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How to Keep Fruits & Vegetables Fresh As Long As Possible

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Last year, my lovely wife and I joined an organic CSA (community supported agriculture) farm. Each week, we’d get a bounty of vegetables and fruit that we had trouble finishing. We mistakenly got a full share, thinking we could handle it, but a full share is meant for a family of four. We only had a family of two… and we weren’t vegetarian either! Each week we’d struggle to eat all these vegetables, many of which were new to us.

We didn’t rejoin the CSA this year, not even a half share, because we were a little burned out last year. On the plus side, we ate a ton of vegetables and we learned how best to store our haul to make it last as long as possible. A lot of this information is taken from a variety of sources, some of which we’ve long forgotten, and it’s amazing how much misinformation is out there. Ultimately, the key is to eat things as quickly as possible but through smart storage practices, you can make things last a little bit longer.

We actually joined a CSA with friends and have a half share!

The list below is first grouped by where you should store them, followed by a huge list alphabetized by the fruit or vegetable (that you can download).

Understanding Ethylene

EthyleneBefore we start, a quick chemistry lesson. Ethylene is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by some fruits and it helps them ripen (or age). Some produce a lot more of the chemical, like apples and pears, than others so a lot of tips revolve around segregating these producers. As an aside, ethylene is what commercial growers use to ripen some fruits after harvest.

You probably know this trick to help ripen bananas faster – put bananas in a paper bag. That’s because the bag traps the ethylene and that helps ripen the fruit. You can expand this strategy by taking fruits that produce more ethylene, like apples, and putting them in with those that don’t produce as much, like tomatoes and bananas. The apples help the tomatoes and bananas ripen. Also, that saying “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” is in part caused by ethylene. When a plant or fruit is damaged, it releases more ethylene which, in turn, ripens the other fruits faster! (the damaged area also attracts bugs, which then discover the feast).

Which fruits produce the most ethylene? Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes comprise the short list of produce that are a significant source of ethylene. You will want to keep these fruits away from other fruits and vegetables, and certainly not store them in the same enclosed space, unless you want them to ripen faster.

Where to Store Fruits & Vegetables

There are basically three places you should store your fruits and vegetables – in the refrigerator, on the countertop, or in a cool dry place (not as cold as the fridge, but certainly not someplace “warm”). When in the fridge, there are three ways to store something – exposed, in a plastic bag, or in a paper bag. In general, the stuff that you put inside bags will want a more humid environment while the exposed ones do better in dryer climates. Ever notice water condensation inside a plastic bag? You can avoid that by putting a few holes in it. That water isn’t good for the produce, it promotes mold.

If all else fails, I generally try to store the fruit or vegetable the same way the grocery store does it. Asparagus is stored in a tray of water. Bananas hang out on the counter. It’s not a perfect system but if you aren’t sure how to store them, it doesn’t hurt to copy the grocery store.

Store in Refrigerator

LeeksIn general, you do not want to wash fruits and vegetables until right before you use them. If you do wash them, make sure to dry them before storing. Water promotes mold and mold is bad. There’s a subset on this list that you absolutely cannot wash, like berries, simply because you can’t get it dry enough!

Here are the items you will want to store in a fridge:

  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cantelopes
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Green beans
  • Honeydew Melons
  • Lima beans
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts
  • Summer squash
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini

Store After Ripening

Almost every one of these produce a lot of ethylene, so wait until they ripen before putting in the fridge:

  • Avocados
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Kiwi

Store in Water

AsparagusHerbs and asparagus are best stored as you would flowers – snip off the ends and stand them upright in some water. If you’ve ever watched asparagus in the fridge, the cold dry air sucks the moisture out of each stem. The stem will shrivel, wrinkle, and if you try to cook and eat it, it’s like eating a stem. If you want to keep it fresh, store them as you would display flowers – trim the end and stand it up in a shallow cup of water.

Store in Paper Bag

Mushrooms and okra are best stored inside a paper bag, because a paper bag prevents light.

Do Not Wash, Store in Plastic Bag

Definitely don’t wash these until right before you use them. When you store them, keep them in the plastic bag:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Corn
  • Cranberries
  • Green onions
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Radishes

Do Not Wash, Store in Single Layer

Don’t wash these before you put them in a fridge and, if you can, store in a single layer. If you wash them, the skins will get soggy and it’ll accelerate spoilage. The argument for storing them in a single layer is because when they do start to go bad, the juice that leaks out can accelerate the decline of other berries. Storing in a single layer reduces the amount of damage while permitted air flow.

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Store on the Countertop

BananasWhen storing on the counter top, try to keep it at room temperature. Avoid sunlight and cooking surfaces, which can increase the ambient temperature. If you want it to ripen, then you can leave it in the sun. If you can, move them around every so often so they aren’t resting on the same point. This is especially important for tomatoes.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Jicama
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mangoes
  • Oranges
  • Papayas
  • Peppers
  • Persimmons
  • Pineapple
  • Plantains
  • Pomegranates
  • Watermelon

Store in Cool, Dry Dark Place

PotatoesMany root vegetables are best stored in a cool dry dark place, which is why root cellars were so popular back in the days of yore. One thing to keep in mind is that air circulation is important because of ethylene buildup. You may have heard the advice that you shouldn’t store onions and potatoes, that’s because of ethylene.

  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Shallots
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash

Alphabetized Master List

Organizing the list by “where,” as opposed to by “what” might not be the best approach if you have a fruit or vegetable and just want to know where you should put it. Here’s a list alphabetized by the fruit/veg (download as a PDF here):

  • Acorn squash – cool, dry place
  • Apples – on the countertop
  • Artichokes – in fridge
  • Avocados – in fridge after ripening
  • Bananas – on the countertop
  • Basil – on the countertop
  • Beets – in fridge
  • Blackberries – in fridge, single layer, do not wash
  • Blueberries – in fridge, single layer, do not wash
  • Broccoli – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Brussels sprouts – in fridge
  • Butternut squash – cool, dry place
  • Cabbage – in fridge
  • Cantelopes – in fridge
  • Carrots – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Cauliflower – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Celery – in fridge
  • Chard – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Cherries – in fridge
  • Corn – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Cranberries – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Cucumbers – on the countertop
  • Eggplant – on the countertop
  • Garlic – cool, dry place
  • Ginger – on the countertop
  • Grapefruit – on the countertop
  • Grapes – in fridge
  • Green beans – in fridge
  • Green onions – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Honeydew Melons – in fridge
  • Jicama – on the countertop
  • Kiwi – in fridge after ripening
  • Leafy vegetables – in fridge
  • Leeks – in fridge
  • Lemons – on the countertop
  • Lettuce – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Lima beans – in fridge
  • Limes – on the countertop
  • Mangoes – on the countertop
  • Mushrooms – in fridge
  • Nectarines – in fridge after ripening
  • Okra – in fridge
  • Oranges – on the countertop
  • Onions – cool, dry place
  • Papayas – on the countertop
  • Peaches – in fridge after ripening
  • Pears – in fridge after ripening
  • Peas – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Peppers – on the countertop
  • Persimmons – on the countertop
  • Pineapple – on the countertop
  • Plantains – on the countertop
  • Plums – in fridge after ripening
  • Pomegranates – on the countertop
  • Potatoes – cool, dry place
  • Pumpkins – cool, dry place
  • Radishes – in fridge, in plastic bag
  • Raspberries – in fridge, single layer, do not wash
  • Shallots – cool, dry place
  • Spaghetti squash – cool, dry place
  • Spinach – in fridge
  • Sprouts – in fridge
  • Strawberries – in fridge, single layer, do not wash
  • Summer squash – in fridge
  • Sweet potatoes – cool, dry place
  • Tomatoes – on the countertop
  • Yellow squash – in fridge
  • Winter squash – cool, dry place
  • Watermelon – on the countertop
  • Zucchini – in fridge

Did I miss one of your favorite fruits or vegetables?

(Photo: callipe, maggiejane, laurapadgett, ccharmon, itsgreg, pauljill)

{ 31 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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31 Responses to “How to Keep Fruits & Vegetables Fresh As Long As Possible”

  1. So I didn’t know you could ripen bananas faster by storing them in a paper bag. Good to know. It seems I can never find ripe bananas at the supermarket.

    • Jim says:

      Just remember to take them out when they’re close otherwise they might get too ripe.

      Also, I try to find bananas of varying ripeness so they don’t ripen all at once.

  2. Kathryn C says:

    The berry trick is amazing. I just learned this one a few months ago. I went on a 1 week trip and berries were perfect when I came home. I am on the road about 60% for my job, very helpful info here. Thanks.

  3. Matt says:

    Great post – this is something that I’ve been thinking about lately because we seem to always throw food out and it just seems like such a waste. Most of these seemed to be pretty obvious though the list is definitely handy. Thanks for putting it together and sharing.

  4. Matt says:

    I almost always store apples and grapefruit in the fridge. Both seem to last much longer.

    • Martha says:

      I was always told that you shouldn’t keep citrus in the frig b/c it reduces the vitamin C content…

  5. Ashley says:

    Thanks so much for this post!! I am always wondering what is the best way to prolong the life of my produce, as I buy (and eat) a lot of fruits and veggies and hate to see them go to waste.

    I store most of my fruit (with the exception of bananas, pineapples and watermelons) in the fridge to delay the ripening process, and when I am ready to eat them, I leave them out to reach room temperature before eating.

  6. Wow, what a post! I have actually incorporated this thinking when buying bananas, and it was suggested to me by someone who had a masters degree in chemistry. Clearly, they knew what they were talking about 🙂

    That said, I didn’t realize how far reaching this concept could be, in terms of how to store fruits and vegetables – particularly in relation to one another. The application of such knowledge might save a few dollars here and there, which adds up in the long run. Good stuff!

  7. Lee says:

    I was very interested to read this article when I opened my email. As a chef, I am always looking for the best trick to prolong the life of perishable items. Your title, however, is a mis-nomer: many of the items you say to keep at room temp/on the counter will keep MUCH longer if stored under refrigeration. If I want my cukes, citrus, ripe melons and pineapples, peppers, etc to last LONGER, then I put them in the fridge. Leaving them out, as you suggest, will shorten their life. The low temperature of the fridge slows down the natural aging and decaying processes. Yes, some things taste better when not cold, so try to then bring them to room temp before serving.

    In addition, it should be noted that potatoes should not only be kept in a cool, dry place — but DARK — and why. They should be covered, so that they are not exposed to light (natural or otherwise), which will start to make chlorophyll, and turn the potatoes green. It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong with the potato. Green potatoes should NOT be eaten, or in the case of small patches of green or sprouted eyes – the green parts should be cut out. If the green has penetrated below the surface, throw out the whole potato. The skin naturally has a harmful toxin called solanine. When the chlorophyll starts to show green, the solanine levels rise very quickly, and can make you very ill (not to mention taste very bitter). That’s why you often see (and should prefer to buy) potatoes sold in paper bags with ventilation holes. (It should also be noted keeping potatoes in the cold of the fridge causes the starches to turn to sugars, making an unpleasant sweetness to a white potato.)

    Hope this helps clarify. Otherwise, you have a handy list indeed, and I would agree most people have no idea how best to store their fruits and veggies.

    Sometimes you see little brochures in the grocery store — about a particular item — always pick them up and read them! They often have the very best advice (straight from the [insert name]’s Commission themselves for best storage and preparation.

    • Jim says:

      Lee – Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I don’t know why I omitted “dark” as part of the “cool dry place” section and thank you for sharing the science behind the reasoning.

  8. Lee says:

    p.s. In case some people reading my above comment think “ew… I don’t want to eat at a place like that… I want fresh food, not something that’s been tried/forced to keep as long as possible!” — I should probably add that I am a chef on large boats and private yachts, at sea for long stretches of time, and unable to ‘run out to the store’ — I probably need to know how to prolong the life of fruits and veggies longer than anyone!

    I also often buy my ingredients at local town/island markets, street corners, or just the guy on the side of the road or on the beach – so those items are usually already at their peak of ripeness. I definitely am not buying anything that’s been stored a long time, or sprayed for prolonging life, etc, as is much of the food in your average grocery store. Of course,I buy some things to serve immediately, but also some to keep as long as I possibly can and serve again later.

  9. buffi says:

    Since my kids tend to grab the berries out of the fridge to snack on an NEVER wash them, I’ve adopted the practice of rinsing them with a solution of water & apple cider vinegar. Then I let them drain for a bit to dry before putting them in the refrigerator. This seems to keep them from getting moldy as fast. And I don’t have to worry about the kids eating dirty fruit!

  10. Lee says:

    I forgot to add this tidbit about bananas…

    If you want them to last as long as possible and slow down their ripening (who here hasn’t had to pitch a pile of too ripe black bananas at the end of the week?)..
    SEPARATE each one, and then keep on your counter or wherever. That is, pull each one off so it’s not connected to another, and just pile them up. They will last much much longer like that, ripening slowly. I do this with all my bananas on the boat, and I buy 1-3 40 lb cases at one time, to last 2-3 wks for only 12-20 people.

  11. Rob says:

    Great article. My wife and I are always trying to better store our garden harvest. Thank you for the suggestions!

  12. debby says:

    You can also store scallions in a jar with water at the bottom; keeping the roots submerged keeps them happy and even growing at room temperature. Ideally, they’ll have the tips still on, too.
    (I’ve had a bunch of scallions on my table in a pint jar for a couple of weeks now, taking shoots off as I need them but always leaving at least one for each root system.)

    PS. I get a full share as a single person; I find that I can get through pretty much all of it (except sometimes lettuce) if I consider freezing or canning some of it when I otherwise feel inundated. And fridge pickles are always a good option for extending time-until-eating (not only for cukes, but also carrots, radishes, garlic, and more).

  13. Excellent Article, and great blog I’m happy to see that somebody expose these brilliant ideas,I do follow most of this tips, just because I’m a Kitchen Lover.Tanks !!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Shirley says:

    Great article, Jim!
    With “waste not, want not” in mind, when I have a lot of fresh veggies on hand, I pickle some for longer lasting storage. It’s actually so very easy and I use whatever I have on hand except tomatoes.

    1 cup sugar, 2 cups vinegar, 3 cups water, 4 tablespoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes brought to a boil for a full 2 minutes is poured over bite-sized pieces of mixed veggies in a glass jar.

    Cover and leave this on the counter until cool and then refrigerate for at least one day before opening to eat. Veggies will be tender crisp.

    A teaspoon of dried basil, oregano, dill weed or garlic powder can be added to the boiling liquid for different flavors.

  15. Shirley says:

    Great article, Jim!
    With “waste not, want not” in mind, when I have a lot of fresh veggies on hand, I pickle some for longer lasting storage. It’s actually so very easy and I use whatever I have on hand except tomatoes.

    1 cup sugar, 2 cups vinegar, 3 cups water, 4 tablespoons kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes brought to a boil for a full 2 minutes is poured over bite-sized pieces of mixed veggies in a glass jar.

    Cover and leave this on the counter until cool and then refrigerate for at least one day before opening to eat. Veggies will be tender crisp. A teaspoon of dried basil, oregano, dill weed or garlic powder can be added to the boiling liquid for different flavors.

  16. Genevieve says:

    Great post Jim! I spend a lot of time trying to help CSA members get the longest life out of their produce, so now I can just send them over to your post 😉
    Storage is particularly difficult for fruits harvested at full ripeness, as many small farms (like us) do. It is best to eat or preserve them within a few days of harvest. I’ve tried to explain to customers that many crops (for wholesale to supermarkets, such as tomatoes, are actually picked green with a hint of color and are gassed with ethylene during transport, thus the lack of flavor.
    Sorry you got turned off from CSA, perhaps you might try another farm with more diversity next time.

  17. Use have a large bakers rack in our kitchen and started leaving most fruits and veggies on it. It works great considering out diet is about 1/2/ veggies. the stuff we do have to refrigerate, such as lettuce, gets washed, dried and places in a tupper with one paper towel… come to think of it, this should be a post over at my site, lol.

  18. gannas says:

    How about Garlic Scapes and Turnips?

  19. Lauhal says:

    I read a tip about berries: Rinse them in a bit of vinegar to inhibit mold growth.

  20. Uncle B says:

    Diagnosis: Vascular Dementia. Prognosis “Not Good” For may sake, as the darkness of death shadows every word in my mind and dulls my very soul, as this terrifying darkness falls over my spirit, I beg you, become a vegan. Not for my sake, but for the sake of all American humanity. Lose the pounds I did not, stop the fats I did not, and refrain from the sugars I did not. If only to live in the light for one more day. Till we meet again, on the other side. Friend.

  21. Terreah says:

    Great information… dad was a Farmer! You grow up learninh. Who feeds ya 3 times a day……he’d say? Know what you’re putting in your mouth! Unfortunately, I put too much, trying to change that… day at a time.
    Great info and advice. Thanks to all!!!

  22. Bryan says:

    Thanks for the article and the pdf. While reading I remembered a lot of these and through the years have completely forgot about them. Now with the pdf I can print and post it in the kitchen. Thanks again

  23. Sarah says:

    Hey! If anyone wishes to help bananas longer, seperate them from the stem and ensure good air flow and never in the fridge! Wire storage baskets work awesome!! They ripen faster together as a bunch! The sun and paper bag helps too. Hope this helps!

  24. Michael Dowling says:

    I keep my bananas in a fruit-bowl,and put them in the fridge when they get very ripe.The skin will blacken,but the fruit doesn’t get any riper.

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