food refrigerator

Ever feel like your fruits and veggies spoil before you can enjoy them? Or maybe they aren’t as flavorful as you expected? It could be the way you’re storing them. Here are some simple ways to get the most out of your fruits and vegetables!

Let Your Produce to Breathe

First, when you get home from the grocery store or farmer’s market, untie all the storage bags and remove the twist ties or rubber bands.  Next, cut away any brown or discolored leaves from greens and veggies. If the produce is stored in an air-tight bag, poke a few holes to allow the produce to breathe. Try not to over stuff your crisper drawers with produce. It’s important to allow air to circulate.

To Wash or Not Wash?

ALL produce should be washed before eating (even if it’s labeled as “pre-washed). However, when considering washing your produce before storage, you should probably hold off. Most produce is best stored unwashed until you’re ready to cook or consume it. Washing before packing it into your fridge or on your counter can promote bacterial growth and often shortens shelf life.

Softer, more delicate foods like mushrooms and berries are best cleaned right before eating. Be sure to remove excess water from any produce before refrigerating. If your pre-washed greens look dewy, open the container and store with a clean paper towel or napkin to help absorb moisture. Extend the life of your other lettuces by wrapping them in a damp paper towel in a storage bag and place in your crisper drawer.

Separate Fruits & Vegetables

Not all produce plays well at the schoolyard. Many fruits and veggies give off high amounts of ethylene gas which can speed the decay of other produce. A good rule of thumb is to keep fruit in one section of the fridge and veggies in another. Foods that give off high amounts of ethylene include apples, bananas, grapes, blueberries, peaches, mangoes, cantaloupe, kiwi, pears, green onions, tomatoes, peppers, and avocados. Keep these away from ethylene sensitive foods like cucumbers, lemons, limes, watermelon, peppers, broccoli, lettuce, eggplant, carrots, squash, and cauliflower.

Here is a more complete list of ethylene-producing, sensitive and non-sensitive produce!

Fridge, Counter, or Pantry?

Fruits and veggies can be finicky about where they like to be stored. Some last longer in the fridge while others prefer the counter or behind cabinet doors. Storing produce in the correct environment will not only help keep them fresh for longer, but it can also improve the flavor.

Onions, garlic, potatoes, and hearty root vegetables prefer a cool, dark environment making a pantry or cellar desirable. Make sure the storage area offers plenty of circulation. Potatoes can give off quite a bit of moisture and can cause onions to turn quickly. Best to separate them on different shelves or bins.

Other produce prefers warm or room-temperatures. Bananas, avocados, tomatoes, peaches, apples, whole melons, basil, pineapple, and pears all like to be kept out of the fridge. Not only will this keep them fresh longer, but they’ll also taste better!

Citrus can also be stored at room-temp and will keep for 3-5 days. Storing them in the fridge will keep them for 3-4 weeks, although they may taste slightly sweeter at room temperature.

More delicate fruits and veggies need to be refrigerated. Just remember to keep them separated. For quick reference, here is a list of what to always refrigerate: berries, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, lettuce and leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, cabbage, celery, carrots, asparagus, green onions, parsley, cilantro, mint, and ginger.

TIP: If you can’t remember where to store what, think about where you bought that food in the grocery store. Was it in the chilled section or in the center held at room temp?

Finally, once a fruit or vegetable is cut, if not used right away, it can be stored for 1-2 days in the refrigerator.

Follow these simple rules and you’ll be a produce pro in no time!

By: Erin Pellegrin RD, LDN