We have probably all had this happen. We excitedly bring home a load of fresh fruits and vegetables only to find some of them turning bad a few days later.
Properly storing produce is essential to maximize its freshness, nutrition, texture, and taste. Over the years, I’ve learned valuable tips that I use after every grocery shopping trip to keep my veggies and fruits fresh for longer.
Factors to Consider
When it comes to storing fresh fruits and vegetables, there are several key factors to take into account; temperature, ethylene, and airflow. While numerous types of produce fare well when stored in the refrigerator, certain items such as potatoes, onions, and garlic maintain their best quality when stored at cool room temperatures.
- Ethylene gas, a natural emission from certain fruits like apples and bananas, plays a role in how quickly things ripen. It essentially accelerates the process of ethylene-sensitive produce, including leafy greens, cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli. This leads to faster decay. To counter this, it’s good to keep ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables separate from those emitting the gas, regardless of refrigeration.
- Produce that thrives at room temperature requires adequate air circulation. Using plastic bags can hasten spoilage, even if the produce came in perforated plastic packaging. Opting to remove items like bananas, potatoes, or onions from their bags and allowing them to breathe extends their freshness.
- For refrigerated produce, proper sealing is crucial for longevity. Zip-top plastic bags, reusable silicone pouches, or containers with tight-fitting lids are effective options. These containers help retain moisture, prevent dehydration, and safeguard sensitive produce from the effects of ethylene gas. Grocery store produce bags can also be utilized.
Keep Separated due to Ethylene Gas
Asparagus, broccoli, collard greens, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, lemons, lettuce, limes, mangos, onions, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon tend to be the most sensitive to ethylene gas. Be sure to keep the above separated from these to help extend their freshness.
The following fruits and vegetables are not sensitive to ethylene: blueberries, cherries, snap beans, garlic, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and yucca.
On the other hand, if you want to accelerate the ripening of certain fruits, you can place them in a closed container with ripe ethylene-producing fruit (like a banana or an apple). Just be cautious with this method, as too much ethylene exposure can lead to overripening or even spoilage.
According to UCSD Ethylene in Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Storage Chart
Factors influencing produce freshness, such as temperature, humidity, and the time elapsed since harvesting, can show a lot of variation. Trust your judgment; if a piece of produce looks, smells, and tastes acceptable, discarding it might not be necessary. Conversely, if something appears off, follow your instincts and abide by the food safety principle: When uncertain, opt to discard.
|Apples||Room temperature: 1-2 days; refrigerator crisper: up to 1 month||Ripen apples at room temperature. Once ripe, store in plastic bags in the crisper. Wash before eating.|
|Asparagus||Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days.||Once picked, asparagus loses quality quickly. Wrap the base of a bunch of asparagus with a moist paper towel, place it in a plastic bag, and store it in the refrigerator. Wash before using.|
|Beans, green or yellow||Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days||Store in plastic bags. Do not wash before storing. Wet beans will develop black spots and decay quickly. Wash before preparation.|
|Broccoli||Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days||Store in loose, perforated plastic bags. Wash before using.|
|Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Radish, Turnips||Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 weeks||Remove green tops and store vegetables in plastic bags. Trim the taproots from radishes before storing them. Wash before using.|
|Berries||Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days||Before storing berries, remove any spoiled or crushed fruits. Store unwashed in plastic bags or containers. Do not remove green tops from strawberries before storing them. Wash gently under cool running water before using.|
|Brussels sprouts||Refrigerator crisper: 1-2 days||The fresher the sprouts, the better the flavor. Remove outer leaves and store fresh sprouts in plastic bags. Wash before eating.|
|Cabbage||Refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.||Store, after removing the outer leaves, in perforated plastic bags.|
|Chard||Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days.||Store leaves in plastic bags. The stalks can be stored longer if separated from the leaves. Wash before using.|
|Collards||Refrigerator crisper: 4-5 days||Collards store better than most greens. Wrap leaves in moist paper towels and place in sealed plastic bag. When ready to use wash thoroughly. Greens tend to have dirt and grit clinging to the leaves.|
|Corn||Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 days||Lettuce, spinach, and other greens|
|Cucumbers||Refrigerator crisper: up to 1 week||Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Do not store with apples or tomatoes. Wash before using.|
|Eggplant||Refrigerator: 1-2 days||Eggplants do not like cool temperatures so they do not store well. Harvest and use them immediately for the best flavor. If you must store them, store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Be careful as it will soon develop soft brown spots and become bitter. Use while the stem and cap are still greenish and fresh-looking.|
|Herbs||Refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days||Herbs may be stored in plastic bags or placed upright in a glass of water (stems down). Cover loosely with a plastic bag.|
|Lettuce, spinach and other greens||Refrigerator crisper: 5 to 7 days for lettuce; 1 to 2 days for greens||Discard outer or wilted leaves. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. Wash before using.|
|Melons||At room temperature until ripeRefrigerator: 3 to 4 days for cut melon||For the best flavor, store melons at room temperature until ripe. Store ripe, cut melon covered in the refrigerator. Wash the rind before cutting.|
|Nectarines, Peaches, Pears||Refrigerator crisper: 5 days||Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and then|
refrigerate it in plastic bags. Wash before eating.
|Onions and scallions||Dry onions: Room temperature 2 to 4 weeks; scallions: Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days||Store dry onions loosely in a mesh bag in a cool, dry well-ventilated place away from sunlight. Wash scallions carefully before eating.|
|Peas||Refrigerator: 2-3 days||The sugar in peas quickly begins to turn to starch even while under refrigeration, so eat quickly after harvesting. Store peas in perforated plastic bags. Wash before shelling.|
|Peppers||Refrigerator crisper: up to 2 weeks||Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Wash before using.|
|Potatoes||Room temperature: 1 to 2 weeks||Store potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light, which causes greening. Scrub well before cooking.|
|Summer squash, patty pan||Refrigerator: 2-3 days||Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Wash before eating.|
|Tomatoes||Room temperature; once cut, refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days||Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Refrigeration makes them tasteless and mealy. Wipe clean and store tomatoes at room temperature away from sunlight. Wash before eating. (Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further.) Store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator.|
|Winter squashes, pumpkins||Room temperature for curing; then cool, dry storage area for 3 to 6 months.||Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumplings, and delicata. Wipe clean before curing. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days. After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50°F), dry place such as the basement or garage for long-term storage. Do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored for up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures result in a shorter storage time. Refrigeration is too humid for the whole squash, and it will deteriorate quickly. The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator.|
Additional Storage Tips
- All produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated within two hours to maintain both quality and safety. Most produce will last about 5 days after being prepped and stored in an airtight container. Fruits like apples, pears, bananas, and avocados are not the best candidates for slicing ahead of time since they brown quickly.
- Do not store fresh fruits and vegetables below raw meats, poultry, and seafood that might drip on the fresh produce. The drip can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
- Additionally, fruits have the potential to soak up unappealing smells from vegetables.
Although there is still a lot up in the air about how quickly fruits or vegetables will turn bad, this information may give you a little extension on their freshness. Not only does this ensures that you get the most out of your fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also reduces your possible food waste. Check the resources below for more information. Hope it helps!
- UCONN Storing Fresh Garden Produce | Food Safety
- LSU Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Clemson Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits & Vegetables | Home & Garden Information Center
- Purdue Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Best Flavor
- Uni of Wyoming Storing Fruits and Veggies So They Last Longer
- UCSD Ethylene in Fruits and Vegetables