How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables at Home

Could you use an extra $300? You might want to take a look in your garbage. A survey conducted by Glad, the food storage people, revealed that the average household throws away 150 pounds of rotten produce each year! Mind-boggling, right?

Here’s a fun crash course on the how, where, and why of fresh fruits and vegetables. Start following these insanely simple tips, and you’ll be amazed to see far fewer of your food dollars (hopefully, none) in the garbage in the form of stinky, rotten produce.

A bunch of different types of vegetables

Mary’s California Garden

At a conservative estimate of $2 a pound, each household is losing about $300 by tossing out produce that’s become more suitable for a biology project than human consumption.

Many people also have concerns about pesticides on the surface of fruits and vegetables. However, according to studies reported by PennState Extension, pesticide residues are generally well within limits set by the federal government, which means they are not present at levels that could harm individuals. Contamination with harmful bacteria and viruses due to improper care and storage at home is a far greater threat to health.

Simple steps can ensure that the fruits and vegetables you eat are safe. To reduce your risk of exposure to microbial and chemical contaminants—and to save money—follow these guidelines.

At the grocery store

  • Select only high-quality produce. Bruised, shriveled, slimy, or overripe produce can harbor harmful bacteria.
  • Add fresh produce to your cart near the end of your shopping trip, not the beginning, so they stay cool.
  • Keep meats, fish, and poultry in plastic bags in the shopping cart to prevent juices from dripping onto fruits and vegetables. Then make sure you pack these items in separate bags at the checkout.

The trip home

  • During warm months especially, plan your trips, so grocery shopping is your last of the day.
  • Load fresh foods into the car, not the hot trunk, to keep these items as cool as possible until you can get them to the kitchen.

In the kitchen

  • Immediately, refrigerate perishable fruits and vegetables, ideally in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, to maintain quality and safety—and their usable life.
  • Some items like potatoes and tomatoes should be kept in a clean, dry place.

Freezing

  • Almost all fruits and vegetables can be stored in your freezer. Just be aware that while freezing generally preserves their taste, nutrients, and health benefits, it can change the texture of produce. It’s a great way to store seasonal fruits or vegetables for use later in the year, especially if you’re planning to eat them cooked or blended into smoothies.
  • It’s best to freeze fruits and vegetables in airtight containers. You want to avoid freezing produce that isn’t ripe yet because it may not ripen correctly once taken thawed.
  • Leafy greens that you plan to eat raw, such as lettuce, should never be frozen.

General guidelines

  • Separate fruits and vegetables for storage. Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (the ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil surrounding vegetables. The old adage about one bad apple is true.
  • For vegetables, remove ties and rubber bands. Trim away leafy ends, but leave about an inch to keep vegetables from drying out before they can be consumed. Punch some holes in the bags you may be storing the vegetables in to let air circulate. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator. The closer they are, the quicker they will rot.
  • Fruits are pickier. Most stone fruits, avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, melons, apples, and pears will continue to ripen if left sitting out on a countertop. Items like bell peppers, grapes, all citrus, and berries will not continue to ripen but begin to deteriorate on the counter and should be refrigerated.
  • Generally, you want to store produce in the same manner you found it in the grocery store. Tomatoes and bananas, for example, are never refrigerated, while leafy greens are refrigerated and, in some stores, get a fine mist of water at regular intervals.
  • Most fruits will ripen at room temperature. However, once ripe, they should be refrigerated.
  • With few exceptions, do not wash fruits or vegetables before storing them because washing hastens spoilage. Rather, wash just before eating.

 

MORE: 6 Ways to Stop Throwing Rotten Produce in the Garbage

 

Cold moist storage

These items will last longest when stored in the refrigerator vegetable and fruits drawer, which typically has a higher level of humidity.

  • apples
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • eggplant

Cold dry storage

These items should be kept in a  cold, dry storage area outside the refrigerator.

  • garlic
  • onions

Cool dry storage

Items that can be kept in a drawer or cupboard in the kitchen or another area

  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • bananas
  • lemons
  • limes

Fresh fruit and vegetables on a table

Warm dry storage

  • hot peppers
  • pumpkins
  • winter squash
  • sweet potatoes

A few specifics

Apples

Store in the refrigerator; do not overcrowd, allow for good air circulation. Unwashed will last at least 3 weeks.

Bananas

Store at room temperature unbagged; suspended from a hook is ideal. Do not refrigerate. Once ripe, will last 3 to 5 days. Can freeze: Peel, slice, and spread on cookie sheet. Once frozen, bag them.

Raspberries

Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. For the optimum length of life, arrange berries in a single layer. Will last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, depending on how ripe they are.

Strawberries

Do not wash, do not remove stems. Store in a sealable bag. To achieve maximum fresh life, arrange strawberries in a single layer in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Will stay fresh for 4-5 days.

Grapes

Do not wash. Leave on stems and store in a zip-type bag in the refrigerator. Unwashed will stay fresh for 2-3 weeks. Washed? One week if you’re lucky. Always wash just before eating.

Avocados

Ripen at room temperature on the counter then store in the refrigerator. Will stay fresh and wonderful for up to 5 days.

Lettuce

Here’s an exception to the washing rule: Wash well under cold running water. Drain well. Store in a sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator (insert a paper towel in the bag to absorb moisture). Will remain fresh and crisp for 7-10 days.

Tomatoes

To ripen, store tomatoes at room temperature, stem up and away from sunlight. Will stay beautiful fresh and delicious for up to a week once ripe.

Potatoes, dry onions

  • Never refrigerate. Store in a dark, cool space like a closet or pantry. Require good air circulation.
  • To get onions to last for a month or longer: Cut one leg from a clean pair of pantyhose. Drop an onion into the toe, tie a knot close to the onion. Drop in another onion. Repeat until filled. Hang from a nail in the pantry.
  • Need an onion? Cut right below the lowest knot. Suspended with air circulation encourages long life for onions. Works well with garlic and potatoes too.

Fruit and Onion

 

Sweet onions

When storing sweet onions, Vidalia is one type,  it’s important to keep them cool, dry and separate. Place in a single layer, wrapped separately in foil or paper towels, in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. If it is not possible to store them in the refrigerator, store them in the coolest area of your home with good air circulation.

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6 replies
  1. Marion says:

    Hi Mary, I love your website and am proud to say that except for my mortgage with your help I am debt free. Your article on food storage was interesting but I want to tell you about a product that I have had for 30 years and is wonderful for storing vegetables. It is a Fridgesmart Tupperware container that comes with vents. Right now there is celery in there that I have had, no lie, for a month. It is as crisp as when I put it in there with some brown spots. I cut the brown spots off and eat the rest with dip. I also use it for other raw vegetables. I have a large one and a smaller one. I also like it because it is reusable and has lasted me for about 30 years. You might want to check it out.

    Reply
  2. Carol Gesalman says:

    Re: Storing fruits and vegetables: I have found that berries (blue, rasp, straw, etc.) last much longer when I place a folded paper towel in the lid and store the container upside down in the refrigerator so that the berries rest on the towel and each other, rather than the plastic container. This works for packaged lettuce, too.

    Reply
  3. Linda says:

    The kind folks at Dole told me how to maximize the life of their spring mix salad. They said it must be kept refrigerated or it will start releasing moisture from the leaves and deteriorate much sooner than it should. So now I take a cooler or cold bag with a cold pack along when I shop and always try to put it in my cart last while shopping. It makes a big difference.

    Reply
    • Lija W says:

      Linda, I do the same thing! I actually carry three cooler bags to the grocery store:
      For dairy, for frozen, and for produce. That way the items stay the same temperature all the way home!

      Reply

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