The Best Ways to Store Fruits and Vegetables
When you’re trying to limit your trips to the grocery store, it can be challenging to keep your produce fresh for long periods of time. “Being mindful of how you store fresh fruits and vegetables can help make them last longer,” says Adrien Paczosa, RD, LD, CEDRD-S and founder of I Live Well Nutrition.
Here are some tips on proper fruit and vegetable storage techniques to prevent them from spoiling before you get to enjoy them.
How to Store Fruits and Vegetables
Each fruit and vegetable has its own unique needs. To make sure you can enjoy them all before they spoil, you want to ensure they’re stored properly. In general, fruits and veggies will either be stored on your counter, in your pantry, or in your refrigerator.
1. Pay attention to packaging
Before you decide where to store your fruits and veggies, it’s important to look at the packaging. If the produce comes in plastic wrap, leave it. “As soon as you take it out of the plastic and wash it, you start a chemical reaction and it will ripen faster and go bad faster,” Paczosa says.
If the produce comes without packaging, Paczosa recommends storing it in a breathable produce bag, like these that you can order from Amazon.
2. Store some produce at room temperature
If a fruit or vegetable releases ethylene gas, that generally means you should not put it in the refrigerator, Paczosa says. Ethylene gas is a natural plant hormone that’s released by fruits and vegetables and helps them to ripen. Produce that releases ethylene gas tends to last longer if left unrefrigerated, out in the open, Paczosa says.
Here’s a shortlist of fruits and veggies to leave unrefrigerated on the counter:
- Bananas (Pro tip: separate the bananas to keep them fresh longer)
- Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, clementines)
- Green beans
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
These fruits should start on the counter, and then be moved to the fridge when ripe:
- Stone fruits (apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums)
And if you’re not ready to eat a fruit or veggie once it’s ripe, you can slightly extend the period of ripeness of all these fruits and veggies by placing them in the refrigerator once they hit their prime.
3. Store the right produce in the fridge
To keep it simple: Pretty much every other fruit and vegetable goes in the fridge. Here’s a breakdown of fruits and vegetables that should be refrigerated, according to Paczosa:
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)
- Brussels sprouts
- Corn on the cob (pro tip: keep the husk on the corn to maintain freshness longer)
- Dark leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach, collards, turnip greens)
- Pro tip: “Insert a paper towel into the bag to absorb some moisture and avoid spoiling the greens,” suggests Paczosa.
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, dill, parsley)
4. Be smart about proximity to other produce
Ethylene gas speeds up the ripening process so you’ll want to separate the ethylene gas-producing produce from the rest. This includes in your refrigerator and on your counter.
The biggest offenders are apples, avocados, bananas, stone fruits, and tomatoes. You want to make sure these stay separated from delicate fruits and veggies such as berries and leafy greens.
Another pairing to be aware of is onions and potatoes. Onions will cause potatoes to sprout faster, so you want to keep them separated. Onions also emit onion scent, which can permeate other fruits and vegetables, so it’s best to keep them away from other produce.
Do you have to wash before you store your produce?
To wash your produce or not is a delicate balance of freshness and grab-and-go readiness. Washing produce makes it ready to eat so you can eat those healthy fruits anytime the craving strikes. But, washing produce can also cause it to ripen faster, Paczosa says.
If you’re trying to maximize shelf life so you don’t have to go to the store as often, you might want to wait to wash your fruits and veggies until right before you eat them, in order to increase their shelf life. But if you know you’re definitely going to eat them in a few days, then feel free to wash them in advance.
Cut fruits and veggies also have a much shorter shelf life. You’ll want to store them in sealed plastic bags or clean, air-tight containers in the fridge.
Frozen Fruits and Veggies
While fresh fruits and vegetables usually taste the best, frozen is also a great alternative. It allows you to store the produce for longer, and it’s actually just as healthy!
Frozen vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen, Paczosa explains. “You might actually get a slightly higher nutrient content with a frozen vegetable than a fresh vegetable. It all depends on the season, when it was picked, and how long it took to transport it.”
And this doesn’t only apply to store-bought frozen food. If you find yourself with more produce than you can eat right now, you can freeze some yourself. Just slice it up and store it in an airtight bag to avoid freezer burn. Just keep in mind that frozen fruits and veggies can go bad. Here’s a guide to help you figure out how long to store it all.
By keeping fruits and vegetables fresh longer, you can help to ensure you have healthy meal choices and home and can go for a longer amount of time without having to go to the grocery store.