Storing Our Produce For Maximum Shelf Life

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Coronavirus and produce storage

How to make our produce last longer and our dollars stretch farther.

Now that we know how to properly wash our produce, lets talk about storing it properly so we can get the most out of it. The less that goes in the garbage or compost bin, the farther our dollar will stretch.

You’ll be purchasing a lot more fresh produce when you Eat Clean and Live Well and you’ll want it to last as long as possible in your refrigerator. Fresh produce respires. It takes in oxygen and produces oxygen, and cell structure deteriorates. While we can’t stop this process, we can slow it down with these simple tips.

SIMPLE STORAGE TIPS FOR FRESH PRODUCE

KEEP IT WHOLE – The minute we start prepping our produce is the minute it starts to break down. Broken stems, pierced skin, exposed surfaces allow micro-organisms access. Keep produce close to its original state until you’re ready to prepare or eat it. If you are meal planning for the week and want to prep your vegetables, keep the amount to 2-3 days worth of prep so as to maintain the highest nutrients.

LET IT BREATHE – We want to slow respiration, not stop it. Whether refrigerating or ripening at room temperature, avoid sealing fruits and vegetables in airtight containers or bags. Produce can suffocate experience accelerated decay. Stacking produce also leads to early spoilage due to poor air circulation.

KEEP IT COLD – The warmer the temperature, the faster the rate of respiration. In most cases, keeping produce at a temperature just above freezing is best to slow that process, but consult the storage specifics below for more detailed information.

KEEP IT DIRTY AND DRY – Whenever possible, we should be washing our produce just before we use it, not before we store it. Water causes damage. You may notice that the markets keep certain items wet while on display. This is a trade off. Vegetables like humidity, and forced-air refrigeration dries them out quickly, Making spraying necessary. When you get your produce home, pat a

SHOP OFTEN – Obviously, the best way to enjoy fresh produce is to eat it sooner, rather than later. Refrigeration and low temps cause produce to loose flavor through dehydration and the sapping of natural sugars. Plan ahead to buy what what you need, prioritize what you buy, and make several trips to the market throughout the week to keep things fresh.

The Effects of Ethylene

Some fruits emit ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas that speeds ripening and can lead to the premature decay of ethylene-sensitive vegetables. Avoid storing fruits and vegetables near one another. Separate them from each other in your refrigerator and on your countertop. Alternatively, use ethylene-producing fruits to your advantage. Ripe bananas can be used to speed up the ripening of stone fruit, avocados and melons, for example.

Control ripening by keeping these ethylene-emitting fruits away from these vegetables.

  • Apples, Avocados, Bananas, Figs, Melons (uncut), Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Tomatoes.
  • Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Leafy Greens, Lettuce, Parsley, Peas, Peppers.

STORAGE A—Z

Apples – Freshest: up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator, but will store for months. Wrap them individually in newspaper for long-term storage. Higher temperatures will cause them to decay 10 times faster. Cook mealy/wrinkled apples into applesauce and baked goods, pies, etc. Discard mushy fruit.

Apricots – See “Stone-bearing Fruit.”

Arugula – See “Cooking Greens” and “Salad Greens”.

Asparagus – Should be loosely stored upright in a glass or bowl filled with enough water to cover the stems, as you’d preserve flowers. Keep refrigerated. If spears start to wilt, soak in warm water with 3 Tbsp. sugar.

Avocados – Freshest, whole, 2-4 days. Never refrigerate unless they’ve been prepared. A hard avocado will ripen in about five days if left on the countertop in a paper bag. Ripe avocados should be slightly supple, without hollow pockets at the stem end.

Bananas – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Basil – Difficult to store and should never be refrigerated unless prepared. It will blacken under refrigeration and wilt if warm (however, wilted basil still retains the essential oil and flavor).

Beans – Wrap in paper or cloth or pack loosely in a paper bag. Store in refrigerator.

Beets – See “Root Vegetables.”

Berries – Freshest: Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, 2-3 days. Blueberries, 10 days. If a small amount of berries show mold, throw out only the ones that are bad. Always refrigerate.

Bok Choy – See “Cooking Greens.”

Brassicas – Freshest at 7-10 days. Keep dry and loosely wrapped in a towel, in the crisper.

Broccoli – See “Brassicas.”

Cabbage – Freshest up to 4 weeks. A hearty brassica and an off-season vegetable staple for most of the planet. Keep dry and loosely wrapped in a towel, in the crisper.

Carrots – See “Root Vegetables.”

Cauliflower – See “Brassicas.”

Celeriac – See “Root Vegetables.”

Celery – Freshest at 2 weeks. Wrap in cloth or paper. If limp, revive like “Cooking Greens.”

Chard – See “Cooking Greens.”

Cherimoya – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Cherries – See “Stone-bearing Fruit.”

Cilantro – Keeps well in a cup of water in the refrigerator, as you’d preserve flowers.

Citrus – Should be oof and heavy for its size. Citrus is picked ripe and prefers the countertop, circulating air and away from light. Refrigeration will prolong citrus for weeks.

Coconuts – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Collard Greens – See “Cooking Greens.”

Cooking Greens – Greens turn yellow as they age and bacteria enters their pores. Greens can wilt and still be edible; however, before use, trim the ends, soak leaves in warm water, spin or shake, and lay flat to dry. Store dry greens in the crisper in a loosely fitting plastic bag. Place a cloth towel or paper towel in the greens to absorb moisture. Store stem side up to help them hold their inner moisture and allow the run off of outer moisture.

Corn – A grain that should be stored unhusked in an open container (or on the shelf) in the refrigerator.

Cucumbers – A fruit that does not mix well with other ethylene-producing fruits. They will remain hearty out of refrigeration for several days, although they prefer to be cold. They should be wrapped loosely in paper or cloth.

Dates – Always refrigerate. However, dates can go long periods without refrigeration and will merely develop date sugar under their skins.

Eggplant – Should not be refrigerated unless prepared. They do best in a dry environment, with plenty of air circulation and little pressure on their surface.

Fennel Root – Will remain viable long after the fronds and stems have lost vitality. Treat fennel like a refrigerated root; once the fronds (and later, stems) have become limp, trim them (leaving an inch above the bulb), and rehydrate in warm water.

Fiddlehead Ferns – Wrap in paper or cloth or packed loosely in a paper bag.

Figs – Always refrigerate.

Garlic – See “Onions.”

Grapes – Always refrigerate, but it is also safe to leave grapes unrefrigerated. However, they will decay much faster.

Guava – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Horseradish – See “Root Vegetables.”

Hydroponic Greens – Living plants that still have their roots attached. Place roots in shallow cup of water (change frequently) and they will continue living in the refrigerator or on the countertop

Jicama – See “Root Vegetables.”

Kale – See “Cooking Greens.”

Kiwi – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Kohlrabi – See “Root Vegetables.”

Lettuce – See “Salad Greens.”

Mangoes – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Melons – Shouldn’t be refrigerated unless they are being chilled prior to serving. Once a melon is picked its sugar content remains constant; it will not get sweeter, but it will get softer. Seek melons that smell like melons ( color has no bearing).

Mushrooms – Keep dry. Wet mushrooms are dangerous. Pack loosely in cardboard, thick paper or cloth. Dried mushrooms will keep for months, or even years, in a jar.

Mustard Greens – See “Cooking Greens.”

Napa Cabbage – See “Cooking Greens.”

Okra – Wrap in paper or cloth or pack loosely in a paper bag.

Onions – Never refrigerate. Store in a dark cabinet with some airflow. Separate them so their smells don’t amalgamate. Many varieties can keep for months.

Papayas – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Parsley – Keeps well in a cup of water in the refrigerator, as you’d preserve flowers.

Parsnips – See “Root Vegetables.”

Peaches – See “Stone-bearing Fruit.”

Pears – Picked when immature to allow for ripening and are immediately chilled after harvest. They are never tree-ripened. When you get pears home, ripen them on the countertop until you can smell them and their slightly supple at the stem end. Refrigerate to slow ripening. Bosc pears are best when enjoyed crunchy and do not need to be soft. Asian pears should always be crunchy when eaten.

Peas – Wrap in paper or cloth or pack loosely in a paper bag.

Peppers – Fruits that do not mix well with other ethylene-producing fruits. They will remain hearty out of refrigeration for several days, although they prefer to be cold. They should be wrapped loosely in paper or cloth.

Persimmons – Stored on the countertop. A Hachiya persimmon should feel like a water balloon when ripe; a Fuyu can be eaten when a bit firmer. Flash freeze persimmons for 30 minutes when ripe for a sorbet-like treat.

Pineapple – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Plums – See “Stone-bearing Fruit.”

Pluots – See “Stone-bearing Fruit.”

Pomegranates – sit fine on countertops but may also be refrigerated. Use them before they brown, shrivel, lose moisture and begin to cave in on themselves.

Potatoes – Never refrigerate. Store in a dark cabinet with some airflow. Separate them so their smells don’t amalgamate. Many varieties can keep for months.

Rabe – See “Cooking Greens.”

Radishes – See “Root Vegetables.”

Rapini – See “Cooking Greens.”

Rhubarb – See “Root Vegetables.”

Romanesco – See “Brassicas.”

Root Vegetables – Can keep for months in a crisper or root cellar. They like cool temps and high humidity. Store them loosely in a container with a wet towel on top, or if you plan to store them longer, packed in sawdust in a cool. humid root cellar. Leaving the stems on causes stem dehydration rather than root dehydration. Stems also will allow water intake when vegetables are rehydrating or while their dehydrated roots are soaked in warm water.

Rutabagas – See “Root Vegetables.”

Salad Greens – Like cooking greens, should be stored dry in the crisper in a loosely fitting plastic bag. As with greens, a dry towel can be placed in the bag to absorb moisture. Lettuce also will rehydrate and become crisp after its end is trimmed and its leaves are soaked in warm water.

Salad Mix – Should be used quickly after purchase. Store in sturdy, closed container accompanied by a piece of paper or dry cloth to soak up moisture.

Spinach – See “Salad Greens.”

Star Fruit – See “Tropical Fruit.”

Stone-bearing Fruit – Best purchased in the beginning stages of ripening (when still hard), with the ripening process being completely on the counter. Stone-bearing fruit shouldn’t be refrigerated unless it’s ripe and should be cut only immediately prior to serving. Ripen stone fruit on the counter out of the sun. If it smells amazing and feels nice and heav, it’s ready. Cherries should always be refrigerated.

Sunchokes – See “Root Vegetables.”

Taro – Never refrigerate. Store in a dark cabinet with some airflow. Separate them so their smells don’t amalgamate. Many varieties can keep for months.

Tomatoes – Should not be refrigerated unless prepared. They do best in a dry environment, with plenty of air circulation and little pressure on their surface.

Tropical Fruit – Includes almost anything else from subtropical regions and should never be refrigerated, unless it’s immediately prior to serving. Tropicals are tricky and often arrive after having gone through many climates and delivery procedures. Rarely are tropical items allowed to ripen naturally. Often, the uglier the fruit is, the better, and if it smells good, it probably is good.

Watercress – See “Salad Greens.”

Winter Squash – Never refrigerate. Store in a dark cabinet with some airflow. Separate them so their smells don’t amalgamate. Many varieties can keep for months.

Yucca – See “Taro.”

Zucchini – A fruit that does not mix well with other ethylene-producing fruits. They will remain hearty out of refrigeration for several days, although they prefer to be cold. They should be wrapped loosely in paper or cloth.

Sources:

Seward Community Co-op
Green America

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Hello Friend!

I’m Lorri — The Nomadic Health Coach! I’m an Institute for Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, foodie, writer, and widow of a three-time cancer hero. I learned how to Live Well during my 10+ years as a caregiver to my late husband Klink, and want to share healthy living advice and tips so you can live a more sustainable and happy life.
Lorri Weisen

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