Have you ever seen a strawberry that looks bright red and mushy? Although it doesn’t look mouldy or rotten it is clear that the strawberry has come to the end of it’s useful life. Is the strawberry bad to eat? Personally, I think that strawberries at this stage are at the height of their flavor, in the initial stages of this softening process they are incredibly sweet but as bacterial activity sets in the sweetness will turn into sourness which will eventually turn into bitterness.
Notice the order in which the fruits decay. It’s interesting to see which fruits last longest. The longer the fruit lasts, the greater it’s anti-oxidizing qualities.
If they have not gone mouldy or rotten I have no problem eating as many as I can. Others might find this revolting and think that food at this stage of decay should only be used for cooking purposes and then only if you are one hundred percent sure that the fruit has not been in conditions where bacterial contamination can occur. In order to understand why I have no problem eating such a strawberry one needs to know a little about the physiology of the cells of all living things, plant or animal.
As a living organism, such as a piece of fruit, begins to age, nature has designed mechanisms that help it to disintegrate and turn into what basically boils down to compost at a faster rate than if the fruit were to be disintegrate through micro-organismic activity alone. This mechanism of self destruction is called “lysis”.
The reason for this is so that the contents of the fruit (or animal) and micro-organisms effect the environment in as minimal a way as possible. It also facilitates the process in which the seed takes root and continues a new generation of the plant species.
All living organisms have several defense mechanisms, some specific and some non specific. Specific defence mechanisms know how to neutralize a pre memorized target such as a specific bacterial species or viral species. This is done through a process of protein recognition. All cellular structures in nature contain elements of protein. Each species has designed and employed it’s own unique protein structures and it is for this reason that specific defense systems can be set up by living organisms.
Specific defense mechanisms can take several days to be set into motion and it is for this reason that organisms need non specific defense mechanisms. Non specific defense mechanisms play a dual role. Firstly they make a dent in the pathogen’s attack by managing to kill a significant number of invader cells, hopefully. Secondly, the non specific defence system destroys the invader and by dispersing the bacterial cell debris rondomly they make the job of indentifying the attacker easier for the specific defense mechanism.
The bodie’s non specific defence mechanisms come in several forms. Some are cellular. This means that some are forms of white blood cells (in the animal kingdom) which travel around in the intra cellular fluids. Should they become atached to a cell which it recognizes as problomatic by virtue of being “non self”, if will kill it.
Some none specific defense mechanisms are not cellular but exist as fluid filled cysts within the organisms cells. These fluids are called complement chemicals. Complements comprise some of the most destructive chemical compounds known to nature.
One such chemical os called “lysozyme”. The lysozyme is contained within a cyst that exists within all healthy cells and this cyst is called a “lyzozome”. Some non specific defender cells will engulf an invader, taking it into its own body cavity. Lyzozomes will attach themselves to the foreign body and empty the contents of the cyst into the invader. The lyzozyme oxydizes the invader and kills it. This process is happening all of the time in every living organism.
When an organism ages as the metabolic exchange of chemical nutrients slows, cell walls begin to rupture. The contents of the cell spill into the cellular structure of the organism. Lysozyme is now floating freely around other cells. The lyzozyme oxydizes the walls of the cells it comes into contact with and causes them to rupture as well. Thus, a tissue deterioration process has initiated. The organism’s tissues will become mush and micro-organisms will work in conjunction with this process to bring about the re-incorporation of the organism with the soil. This process is often called enzymatic wastage of tissue.
This process can initiate whether a fruit is still attached to the tree or not and in animals, during old age. It is a natural and unavoidable process. It is part of the recycling method of nature.
Food that has reached this stage of development should neither be bought nor used. Although this stage does not in itself signal bacterial infestation, infestation by bacteria and/or moulds is imminant and should always be considered a presupposed fact when preparing food for others.
Note: a similar process can occur by freezing. Water within frozen foods crystalizes. The crystals puncture cell walls and the fruit becomes mushy. Once thawed fruit in this condition must be cooked as soon as possible to prevent further enzymatic detrioration or bacterial contamination.