One thing you likely already know about me is that I buy a lot of vegetables. In fact, I love it when the grocery store clerk asks me how many people I’m feeding, and I get the chance to pipe in that I eat 8-12 servings of vegetables each day! But one thing you may not know about me is that I hate wasting food. HATE. In all caps. ABHOR. Cannot stand to waste food! So this post on how to store vegetables is one of my favorites.
Food waste is a huge problem. In fact, in the United States, 40% of all food produced ends up being thrown out. This equates to 150,000 tons of food per day, and wastes up to 30 million acres of agricultural land production per year! Unfortunately, vegetables and fruits are the most likely to be thrown out, and healthiest people are the most likely to waste food (likely because they consume the most vegetables and fruit). And even if you’re like me, and you’ll eat a vegetable on it’s verrrrry last leg, the nutrient content is likely so dramatically reduced that it’s hardly worth it at that point. So, today’s post will provide tips on how to store your vegetables, fruit, and herbs to extend their life span, reduce waste, and ensure you get the tasty and healthy produce you deserve. Enjoy!
A few general tips:
- Try not to store produce in plastic bags, as many plastics contain chemicals that can hasten ripening. I have switched over to reuseable produce bags instead of bagging my produce in the plastic bags at the store (I got these from Amazon), and I am transitioning to Stasher bags for my veggie packs and other cut produce storage.
- Don’t trap moisture in your storage container. The reuseable bags above are great because they are mesh, so air can circulate in and out. If you’re going to store produce in a container that is sealed (without air circulation), pat the produce dry first, then add in a paper towel to soak up excess moisture. Pre-cooked vegetables are the exception, and can be stored in a container without a paper towel.
- Keep your produce drawer clean. Do as I say, not as I do … but I do notice that when I haven’t cleaned my produce drawer in a while (and I have little fragments of old vegetables in there … #realtalk), my produce tends to go bad more quickly.
- Store countertop items loose. For those things that are best stored on the counter, be sure to keep them loose – remove them from their original packaging and set them in a bowl or on a shelf.
- Store ethylene-producing items and ethylene-sensitive items away from each other. Have you ever wondered why, sometimes, you have a box of mixed greens that lasts a long time, and then other times, it goes bad in a day or two? Well, my guess is that you stored it near an avocado or an apple, and the ethylene emitted made the greens go bad. Let me explain. Some vegetables and fruits emit a gas called ethylene when they are ripe, and this speeds the ripening of other produce around it. Some produce is ethylene-sensitive (meaning it will go bad more quickly if it is exposed to the ethylene from another ripe vegetable or fruit). See below for the chart.
| Ethylene-Producing Produce
(when ripe, these will make other things around them go bad!)
| Ethylene-Sensitive Produce
(these will go bad more quickly if they are around ripe produce that is ethylene-producing!)
|Melon (especially cantaloupe and honeydew)||Cucumber|
|Tomatoes||Kale, lettuce, spinach, and salad mixes|
|Stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots)||Peppers|
Here is the best way to store vegetables and fruits
- Apples: on counter if storing for a week or less; in refrigerator otherwise.
- Asparagus: trim the ends and stand them up (cut side down) in a glass of water. Place the entire glass in the fridge.
- Avocado: ripen on the counter and then put in fridge until ready to enjoy. Keep away from ethylene-sensitive produce! Once you cut into an avocado, if you are not going to use the entire thing, store the rest in a sealed container with the pit (this will help a lot!).
- Berries: ideally, keep them unwashed until you are ready to use (otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to get them dry enough to prevent molding). If you are going to wash them, use a mixture of 10 parts water to 1 part vinegar to wash and prevent mold. Store in refrigerator, in a container lined with a paper towel, and remove any berries that go bad quickly.
- Broccoli: in the refrigerator, either whole with air circulating through (and away from ethylene-producing produce), or cut, dried, and in a container with a paper towel
- Brussels sprouts: in refrigerator, loose and dry
- Carrots: remove greens if still attached (you can use the greens in stir fries or soups if you want, but detach them before storing), and store carrots submerged in water in the refrigerator.
- Cauliflower: in the refrigerator, either whole with air circulating through (and away from ethylene-producing produce), or cut, dried, and in a container with a paper towel
- Celery: wrap the entire head of celery in aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator, or chop stalks and keep them in a sealed container, submerged in water.
- Citrus fruit: countertop or refrigerator
- Cucumber: refrigerator
- Eggplant: refrigerator
- Grapes: refrigerator, with a paper towel to soak up moisture
- Green beans: refrigerator
- Green onions: refrigerator
- Herbs: best to place in a jar or vase of water, just like cut flowers. Cover the top with plastic and store in refrigerator. Basil is the exception and is best stored in a glass of water on the countertop.
- Mango or papaya: countertop until ripe, then refrigerator
- Melon: store whole melons on counter until ripe, then transfer to refrigerator (but keep it away from ethylene-sensitive produce). If you halve the melon, keep seeds in to keep it fresh. And once it is cut, store in a sealed container.
- Mushrooms: store in a paper bag, folded over, in the refrigerator
- Onions: store in cool, dark place. Do not store next to potatoes, as they will make the potatoes sprout, and will likely make any nearby produce ripen more quickly.
- Parsnips and turnips: refrigerator
- Peppers: store whole in refrigerator
- Potatoes: never store them next to onions, as the onions will make them sprout! If apples are nearby, they won’t sprout. So keep your potatoes with your apples, but keep your onions far away!
- Salad greens: store dry in the refrigerator. If you are going to wash them first, be sure to store with a paper towel. And keep them away from the ethylene-producing items!
- Stone fruit (apricots, peaches, plums, cherries): store on counter until ripe, then put in a paper bag and store in refrigerator
- Sweet potatoes: countertop
- Tomatoes: store loose on the countertop, but not next to any ethylene-sensitive foods!
- Winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti); countertop
- Zucchini and summer squash: refrigerator
How to actually do this:
- Keep potatoes in pantry, separate
- Keep bananas, tomatoes, melons, apples on the counter in a bowl
- Keep apples, avocados, grapes, melons, and stone fruits on one shelf in refrigerator
- Keep all other refrigerated produce (as directed above) on a separate shelf or drawer in refrigerator
Is all this overwhelming? Let’s get to the basics. Each week, I make veggie packs, and I don’t overthink the storage. I simply put each serving into a Stasher bag, and keep the bag in the refrigerator until I’m ready to eat it. I try not to use pre-cut peppers or cucumbers, because they tend to get slimy and unappealing, and if any of the other items are cut, I will only seal the bag 75% to allow for air circulation. Much more simple, huh?
Now it’s your turn … Which of these tips on how to store vegetables is most surprising to you?
Great article with lots of practical information! Time to ditch the plastic bags, definitely.
Here’s a tip for storing fruits a bit longer: by them while they are still a bit green and they will ripen over time (instead of getting spoiled). This is the most common way of storing bananas but can be applied to many other fruits
Great tip, Alex! Thank you!
The pleasure is mine!
I’ve been using paper towels for years in my lettuce, my mom thought I was crazy until she tried it! Excited to re-organize my incompatible foods, there are probably some tomatoes working overtime ripening their neighbors!
You were not crazy all along! 🙂 Let me know how the change up goes, Amy!
Anxious to try cutting asparagus and putting in glass of water in refrigerator. Also, think I need to use LESS plastic bags ( my go to for everything). Challenge accepted. Thx.
I think I know someone who encouraged you to use plastic bags for everything :). We can work on this together!!