5 Tips to Keep Produce Fresher Longer
One positive trend that’s come out of our global quarantine: More cooking! Families are spending more time planning, prepping, cooking and storing food in their busy, well-stocked kitchens. Industry experts say the trend is here to stay, even after stay-at-home orders are lifted, so here are our favorite tips to help you keep produce fresher longer.
1. The refrigerator can add weeks to the shelf life of some produce
Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, celery and peppers should be stored, unwashed, in an airtight container or bag in the refrigerator crisper (separate from the fruit). Mushrooms are best stored, unwashed, in a paper bag in the fridge.
Lettuces can be stored washed (and carefully dried) or unwashed in an easy-to-sanitize large airtight container or bag in the refrigerator. It’s best to sort through any lettuce before storing to remove any wilted leaves, and place a cotton dish towel on the bottom of the container or bag to absorb any excess moisture. Remove any ties around your lettuces to encourage more air circulation, and store your leafy greens away from apples. If leafy greens look wilted, try a cold-water bath—sometimes this will bring greens back to life.
Avocados can be stored on the counter at room temperature. Ripe avocados can be kept in the refrigerator to slow down the ripening process. To speed up ripening, store in a paper bag with an apple or banana.
Berries keep best in the refrigerator, but never wash them until they are ready to eat. If you have too many berries to eat before they go bad, they’re easy to freeze and use later for smoothies and oatmeal.
2. Only refrigerate some fruit when it is ripe
To keep produce fresher longer, it’s important to understand that some fruit actually does best outside of the refrigerator. Many fruits, including oranges, limes, lemons, apples and bananas, can be stored on the counter if they’ll be eaten soon. Most fruits can also be stored in the refrigerator if you’d like them to last longer, but don’t refrigerate stone fruits like apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, and mangoes until they’re ripe (they will not ripen in the fridge). To hasten the ripening process, store nectarines and peaches in a paper bag at room temperature. If bananas are ripening too fast before you can eat them, peel and cut them into pieces and freeze in an airtight container for smoothies.
3. Some produce will keep fresher longer outside of the refrigerator
For a longer shelf life, onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and hard squashes (like butternut and acorn) should be stored in your pantry, garage or cellar (or ideally between 50-60 degrees). Darkness is important, because extra light will cause these types of foods to sprout and ripen.
Smaller unpeeled roots like ginger and turmeric do fine in a cool, dark place, but store in a small airtight container in the refrigerator to keep fresher longer.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, but keep them away from apples, which will cause them to ripen quickly. If refrigerated, they’ll stop producing an enzyme that gives them flavor, and might develop a mealy texture—so the kitchen counter is best.
4. Some fruits should be stored away from others
Apples, because they release ethylene which speeds the ripening process, should be stored away from other fruits and vegetables, either in a separate drawer in the refrigerator, or separate bowl on the counter. Apricots, pears and bananas also produce ethylene, so consider where you store them if you’re trying to keep produce fresher longer. Try not to store produce that is sensitive to ethylene, next to produce that produces it: Get the full list here.
5. Water helps keep some produce fresh while storing
Most of the time, fresh foods should be kept dry when storing, but there are a few cases in which water will help keep produce fresher longer. Fresh herbs can be stored in a glass with water either on the counter (best for basil) or in the refrigerator (best for parsley, cilantro, and most other herbs) wrapped loosely in a cotton towel, in an airtight container or bag in a refrigerator drawer. Trim the tips of herbs before storing.
Asparagus can be stored in a glass of water, just cut off about one inch from the bottom of the stems and cover with a cotton dish towel or bag.
Carrots keep longer if you cut them and store them in water in the refrigerator in an airtight container.