Rinse the cranberries under cold water and pat dry any excess moisture with paper towels. Pick out any that are soft.
  2. Lay in a single layer on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper and place the baking sheet in the freezer for a couple of hours.
  3. Once completely frozen, transfer the frozen berries to a airtight container or small freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to a year.

*Just a note: You don’t need to thaw frozen cranberries before using them. Just place them in a colander, rinse with water, drain the excess water and add to whatever dish you are making.

Favorite Cranberry Recipes

Fresh Cranberry Agua Fresca

Like homemade cranberry juice! Fresh cranberries get cooked down with sugar and water and then strained. Serve with fun lime ice cubes to make it extra festive!

A tall glass pitcher filled with cranberry juice and an ice cube with lime slices in it.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Try finding a more delicious cranberry sauce recipe. Fresh cranberries, sweet orange, juicy pineapple, and a kick from a touch of jalapeño.

A glass dish filled with cranberry pineapple sauce with the lid removed next to it.

Cranberry-Ginger Margarita

This is the ultimate festive cocktail for the holiday season. Cranberry juice, tequila, Cointreau, and fresh ginger if totally delicious and easy to make a big batch for any party.

A cranberry margarita with two slices of candied ginger on top and a lime slice.

Cranberry Goat Cheese Breakfast Bake

Have you every seen anything more decadently delicious? This dish is an absolute show stopper for Christmas morning. Serve with maple syrup and candied cranberries to extra points.

A plate of cranberry bread pudding with a fork on the plate.

Top 5 Most Popular Thanksgiving Recipes

  1. Easy Cornbread with Corn, Rosemary, and Cheddar
  2. Miso-Maple Roasted Beets and Carrots
  3. Soft Pumpkin Cookies
  4. Rosemary, Fennel Focaccia
  5. The Best Mashed Potatoes Recipes

Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving Friends!

And don’t eat any rotten cranberries, okay? I love hearing from you so please send your cooking questions my way. Let me know by leaving a comment below or share your cooking triumphs with me on Instagram. Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram @katesbestrecipes  so I can see.

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