You’ve loaded up your fridge with a colorful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but when you get ready to eat them, all that once-vibrant produce is limp and sad. Heartbroken, you toss it out.
Consumers in America waste an estimated 90 billion pounds of food every year, which is only about 21 percent of total food waste in the U.S. Food waste is draining for the food supply chain, the economy, and your wallet!
Properly storing your produce is a smart way to cut down on food waste. But it can be challenging to know how to store vegetables and fruits the right way.
How to Store Vegetables: The Basics
“Vegetable” is a broad term that covers a lot of foods with very different storage needs. A thick-skinned squash is going to need a different environment from a delicate leafy green lettuce.
The first thing to remember is that because produce comes from plants, the biggest factors to consider are the things that help them grow: moisture, light, and temperature. The goal of produce storage is to keep your fruits and veggies frozen in time–without having to freeze them!
For some veggies, this means keeping them away from light, and for others it means keeping them moist. Selecting the freshest produce possible and then storing it according to its unique needs will go a long way towards keeping your produce happy.
Beyond water, air, and light, the biggest factor in produce decay is a substance called ethylene. Ethylene is a combination of gasses that ripen fruit. Fruits produce more and more ethylene as they ripen.
Ethylene is the reason you can buy a green banana and watch it turn yellow on your counter. It’s also the reason that the same banana will eventually turn black.
Some fruits have more ethylene than others, particularly stone fruits and certain kinds of apples, such as the McIntosh. The ethylene production in one fruit can also impact the freshness of nearby produce, which is why you should store fruits and vegetables separately.
The fridge is a great place to start when storing your fresh produce. The fridge is a cool, dark place and you can generally control the airflow to your fruits and vegetables using crisper drawers or reusable storage bags like The Freshie.
The best fridge temperature for storing fruit and vegetables is between 33° and 44° F (.5° and 6.5° C). This will keep the produce chilled without accidentally freezing it.
Berries, stone fruits (like apricots, nectarines, and peaches), apples, pears, and grapes should all be stored in the fridge. They will last longer in shallow containers that let in good airflow.
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, corn, cabbage, zucchini, and eggplants can all go straight into the fridge, too. Leafy greens, mushrooms, and asparagus also go in the fridge but fare better with a little additional prep work.
Asparagus and other stalked vegetables, like celery or scallions, last longer if you place them upright in a glass container with a little water. These veggies don’t usually last that long, so plan on eating them first!
Storage Bags & Crisper Drawers
The two easiest ways to extend the life of your refrigerated produce is to store your fruits and vegetables with the right humidity. If your fridge has crisper drawers, you can usually adjust the amount of humidity in the drawer.
It’s best to keep fruits and vegetables in separate drawers in the fridge to avoid problems with the fruits’ ethylene production. Vegetables that need additional moisture will also benefit from storage bags.
Plastic storage bags can quickly spoil food because they trap air in, including ethylene. A breathable bag is best.
…Or Not to Fridge
For root vegetables, tubers, hard-skinned squashes, a dark cool place is best, such as a pantry or a cabinet. Garlic and onions should be kept at a distance from potatoes and yams, as the moisture in onions can trick potatoes into sprouting.
A few fruits can live on the counter instead of the fridge. Thick-peeled fruits like bananas, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus do well at room temperature. Uncut melons should also stay on the counter while they wait for their turn on your plate.
Tomatoes should live on the counter, whether you consider them to be a fruit or a vegetable!
If your stone fruit isn’t ripe yet when you buy it, you can leave it on the counter to ripen for a few days before refrigerating it. When you pop them in the fridge, remember to keep these fruits away from the ethylene-sensitive veggies!
Cut and Peeled
Once you’ve cut into your produce, anything you don’t eat should go into the fridge. The same principles apply for cut and peeled produce as for whole. Controlling the moisture, temperature, and light is still important!
Cut-up fruit should be stored in air-tight containers to keep the ethylene contained. The same goes for cut-up vegetables, though their containers work to keep the ethylene out instead of in.
Onions and avocados do well in sealed containers but can also last a while with the cut end covered by beeswax wrap.
Even with all these precautions, some of your fruits and vegetables may still spoil. While it’s disappointing to lose out on awesome produce, you can always give this food a second chance by composting it.
The Leafy Green Exception
Lettuces and leafy greens are among the most delicate and easily spoiled vegetables. While lettuces that have wilted aren’t necessarily rotten or inedible, it is disappointing when they lose their crunch.
To stay fresh and crispy, the best storage method is to wash your greens and spin them in a salad spinner to dry. Then keep the leaves in a reusable bag for a few days as you use them.
How to store leafy greens may seem tricky, but you’ll have the best results if you start with the delicate foods and save the heartier produce for last.
Keeping Things Fresh
Learning how to store vegetables properly might take a little extra time, but it will save you money and heartache in the long run. When you shop sustainably and store your produce right, it helps the planet, too! That’s something we can all feel good about.