How to store your produce items to extend their shelf life

Different fruits and vegetables on wooden table
Photo credit Getty Images

If you’ve made eating healthier a New Year’s resolution, you might soon find out that how and where you store produce can become a wasteful quandary.

Once home from your trip to the farmer’s market, tossing fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge seems like a good assumption, but it is not – as we often find out when we go back to grab some a week later and it’s a mushy mess. In fact, refrigeration can cause some foods, like potatoes, to spoil faster.

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That and other fresh food storage mix-ups were recently addressed by Vegetarian Times. Along with the help of television personality and food writer, Alejandra Ramos, they’ve devised “a quick guide to where and how you should store five of the most commonly purchased produce items for maximum freshness.”

Leafy Greens

Nutrient-rich greens such as kale, chard, and collards last about two weeks in the fridge.

As soon as you bring leafy greens home from the store, strip the leaves from the stems and set aside. Then give them a good rinse. Use a salad spinner to remove excess liquid, or just give them a good shake with your hands.

Place washed leaves on a clean dish towel or paper towel, gently roll them up, and place in a produce bag (yes, still in the towel) in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

Root Vegetables

It’s true root vegetables have a slightly longer shelf life, but storage varies depending on the type. “Carrots, parsnips, and radishes,” Ramos says, “are the most delicate of root vegetables and do best in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.”

Potatoes have the longest shelf life, but you might want that shelf to be in the basement. “Always remove potatoes and sweet potatoes from the plastic produce bags as they trap moisture,” Ramos reminds. “Store them loose in a container with ventilation in a cool, dry place.”

Sweet potatoes especially don’t do well in the fridge. “The high sugar content that makes sweet potatoes so sweet and tasty,” says Ramos, “also causes them to spoil quicker than regular potatoes, so store them properly and cook them as soon as you can.”

While potatoes and onions are a match made in recipe heaven, their pre-cooked lives should be separate. Ramos recommends storing them far apart, as the natural gasses released by each vegetable cause the other to ripen and spoil sooner.

Citrus Fruits

“Citrus fruit looks gorgeous on the counter.. but they actually last longer in the refrigerator,” explains Ramos. She suggests keeping all citrus together in a dedicated citrus drawer in the fridge.

Berries

Those shiny, sweet treats look lovely in a bowl as a kitchen table centerpiece, but they’re the quickest fruits to spoil. Ramos suggests not washing them until you are ready to eat them.

“The delicate membrane of the berries become waterlogged,” she explains, “and will start to spoil if rinsed far in advance of eating. This is especially true for blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Blueberries a little bit heartier, but not by much!”

Mangos and avocados

Nothing is more disappointing than cutting into an avocado or mango and finding them bruised and spoiled. Luckily they’re fairly durable, and it takes awhile for that to happen if you store them correctly.

Ramos suggests that for the best ripeness and sweetness, store unripe mangos and avocados at room temperature until they soften. If you can’t eat them right away, transferring whole fruits to the refrigerator will extend their life for a few days.

And if it looks like you might not eat them for a few more days, then peel, dice, and freeze them – they’ll be good for months of smoothie making, as toppings in oatmeal, or other yummy ideas.

Ramos suggests that first, while shopping, pick mangos and avocados at different stages of ripeness, factoring in when you might eat them.

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