Everyone loves a good kitchen hack. But avocados that stay fresh for a month? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The FDA is speaking out against a viral TikTok and Facebook trend that shows users storing whole or cut avocados in water to keep them fresh for longer.
In one video, the TikTok user @sidneyraz stored half an avocado in a container of water overnight, taking it out the next day to find it was still ripe and green. Another user, @shamamamahealing, stored an uncut avocado in a jar of water in the fridge, revealing perfectly smooth, green fruit on the inside after a two-week soak. Her video of her quickly went viral, amassing more than six million views before she took it down, Newsweek reported.
On the surface, the science seems plausible. Avocados start to turn brown when they’re exposed to oxygen, in a process called oxidation, says Matt Regusci, the director of growth at ASI Food Safety, a consulting firm in St. Anne, Missouri, that specializes in food safety inspections and certification . “The same thing happens with apples and potatoes,” he explains. “There is nothing wrong with the browning as far as a health risk is concerned, it just doesn’t look good.”
By storing the avocados in water, users suggest, you’re slowing down the oxidation process and keeping the fruit ripe and green for longer. But in reality, the practice doesn’t hold water, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — and it could have serious health effects. As @sidneyraz exclaimed in a later video retracting his advice from him: “Take the avocados out of the water!”
What Are the Health Risks of Storing Cut Avocados in Water?
While water may help preserve an avocado’s freshness and flavor, it can also expose you to foodborne illnesses.
“The main concern is the possibility that any residual human pathogens (such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella) that may be residing on the avocado’s surface may potentially multiply during the storage when submerged in water,” notes Jannell Goodwin, a spokesperson for the FDA.
Past research by the FDA showed that 17 percent of imported and domestic avocados had traces of Listeria monocytogenes on the skin, and 1 percent tested positive for Salmonella. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Listeria monocytogenes can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea; Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Both can cause severe illness and death in people with weakened immune systems, while Listeria monocytogenes can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, and older adults.
“Bacteria like listeria and salmonella are living creatures. They need the right temperature, food, and most importantly water to grow,” says Regusci. “When you cut into an avocado, split it in half, then submerge it in water, you provide the perfect environment to create a pathogenic soup.”
Even if you choose not to cut your avocados before submerging them, you could still be at risk. Whole, washed avocados can still contain traces of bacteria that leach into the edible part of the fruit over time.
“Research performed by FDA scientists has shown that Listeria monocytogenes has the potential to infiltrate and internalize into the pulp of avocados when submerged in refrigerated dump tanks within 15 days during refrigerated storage,” says Goodwin. “In this case, even disinfecting the avocado skin prior to slicing would not remove the contamination.”
How Can You Safely Keep Avocados Fresh?
Before using produce, the FDA recommends that you rinse off your avocados under running water and scrub them with a firm produce brush to remove dirt or bacteria. Dry them off with a clean towel and let them air dry, then store them at room temperature until ripe.
Once you’ve cut your avocado open, add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to the exposed surface if you’re not planning to use the whole fruit right away. This will help to keep them fresh for longer, as the citric acid in these fruits can slow down the oxidation process, Regusci says. Then, wrap the fruit in plastic wrap until you’re ready to finish it.
Storing avocado slices in the freezer is another convenient way to prevent bacterial growth. Freezing food to 0 degrees Fahrenheit will deactivate any bacteria present in food, notes the USDA (but keep in mind that these bacteria can continue to multiply as usual once the food thaws).
“Quarter the avocados, take the skin off, and throw them in a [ziplock] bag. Add a little lemon or lime juice and put it in the freezer,” advises Regusci. (Keep in mind that ice crystals can change the texture of your avocados slightly, so this hack is best for avocados you’re planning to use in smoothies, mousses, or other blender recipes.)
And if you want your bowl of guacamole to stay fresh, don’t skimp on the citrus juice. When you’re ready to store it, drizzle lemon juice on top, then lay plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole (rather than stretched taut across the top of the bowl). “You want the least amount of product exposed to the air,” Regusci says.
You can also make a big batch of guac and store it in gallon-size bags in the freezer. “If you push the guacamole flat in the bag, the product will be exposed to the least amount of air and can lie flat nicely in the freezer for better storage,” says Regusci.
The struggle with avocados is real. They’re not exactly cheap, and if you wait too long to use them, they may already be brown and mushy by the time you’re ready to nosh on some avocado toast.
Still, do resist the temptation to store them in water, to avoid foodborne pathogens like listeria and salmonella.
Instead, store whole avocados on the counter or in the refrigerator. If you don’t use the entire fruit at once, add a little lemon or lime juice. Not only does the added zing taste great, it’ll help preserve the freshness till tomorrow.