Could you use an extra $1,600? You might want to take a look in your garbage. According to the nonprofit organization Feeding America, the average American family of four throws out $1,600 a year by tossing out produce that’s become more suitable for a biology project than human consumption!
Mind-boggling, right? Here’s a fun crash course on how to store fruits and vegetables so you can retrieve all that cash from the trash.
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.
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 it stays 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
- Generally, do not wash fruits and vegetables before storage. Instead, wash them when you are ready to use them. If the produce is excessively dirty, rinse it and dry it well before storing it.
- Immediately, refrigerate perishable fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer to maintain quality, safety, and usable life.
- Some items like potatoes and tomatoes should be kept clean, cool, and dry.
- 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 plan 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.
- 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. Adding a BluApple to the fruit bowl or refrigerated fruit drawer will absorb the ethylene and help extend the beautiful, useful life of your produce
- 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.
- Sweet corn in the husk should be wrapped securely in a plastic bag before going in the refrigerator. In addition to the husk, the bag is another layer of protection to keep the corn moist. But make sure the bag allows for a little air circulation (a grocery produce bag works great).
- 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.
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.
Cold dry storage
These items should be kept in a cold, dry storage area outside the refrigerator.
Cool dry storage
Items that can be kept in a drawer or cupboard in the kitchen or another area
Warm dry storage
- hot peppers
- winter squash
- sweet potatoes
A few specifics on how to store fruits and vegetables
Store in the refrigerator; do not overcrowd, allow for good air circulation. Unwashed will last at least 3 weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ripen at room temperature on the counter then store in the refrigerator. Will stay fresh and wonderful for up to 5 days.
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.
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.
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.
One more thing
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.
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