Proper Handling of Harvested Tomatoes: 10 Best Practices

As a professional copywriting journalist, I often think about how to keep our tomatoes safe and tasty. Tomatoes have caused many food illnesses, like Salmonella outbreaks. These outbreaks happened in 15 states from 1973 to 2010, making 2,000 people sick and killing 3.

Recently, tomatoes from a farm in Virginia made people in 21 states sick. Other outbreaks hit communities in Minnesota, California, Iowa, and Michigan. With the tomato industry making about $2 billion a year, we must fix these problems.

In This Article

Key Takeaways

  • Proper handling of harvested tomatoes is essential to maintain quality and prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
  • Salmonella contamination is a common issue, with 15 multistate outbreaks linked to tomatoes between 1973 and 2010.
  • Optimal storage conditions for ripe tomatoes include temperatures between 4°-10°C and high humidity, while green tomatoes require storage above 12°C.
  • Gentle handling, thorough cleaning, and sanitation practices are crucial to preserving tomato freshness and safety.
  • Avoiding ethylene exposure and regularly checking stored tomatoes can help extend their shelf life and prevent spoilage.


Proper tomato handling is key for keeping tomato quality and tomato freshness good. Bad handling can cause contamination, spoilage, and a shorter shelf life. This can make people unhappy and harm public health. We will share 10 top ways to handle tomatoes right, from processing to storage and transport.

Importance of Proper Handling

Handling tomatoes right after they’re picked is very important. Losses happen from being picked too early, getting too ripe, getting damaged, or rotting. These losses waste resources like land, labor, energy, water, and fertilizer. People are willing to pay more for safe and quality tomatoes. New tastes and lifestyles make people want better quality and safe tomatoes. Technology helps keep fruits safe and fresh until they get to the store.

Overview of Best Practices

This article will share 10 top tips for handling tomatoes. It covers important steps for processing, storing, and moving tomatoes. These tips focus on harvesting, sorting, cleaning, storing, and keeping tomatoes fresh and safe. They help growers, processors, and sellers keep their tomatoes in top shape.

1. Harvesting at the Right Time

Harvesting tomatoes at the right time is key. It affects their taste, texture, and how long they last. Gardeners must watch the tomatoes closely and pick them when they are perfect.

Identifying Optimal Ripeness

Tomatoes are ready when they look and feel just right. They should be fully colored, like deep red or pink. They should also be a bit soft but not too soft.

Weather can change how tomatoes ripen. If frost or heavy rain is coming, pick them early. Then, let them ripen in a sunny spot or a paper bag.

Harvesting Techniques to Avoid Damage

  1. Gently twist the tomato off the vine. Don’t pull or tug to avoid damage.
  2. Use sharp, clean shears to cut the stem, leaving a bit attached to the tomato.
  3. Be gentle with the tomatoes to prevent bruising.
  4. Put the tomatoes in a strong container to keep them safe.
  5. Don’t pick tomatoes that are on the ground or dirty. They might be bad.

By doing these things, gardeners can pick tomatoes at the best time. This keeps them in good shape and makes them last longer.

2. Gentle Handling During Harvest

Handling tomatoes right is key to keeping their quality high and avoiding bruises. When picking and moving the tomatoes, care is a must. If tomatoes get rough handling, they can get damaged easily. This makes them more likely to spoil and lose their appeal to buyers.

Minimizing Bruises and Blemishes

Growers should teach their teams about gentle tomato handling. They should use both hands when picking, holding the tomato from the bottom and sides. This stops the tomato from falling or getting squeezed. Also, don’t pull or twist the tomatoes to avoid skin tears.

Using Appropriate Tools and Containers

Choosing the right tomato harvesting tools and tomato harvesting containers is vital. Workers should have clean, sturdy buckets or crates. These should be lined with something soft to protect the tomatoes from getting hurt.

Don’t put tomatoes on the ground. This can make them dirty. Instead, use a special platform or conveyor belt to move them safely to the packing area. There, they can be checked and prepared for sale.

Harvesting Technique Benefit
Two-handed Approach Supports the tomato from the bottom and sides, preventing drops and squeezing
Avoid Pulling or Twisting Prevents tearing of the tomato skin, which can lead to damage
Cushioned Picking Containers Protects tomatoes from impact and compression, minimizing bruises and blemishes
Avoid Direct Ground Contact Prevents dirt, debris, and other contaminants from adhering to the fruit

Using gentle tomato handling and the right tools helps growers keep tomatoes looking good. This way, they can reduce bruises and blemishes. It also helps in keeping the tomato quality preservation during harvest.

Gentle tomato handling

3. Sorting and Grading Tomatoes

After picking tomatoes, it’s key to sort and grade them. Look at ripeness, size, and quality. This helps put tomatoes into groups for better storage and handling. Sorting right keeps tomatoes fresh and makes them more marketable.

Separating Tomatoes by Ripeness and Quality

Put tomatoes into three groups: mature-green, breakers, and fully ripe. This helps keep each type in the best storage conditions. Also, set aside any damaged or overripe tomatoes to stop germs from spreading.

Handling Overripe and Damaged Tomatoes

Handle overripe or damaged tomatoes carefully to stop them from spoiling. Keep them separate and use them quickly. Overripe tomatoes are great for sauces or soups. Damaged ones might need to be thrown away or composted to keep the crop quality high.

Sorting Criteria Tomato Characteristics Recommended Handling
Mature-green Firm, green in color, and not yet turning red Store at 55-70°F (13-21°C) with 90-95% relative humidity
Breakers Just starting to turn red, with some color change Store at 55-70°F (13-21°C) with 90-95% relative humidity
Fully Ripe Soft, red in color, and ready for immediate use Consume or process as soon as possible
Overripe or Damaged Soft, discolored, or showing signs of bruising/decay Separate and use for tomato-based products or discard

Sorting and grading tomatoes right keeps the crop fresh and valuable. It’s also key to handle overripe and damaged tomatoes well. This stops germs from spreading and keeps the tomatoes good.

For more info on handling tomatoes after harvest, check out these resources:

4. Proper Cleaning Techniques

Keeping tomatoes clean is key to keeping them safe and tasty. By using the right cleaning methods, growers and handlers can make sure tomatoes are free from harmful stuff. This keeps the produce safe to eat.

Washing Tomatoes Safely

Wash tomatoes with clean water that’s a bit warmer than the fruit. This stops the fruit from soaking up bad stuff. Don’t use detergents or soaps because they can leave behind harmful residues.

Drying Tomatoes Thoroughly

After washing, dry the tomatoes well to stop germs from growing. Use a clean cloth or paper towels to pat them dry. This keeps the tomatoes fresh and safe to eat for longer.

By cleaning tomatoes right, we can stop food illnesses. These steps are key for keeping food safe and healthy for everyone.

Cleaning Solution Recommended Dosage Application
Greenhouse Glassclean 5% dosage Cleaning AR-coated glass
Flusol Forte 3% dosage Cleaning light pollution
Topcleaner 5-10% dosage Cleaning light pollution
Hortisept Clean 1-3% Cleaning gutters
FloorClean 5-10% Ecological alternative for cleaning gutters

Tomato cleaning

“Proper cleaning and washing techniques are essential for maintaining tomato quality and safety. It is crucial to avoid using detergents or soaps, as they can leave residues that affect flavor and safety.”

5. Ideal Storage Conditions

Storing tomatoes right is key to keeping them fresh and tasty. The right temperature and humidity, along with the best spots to store them, matter a lot. These factors greatly affect how long and how well tomatoes stay good.

Temperature and Humidity Control

Ripe tomatoes do best in a cool spot, between 4°-10°C (39°-50°F), with humidity at 90-95%. This slows down their ripening and keeps them from getting too ripe or developing problems. But, green tomatoes need to be kept warmer, above 12°C (54°F), to avoid damage that can make them bad.

Best Storage Locations

Where you store tomatoes is also important for keeping them good. Keep them away from other foods to avoid contamination. Here are some top spots for storing tomatoes:

  • Room temperature: Ripe tomatoes can stay at room temperature, 18°-22°C (64°-72°F), for a bit.
  • Refrigerator: Green or not yet ripe tomatoes do well in the fridge, 4°-10°C (39°-50°F), for a longer time.
  • Controlled environment: Places that control temperature and humidity can keep tomatoes fresh for weeks.

Getting the temperature and humidity right, and picking the right spot, are key to keeping tomatoes tasty and fresh from start to finish.

Tomato Maturity Optimum Storage Temperature Optimum Relative Humidity Expected Shelf Life
Mature Green 12°C to 15°C (54°F to 59°F) 90-95% 1-2 weeks
Turning 10°C to 12°C (50°F to 54°F) 90-95% 1-2 weeks
Ripe 8°C to 10°C (46°F to 50°F) 90-95% 1 week

By keeping the right tomato storage conditions, temperature control, and humidity control, and choosing the best storage locations, you can keep your tomatoes fresh and tasty.

Tomato storage

“Proper storage conditions are the key to preserving the quality and flavor of harvested tomatoes. By carefully controlling temperature, humidity, and storage location, you can extend the shelf life and maintain the integrity of this versatile produce.”

6. Using Appropriate Storage Containers

Choosing the right containers is key to keeping tomatoes fresh. They should stop moisture from building up. This keeps bad germs from growing and tomatoes from going bad. Containers that let air in are best to keep the right humidity and stop moisture from gathering.

Choosing Containers that Prevent Moisture Buildup

The container you pick matters a lot for tomatoes. Don’t use airtight containers or plastic bags because they hold in moisture. This can cause mold and bacteria to grow. Instead, go for containers with good air circulation, like mesh or perforated bags or boxes. These let moisture out, keeping tomatoes fresh and stopping them from spoiling too soon.

Using Breathable Bags or Containers

It’s also key to pick the right material for your containers. Breathable materials like cardboard, paper, or natural fiber work well for tomatoes. They let air in, stopping moisture from building up and causing mold and bacteria. Don’t use plastic because it holds in humidity, which can ruin the quality of the tomatoes.

Choosing the right tomato storage containers and making sure they breathe well keeps your tomatoes fresh. This simple step helps keep your tomatoes tasting great, feeling right, and safe to eat.

Container Type Moisture Buildup Air Circulation Recommended for Tomatoes
Airtight Plastic Containers High Low No
Mesh or Perforated Bags Low High Yes
Cardboard Boxes Low High Yes
Paper or Natural Fiber Bags Low High Yes

“Proper storage is essential for maintaining the quality and safety of tomatoes. By using breathable containers and preventing moisture buildup, you can extend the shelf life of your harvested produce and enjoy their freshness for longer.”

7. Avoiding Ethylene Exposure

Handling and storing tomatoes right is key to keeping them fresh. We must think about ethylene gas. It’s a natural gas that can make tomatoes ripen and spoil faster.

Understanding Ethylene Gas and Its Effects

Green tomatoes don’t like ethylene gas. It makes them ripen too fast and lose quality. Ethylene makes enzymes that break down the fruit, making it soft and short-lived.

Storing Tomatoes Away from Ethylene-Producing Fruits

Keep tomatoes away from fruits that give off a lot of ethylene gas. Climacteric fruits like apples, bananas, and avocados do this. They should not be near tomatoes.

Knowing about ethylene and how to store tomatoes can keep them fresh. This stops them from ripening too soon. It means better quality tomatoes for everyone.

8. Regularly Checking Stored Tomatoes

Keeping your stored tomatoes fresh is key to avoiding waste and giving your family or customers the best produce. Regular checks help spot spoilage early. This way, you can keep your tomatoes fresh longer and enjoy your harvest more.

Inspecting for Signs of Spoilage

Look for these signs of spoilage when checking your tomatoes:

  • Softening or mushiness
  • Discoloration or unusual spots
  • The presence of mold or other microbial growth

Throw away any tomatoes with these signs to stop spoilage from spreading. Keeping an eye out for spoilage is key to checking stored tomatoes and keeping them in great shape.

Rotating Stock to Use Older Tomatoes First

It’s also key to use a stock rotation system. This means using older tomatoes first to cut down on waste and keep your produce quality high.

Always put new tomatoes behind the old ones. This creates a “first-in, first-out” system. It helps use the oldest tomatoes first, preventing them from getting spoiled while new ones are still fresh.

Regular checks and a stock rotation system help you keep tomato quality high and reduce waste. These steps are crucial for keeping your tomatoes fresh, tasty, and safe to eat.

9. Preserving Tomatoes for Longer Storage

As the harvest season ends, saving tomatoes becomes key to keeping them fresh. Gardeners have many ways to make their tomatoes last longer. Let’s look at the best ways to keep tomatoes fresh, like canning, vacuum sealing, and freezing.

Canning and Vacuum Sealing Techniques

Canning and vacuum sealing are great for keeping tomatoes fresh for a long time. These methods stop germs from growing, making tomatoes last longer. Canning uses heat and pressure to seal tomatoes in jars. Vacuum sealing removes air from bags or containers, keeping tomatoes fresh.

When canning tomatoes, follow safety steps and use the right tools, like a pressure or water bath canner. You can make about 21 pounds of crushed tomatoes or 23 pounds of tomato juice per load. Vacuum sealing at home lets you store and use tomatoes easily.

Freezing Tomatoes Properly

Freezing is a great way to keep tomatoes fresh. To freeze tomatoes well, wash them, remove the core, and maybe blanch them. This keeps their texture and taste.

Freezing tomatoes works best at 0°F (-18°C) or colder, which a chest freezer can do. Frozen tomatoes can last up to a year. The author freezes 10-15 containers a year and uses all of them, enjoying their taste and quality.

Preservation Method Approximate Tomato Yield Shelf Life
Canning (Crushed Tomatoes) 21 lbs per 7-quart canner load 1-2 years
Canning (Tomato Juice) 23 lbs per 7-quart canner load 1-2 years
Freezing Varies Up to 1 year

Using these methods, gardeners can enjoy tomatoes all year. They make sure the tomatoes stay fresh and tasty.

10. Hygiene and Sanitation Practices

Keeping things clean is key to stopping food illnesses and keeping tomatoes safe. All places, tools, and containers for tomatoes must be cleaned often. This stops germs from spreading.

Keeping Storage Areas Clean

Tomato storage areas need regular cleaning. Use clean water and approved cleaners as needed. Sweep, mop, and disinfect to get rid of germs. Good air flow and temperature control keep the area clean and safe.

Sanitizing Tools and Containers

Tools and containers for tomatoes must be cleaned and sanitized. This includes crates, bins, knives, and cutting boards. Use cleaners like chlorine solutions to kill germs. Always follow the cleaner’s instructions for best results.

Good hygiene and sanitation keep tomatoes safe and healthy. Cleaning, sanitizing, and proper storage are key. They help keep tomatoes safe for everyone.

“Proper hygiene and sanitation practices are the foundation of food safety in the tomato industry. Neglecting these critical steps can lead to devastating consequences for both producers and consumers.”

The Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for tomatoes help keep the industry safe. They use Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) for food safety. Regular checks make sure these practices are followed.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has guidelines on on-farm hygiene and sanitation for greenhouses. These guidelines stress the need for a clean environment to avoid germs.

Practice Benefit
Regular cleaning and sanitization of storage areas Reduces the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illnesses
Thorough cleaning and sanitization of tools and containers Eliminates potential sources of microbial contamination
Proper handwashing and personal hygiene for workers Prevents the introduction of harmful bacteria and pathogens
Maintaining a clean and well-ventilated storage environment Supports the overall quality and safety of stored tomatoes

Putting hygiene and sanitation first in tomato storage and handling is important. It ensures safe, quality produce for everyone. These steps are key to a strong food safety plan in the tomato industry.


Handling tomatoes right is key for keeping them fresh and safe. By following 10 top tips, like picking them carefully and storing them well, we can make sure tomatoes are always good to eat. These steps help reduce waste and keep people safe from getting sick.

Using the best ways to handle tomatoes helps farmers and those who handle tomatoes. It makes sure tomatoes stay top quality and helps the tomato industry stay strong.

We’re always finding new ways to make tomatoes safer and better. I believe these efforts will keep the tomato industry growing and giving us great tomatoes all over the world.


Why is proper handling of harvested tomatoes important?

Handling tomatoes right keeps them fresh and safe. If not handled well, they can get spoiled or contaminated. This affects how long they last and can make people sick.

What are the key best practices for handling harvested tomatoes?

Here are the top 10 ways to handle tomatoes well: 1) Pick them at the best time, 2) Handle them gently, 3) Sort and grade them, 4) Clean them right, 5) Store them in the best conditions, 6) Use the right containers, 7) Keep them away from ethylene, 8) Check on them often, 9) Keep them fresh for longer, and 10) Keep everything clean.

How can I identify the optimal ripeness for harvesting tomatoes?

Check tomatoes for size, color, firmness, and sweetness to know when they’re ready. Watching these signs helps you pick them at the perfect time.

What are the risks of improper handling of harvested tomatoes?

Bad handling can cause tomatoes to spoil or get contaminated. This can lead to food poisoning and waste. It also makes people unhappy with their food.

How can I properly clean and sanitize tomatoes after harvesting?

Wash tomatoes with water that’s warmer than the fruit. Don’t use detergents as they can harm the taste and safety. Dry them well to stop germs from growing.

What are the ideal storage conditions for harvested tomatoes?

Store ripe tomatoes at 4°-10°C with 90-95% humidity. Keep green tomatoes above 12°C to avoid damage. Keep them away from other foods to stay clean and fresh.

How can I prevent the effects of ethylene gas on harvested tomatoes?

Keep green tomatoes away from fruits and veggies that produce ethylene. This gas can make them ripen and spoil faster. Proper storage helps keep tomatoes fresh.

What are some effective preservation methods for extending the shelf life of harvested tomatoes?

You can can, vacuum seal, or freeze tomatoes to keep them longer. Canning and vacuum sealing stop germs from growing. Freezing works too, but you must prepare and store them right.

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