Eating more fruits and vegetables is a requirement for every healthy eater. But when you buy more fresh produce, do you end up throwing away more than you eat? You’re not alone.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away nearly 31.6 million tons of food every year. And a recent University of Arizona study found that the average family tosses 1.28 pounds of food a day, for a total of 470 pounds a year! That’s like throwing away $600!
Storing fresh produce is a little more complicated than you might think. If you want to prevent spoilage, certain foods shouldn’t be stored together at all, while others that we commonly keep in the fridge should actually be left on the countertop. To keep your produce optimally fresh (and cut down on food waste), use this handy guide.
In addition to storing your fruits and vegetable properly, it’s good to know approximately how long the fresh stuff will last. Plan your trip to the grocery or farmer’s market accordingly so that your foods are at the peak of freshness when you plan to prepare them, and you’re not throwing away food that’s gone bad before you get a chance to use it.
So, how long will it last?
Once you’ve brought it home and stored it properly, you can prioritize your produce. First, eat the things that will spoil quickly, such as lettuce and berries. Save the longer-lasting foods (like eggplant and oranges) for later in the week.
|1-2 Days||2-4 Days||4-6 Days||7+ Days|
Know your Refrigerator
- COLD ZONE – The ‘cold zone’ is the coldest spot in the refrigerator, and is on the bottom shelves.
- MODERATE ZONE – The ‘moderate zone’ is the middle shelves, toward the front.
- HUMID ZONE – The ‘humid zone’ is the crisper drawer, which is used to keep a humid environment that helps keep produce with high water content fresher though can hasten spoilage if the humidity gets too high.
- “WARM” ZONE – The shelves on the door is the warmest area of your refrigerator.
- Do not put too much food in the refrigerator. If it is loaded to the point that there is no space between the items, air cannot circulate and this affects the temperature distribution.
Which vegetables should be stored where:
- BEST in the FRONT of the FRIDGE: corn (after wrapping in a wet paper bag placed inside a plastic bag) and peas
- BEST in the CRISPER: artichokes, asparagus (after trimming the ends and placing upright in shallow cool water, then covering with plastic), beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, cucumbers, eggplant, fresh herbs, green beans, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce (after washing and drying, rolling loosely in a clean kitchen towel inside an unzipped zip-lock bag), mushrooms, peppers, radishes, scallions, summer squash, turnips, zucchini
- BEST on the COUNTER: tomatoes (stored upside down), bananas, lemons, limes. There’s nothing as inviting as a big bowl of crisp apples on the kitchen counter. To keep those apples crisp and all counter-top-stored produce fresh, store them out of direct sunlight, either directly on the counter-top, in an uncovered bowl, or inside a perforated plastic bag.
- BEST in the PANTRY (where it’s both dark and cool): garlic, onions, potatoes, shallots, sweet potatoes, winter squash
Refrigerator Storage Tips
- For produce that is best stored in the refrigerator, remember the following guidelines.
- Keep produce in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawer of the refrigerator. (To perforate bags, punch holes in the bag with a sharp object, spacing them about as far apart as the holes you see in supermarket apple bags.)
- Keep fruits and vegetables separate, in different drawers, because ethylene can build up in the fridge, causing spoilage.
- When storing herbs (and interestingly, asparagus, too), snip off the ends, store upright in a glass of water (like flowers in a vase) and cover with a plastic bag.What to Store Where: A Handy Chart
Use this color-coded key along with the chart below:
- Store unwashed and in a single layer
- Store unwashed and in a plastic bag
- Store in a paper bag
- *Ethylene producers (keep away from other fruits and vegetables)
Store in Refrigerator
Apples (storage >7 days)
Herbs (except basil)
Store on Countertop
Apples (storage < 7 days)
Store in a Cool, Dry PlaceAcorn squash
Onions (away from potatoes)
Potatoes (away from onions)
Ripen on Counter,
Kiwi*More about Ethylene: Fruits and vegetables give off an odorless, harmless and tasteless gas called ethylene after they’re picked. All fruits and vegetables produce it, but some foods produce it in greater quantities. When ethylene-producing foods are kept in close proximity with ethylene-sensitive foods, especially in a confined space (like a bag or drawer), the gas will speed up the ripening process of the other produce. Use this to your advantage if you want to speed up the ripening process of an unripe fruit, for example, by putting an apple in a bag with an unripe avocado. But if you want your already-ripe foods to last longer, remember to keep them away from ethylene-producing foods, as designated in the chart above.Avoid Premature Spoiling of Fruits and VegetablesAs some fruits and vegetables ripen, they release ethylene, a gas that can cause other produce to become spotted, soft, or mealy. To prevent this, keep ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables separate from varieties that emit the gas.Ethylene-producing
- Honeydew melons
- Green beans
- Lettuce and other greens
- Summer squash
Produce Life Shelf (approx.) and how to Store Fresh Vegetable
- Artichokes: Use within two to three days of purchase.
- Asparagus: Should be stored in the refrigerator with a moist paper towel around the stems or can be stood up in a glass of cold water with a damp paper towel wrapped around the tops to keep them crisp. They’ll still only be at their peak for a day or two.
- Bell peppers: Up to two weeks.
- Broccoli and cauliflower: Consume within a week.
- Cabbage: Keeps for one to two weeks.
- Carrots: Stays good for several weeks.
- Celery: Keeps for one to two weeks.
- Corn: Use the same day of purchase.
- Cucumbers and eggplant: Keep for one week in the cold crisper drawer.
- Eggplant: goes bad quickly and should be used within a couple of days of purchase and stored in a cool area.
- Garlic: Garlic lasts longer in the refrigerator, so if you don’t use it often, keep it chilled.
- Green beans: Within three to four days of purchase.
- Leaf greens (beet tops, collards, kale, mustard greens, and so on): The wide variety of pre-washed lettuces can be a great timesaver for washing and storage. Always dry greens very well with paper or kitchen towels or a salad spinner and store them in a plastic bag with a couple of paper towels. Consume within one to two days.
- Mushrooms: Store in a brown paper bag in the fridge and wash right before using. Use within a week.
- Salad greens: Rinse thoroughly, trim, and dry completely before storing wrapped in paper towel or in plastic bags in the crisper drawer. Keeps for three to four days.
- Spinach: Trim, rinse, and dry thoroughly before storing for two to three days.
- Summer squash (zucchini and yellow squash): Store for up to a week.
- Tomatoes: can be very finicky ? they should be stored unwashed and always at room temperature. Any refrigeration will give them an unpleasant mealy texture and will kill the flavor and aroma.
Onions, potatoes, shallots, and hard-shelled winter squash don’t need refrigeration. They stay good for several weeks to a month when you store them in a cool, dry, dark drawer or bin.
Fruit Shelf Life (approx.) and how to Store Fresh Fruits
Most fresh fruits are quite perishable and require refrigeration. You can leave some fruits out to ripen, but when they’re ripe, they last longer in the fridge. Here are some suggestions on storing fresh fruits:
- Apples: Refrigerate or store in a cool, dark place. Keep for several weeks.
- Avocados, papayas, kiwis, and mangoes: Keep at room temperature until fully ripened and then refrigerate them to keep for several more days.
- Bananas: Refrigerate to slow down their ripening. Their peel continues to darken, but not their flesh.
- Cherries and berries: Keep refrigerated. For best flavor, consume them the same day you purchase them.
- Citrus fruits (such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges): Citrus fruits, which don’t ripen further after they’re picked and are relatively long-storage fruits, keep for up to three weeks in the fridge.
- Grapes: Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Mangos: can be ripened at room temperature in a brown bag until they give a bit in the palm of your hand and should then be refrigerated. Because the sugar is concentrated at the base of a pineapple, you can store them upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.
- Melons: Keep at room temperature so that they can ripen and grow sweeter. After they’re fully ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator for several more days.
- Nectarines: Keep at room temperature so that they can ripen and grow sweeter. After they’re fully ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator for several more days.
- Pears can be ripened at room temperature in a brown bag until they give a bit in the palm of your hand and should then be refrigerated.
- Peaches can be ripened at room temperature in a brown bag until they give a bit in the palm of your hand and should then be refrigerated.
- Pineapple: Because the sugar is concentrated at the base of a pineapple, you can store them upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.
- Plums can be ripened at room temperature in a brown bag until they give a bit in the palm of your hand and should then be refrigerated.
- Tomatoes: (Yes, this is technically a fruit!) Store at room temperature for more flavor. Keep in a cool, dark place or in a paper bag to ripen fully.Food is expensive, and most people can’t afford to waste it. Print off this handy chart to keep in your kitchen so you can refer to it after every shopping trip. Then you’ll be able to follow-through with your good intentions to eat your 5-9 servings a day, instead of letting all of that healthy food go to waste.
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