What’s the best way to store fresh produce?
Do you ever buy fresh fruits and vegetables, toss them into the produce drawer and forget about them? Then a few days later you open the drawer only to discover that it’s all spoiled? (‘Fess up, because I know I’m not the only one….)
Updated: In addition to researching this post, I tried many of these techniques myself and they worked great. This post contains affiliate links.
It kind of comes down to which fruits and vegetables give off the natural gas, ethylene.
Ethylene can affect the other fruits and veggies that they are stored next to. (That’s the premise of the Debbie Meyer GreenBags .) You don’t need to buy special bags, but you do need to know which produce doesn’t play nicely with others.
Apples – Do not wash until just before eating, keep them sealed in the plastic produce bag, in the refrigerator. They give off a lot of ethelyne gas, so don’t store them next to anything else.
Avocados – Keep them at room temperature. If you need one to ripen quickly, put it in a brown paper bag along with a banana. If it is ripe and you need to slow the ripening process, put it in the fridge.
Bananas – They produce more ethelyne gas than any other fruit. Keep them away from other produce, on the counter-top, away from other produce. Once they are ripe you can stop the ripening process by putting them in the fridge, just be sure to put them in a sealed bag. The skin will turn black, but the fruit will be fine.
Beans (snap, string or wax) – Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash until just before use.
Bell Peppers – Store loosely in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Should keep for up to a week. These freeze beautifully if you wash, core and seed them. Cut into strips or leave whole.
Berries – You know when you buy berries and they look like they have a dusty layer one them…? That is called bloom, and it serves as a natural preservative. Never wash berries until just before use. Pick through them and throw away any berries that are bruised or molding. Store loosely in shallow containers, cover with plastic and keep them in the refrigerator.
Broccoli & Cauliflower – These need to be kept in their wrapping/packaging and kept in the fridge. Do not wash until just before using.
Cabbage – Keep in the fridge, in a plastic bag. Do not wash until just before using
Carrots – Whole carrots? Wash them thoroughly. If they have green tops, cut off all but an inch. Wrap them in a damp paper towel, seal in a plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer.
“Baby” carrots? I just discovered that I should stop buying them… but if you still do, you can put them in a plastic container, covered in water. Be sure to change the water every few days. (Note: this may reduce the flavor of the “baby” carrot.)
Celery – Give it a rinse, loosely wrap it in a paper towel, then tightly wrap the entire stalk in aluminum foil and keep in the crisper. It will keep fresh and crisp for weeks. (I actually have had celery that I bought to make stuffing at Thanksgiving still be fresh and crunchy for Bloody Marys on New Year’s Day! Amazing!)
Cherries – Store in the fridge in a plastic bag. Do not wash until just before eating.
Citrus – Since citrus fruits have thicker skin, they are easier to store. They’ll stay fresh for about 2 weeks in the fridge, about a week on the counter. It doesn’t matter if they are near other produce.
Corn – Husks on? Store loose and uncovered in the fridge. Husks off? Wrap in foil and store in the crisper drawer. It will keep for 1 to 2 days.
Cucumber – Store in plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash until just before use.
Eggplant – Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
Garlic – Store at room temperature. Whole heads will last 3 to 5 weeks, but once cloves are separated, they will last about 10 days.
Grapes – Do not wash until just before eating, as they also have a bloom. Store them in the fridge, in the plastic bags they come in, or poke holes in a plastic bag to allow for air circulation. They say they should last up to 2 weeks. (I have never seen them last longer than a week before getting shriveled up and gross…)
Jalapeno Peppers – Store in plastic bag, in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Kiwi Fruit – store at room temperature until ripe, then cover with plastic and refrigerate. Will keep for about a week.
Lettuces, Leafy Greens & Spinach – Wash, wrap loosely in paper-towels, then bag it… paper towel and all.
Melons – Store at room temperature until ripe, then refrigerate. They will keep for about a week.
Mushrooms – Do not wash until just before using. Pre-sliced? Store in the refrigerator in their original packaging. They will last for about a week. Whole? Store loosely in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator
Onions – Store in a cool, dry place that has good air circulation. (Store in the fridge if you don’t have such a place.) They will keep for 2 to 3 months. DO NOT STORE WITH POTATOES. (If next to each other they spoil faster. Who knew?)
Pears – If they aren’t ripe, store them at room temperature. Once they ripen, place them in a plastic bag and store them in the fridge. They will keep for about a week.
Peaches, Plums, Nectarines & Apricots – Store at room temperature until ripe, then store in plastic bags in the refrigerator until ready to eat. They will keep from 3 to 5 days. Do not wash until ready to eat.
Pineapple – Store at room temperature until ripe, then store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Potatoes – Store in a cool, dry, dark place that has good air circulation. They will keep for 2 to 3 months. DO NOT STORE WITH ONIONS. (If next to each other they spoil faster. Who knew?) Sweet Potatoes keep at room temperature for a week or in a cool dark place for about a month.
Tomatoes – Store them in a cool, dry place. Don’t store them in plastic bags as the trapped ethylene will make them ripen more quickly. Once ripe, you can put them in the fridge to slow the ripening process, but let them come to room temperature before using them.
Zucchini and other squashes- Refrigerate in a plastic bag. Do not wash until just before using.
Did I miss anything? Do you have any great tips to share? Leave them in the comments and let me know.
****UPDATED 2/9/12 This comment from a reader, regarding Asparagus:
Asparagus is actually something that can last for a couple weeks if stored properly (thanks Alton Brown and Good Eats). When you get them home, cut off about half an inch on the ends. Put enough water in the bottom of a jar or wide drinking glass to cover the bottoms about 3/4″ to 1″ (you don’t want half the stalk to sit in water). Put a ziploc baggie loosely down over the top of the stalks to keep some of the moisture around them. Store in the fridge! It’s that easy. When I learned this, I no longer hesitated in picking up asparagus whenever I was at the grocery store. I have some now in my fridge that has lasted about two weeks already.
****UPDATED 2/25/15 There had been a printable associated with this blog post, available through Scribd. However, it has disappeared from the Scribd site. Sorry for any inconvenience.
***UPDATED 1/14/18 Thank you to reader Nancy E. Woods for pointing out I had misspelled “ethylene” in this post. It has been corrected.