When you’re a health nut you tend to buy a lot of produce. This is a great thing until of course you begin to add up the cost of all the items you’ve had to toss because they went bad before you had a chance to eat use them. For me, I’ve developed an adversarial relationship with bananas. I buy a lot of bananas and it seems that they’re almost always over green in the produce section, they sit on my counter for two days ripening, I use maybe 2 and, whamo!, they’re brown. Now, fortunately because I use them primarily in my daily power shakes (that’s a smoothie to most normal folks) I can cut them up and freeze them. But if I want to just enjoy a fresh banana, I’ve got to perform this juggling act of wanting a fresh banana on just the day of freshness. It’s enough to drive you bananas. The same thing happens with lettuce and other leafy greens. I get a couple uses and then have to begin this pruning process. Almost half of it ends up in the disposal. Now possibly I’m a bit daft when it comes to this stuff but I’ll assume I’m not alone in my frustration. So I did a little research and decided to share with you what I found about storing produce to maintain freshness and maximize taste and nutrition. Most of this info comes from the Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center at UC Davis.
It’s important to understand that not all fruits and vegetables can be stored in the same way. Some do best only on the counter, others should be stored only in the refrigerator and others should start out on your countertop and then be moved into the fridge. We tend to think that keeping things in the fridge will extend their life but this is only true for certain items. The cold temperature of a refrigerator can stunt the ripening process of many fruits and veggies which will seriously affect texture and taste. Below I’ll give a full breakdown of what goes where but let’s talk about the optimal setting within each storage area first.
Fruits and vegetables that can go in the fridge should be kept apart, optimally using one produce drawer for each. This is because the ethylene produced by fruits can have a detrimental effect on taste and how quickly produce goes bad. It’s a good idea to purchase a small ethylene inhibiting gadget like the E.G.G. (Ethylene Gas Guardian) which can significantly increase the life of refrigerated produce. Both fruits and veggies should be kept in either perforated plastic bags or in something specially designed for keeping produce fresh like green bags by Debbie Meyer Bags. Even in the most supreme conditions it’s important to try to use your produce within a few days because the longer you store it the more you lose freshness.
Produce that is best stored at room temperature should be kept out of direct sunlight. To prevent excess moisture loss, keep produce in a vented plastic bowl, in perforated plastic bags or in an Evert-Fresh Green Bag (now Debbie Meyer Bags). Don’t put anything in a sealed bag because the low oxygen and accumulation of carbon dioxide will slow ripening and increase off-odors and decay.
Below is a breakdown of what produce should be stored where.
Refrigerator: Apples (after 7 days), apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cut fruits, figs, grapes, nashi, raspberries, strawberries, artichokes, asparagus, green beans, lima beans, beets, Belgian endive, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cut vegetables, green onions, herbs (not basil), leafy vegetables, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, radishes, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, sweet corn.
Ripen on the counter then store in the refrigerator: Avocados, kiwifruit, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, plumcots.
Room Temperature Only: Apples (Fewer than 7 days), bananas, grapefruit, lemons, limes, Mandarins, mangoes, muskmelons, oranges, papayas, persimmons, pineapple, plantain, pomegranates, watermelons, basil (in water), cucumbers*, dry onions**, eggplant*, garlic**, ginger, jicama, peppers*, potatoes**, pumpkins, winter squashes, sweet potatoes**, tomatoes.
*Can be kept in the fridge for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal
**Keep in a well ventilated area in the pantry. Protect potatoes from light and avoid greening.