You’ve made up your mind to start eating healthy, so you go to the store and stock up on lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. You get all the bags home and get ready to put them away. But wait – where do they all go? Some are best in the refrigerator, and some are best on the counter. Still some fruits and vegetables should not be stored close together. How do you know? Do you end up throwing away some because you didn’t get it eaten soon enough?
According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away nearly 31.6 million tons of food every year. And a University of Arizona study found that the average family tosses 1.28 pounds of food a day – that’s a total of 470 pounds a year! They calculated it was like throwing away about $600 a year. I know I can’t afford that.
There’s more to storing your produce than just putting them in the refrigerator. For those things you are to keep in the fridge, here are some guidelines:
- Keep produce in perforated plastic produce bags. To perforate your bags, punch holes in the bag with a sharp object, spacing the holes the same distance you see as the holes in the plastic bags of apples at the grocery store.
- Keep fruits and vegetables in separate areas. If you have drawers in your refrigerator, that is a great way to keep them apart. Ethylene can build up, which hastens spoilage.
- When storing herbs – and asparagus, too – snip off the ends and place them upright in a glass of water, as if they were flowers being put in a vase. Then cover them with a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator, except basil, which should be kept at room temperature.
- Keep your refrigerator clean at all times. Clean up spills immediately.
- Line the drawers with paper towels, and change them regularly.
- Wipe the moisture off the produce before refrigerating them.
- Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees. Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator to get an idea of the real temperature inside it.
Here’s something else to consider. After they are picked, fruits and vegetables give off an odorless, tasteless, but harmless gas called ethylene. All fruits and vegetables produce it, but some give it off more than others. When these ethylene-producing foods are kept in close proximity to the ethylene-sensitive foods, the gas speeds up the ripening process. This might work well if you have some unripe produce you want to ripen quickly, but if you want them to last longer, it would be well worth your while to keep a guide like this handy.
apples grapes passionfruit
apricots green onions peaches
avocados honeydew pears
bananas kiwi peppers
blueberries mangoes persimmons
cantaloupes melons pineapple
citrus fruit mushrooms plantains
cranberries nectarines plums/prunes
figs okra tomatoes
guavas papayas watermelons
asparagus eggplant potatoes
broccoli endives romaine
Brussels sprouts escarole spinach
cabbage green beans squash
carrots kale sweet potatoes
cauliflower lettuce watercress
chard parsley yams
Leafy Greens – Wash and dry, then wrap in a paper towel. Store in a plastic bag. If you have a lot, place moist paper towels on top of your greens, then keep covered in plastic for about two weeks.
Carrots – Wrap carrots tightly in plastic before placing in the refrigerator for up to a month. The key to keeping your carrots longer is to keep them moist. If they get dry, they lose both taste and nutrients.
Eggplant – Ripen eggplant at room temperature, then place it in a perforated bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Celery – Loosely wrap the celery in paper towel, then tightly wrap it in aluminum foil. store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Grapes – Never wash your grapes before refrigerating them. Loosely wrap them in plastic.
Zucchini – Do not wash until ready to use. Refrigerate in a plastic bag.
Broccoli – Store in a produce bag. Do not wash first.
Cauliflower – Store directly on the refrigerator shelf, where it will keep fresh for up to two weeks.
Cabbage – Store in a plastic bag. Do not wash first. It will store up to two months.
Apples – Keep them sealed in a produce bag. Refrigerated apples can last up to two months.
Berries – Never wash berries until you’re ready to use them. Pick through them and throw away any bruised or moldy ones. Store loosely in shallow containers, covered in plastic.
Beans (Snap, String, Wax, or Green) – Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a plastic bag.
Cherries – Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a plastic bag.
Mushrooms – Do not wash until using. If they are pre-sliced, store in their original packaging. If they are whole, store loosely in a brown paper bag. They will keep about a week. Don’t store in the crisper drawer, though. It will be too moist for them, and they will quickly rot.
Peppers (Bell, Jalapenos, and others) – Store in a plastic bag for up to a week. They also freeze well.
Cucumbers – Store in a plastic bag for up to a week. Do not wash until just before using.
Room Temperature Foods
Pineapple – Keep the pineapple on the counter until ripe. After that, put in a perforated bag and store in the refrigerator. It should keep about 4 to 5 days.
Peaches – Do not wash until ready to eat. Store at room temperature until ripe, then store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should keep 3 to 5 days.
Garlic – Place garlic in a cool place in your kitchen. If you have a ventilated garlic keeper, that’s a great way to store it. Whole heads will last 3 to 5 weeks, but once you start breaking off the cloves, it lasts about 10 days.
Bananas – Hang bananas on a hook away from the counter surface to prevent accelerated ripening. They should last about ten days. Once they are ripe, you can halt the bananas from ripening further by putting them in the refrigerator – just make sure they are in a sealed bag, away from the other produce. The skin will turn black, but the fruit inside will be just fine.
Avocados – An unripened avocado can take up to five days to ripen. If you need it to ripen quickly, but it in a brown paper bag with a banana. Once ripe, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Kiwi – Store at room temperature until ripe, then wrap in plastic where it will keep for about a week.
Apricots – Store at room temperature until ripe, then store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep about 3 to 5 days. Do not wash before storing in the fridge.
Pears – If they aren’t ripe, store them at room temperature. Once they ripen, store them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. They should keep about a week.
Onions – Store in a cool, dry place that has good air circulation. They will keep 2 to 3 months. If you don’t have such a place, store them in a perforated bag in the refrigerator, although they will only last about 1 to 2 weeks in there. Whatever you do, however, do not store them next to potatoes. They will spoil faster that way.
Potatoes – Like the onions, keep them in a cool, dry place – just not next to the onions. Sweet potatoes keep at room temperature for about a week, in a cool dark place for about a month.
Citrus – Because of their thick skin, it doesn’t matter what other produce you store citrus fruits by. They will last about a week on the counter. After that, store them in the refrigerator. They will last another 2 to 3 weeks there.
Melons – Store at room temperature until ripe, then put them in the refrigerator for about a week. One caveat – cantaloupes can carry food borne illnesses. Once it’s been cut, keep covered in the refrigerator. If it’s been at room temperature for more than an hour, throw it away.
Tomatoes – Store them in a cool, dry place. Keep them in a paper towel lined box or tray with the stems up. Don’t store them in plastic bags, as the trapped ethylene will make them ripen faster. Once they have ripened, you can put them in plastic bags in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. Let them come to room temperature before using them.
Food is expensive. We can’t afford to waste it. If you keep this list handy, when you get home from the grocery store you’ll be able to follow through on your good intention to eat a healthier diet.