The Best Ways to Store Fruits and Vegetables to Reduce Food Waste

by Katherine Sacks

4/30/20

A rotten banana left on the counter too long; a potato that sprouted eyes; an onion turned to ash. While many of us have been guilty of leaving the occasional fruit or veggie out for way too long, then tossing it in the trash, learning a few simple rules on how to store vegetables can keep your produce much fresher, much longer, and decrease the likelihood of that blackened banana, sprouting potato or mushy onion.

Because those bananas and potatoes and onions add up. On average, we throw away a fourth of the food we buy. That’s like leaving the grocery store with four apples and throwing one out the window on the ride home. It amounts to an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 wasted by the average four-person household per year. Money isn’t the only thing going to waste when we pitch good food; we waste all of the resources — including energy and water — that went into producing it. Food waste also produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Food waste is a huge problem, but it’s one we can all do something about. You can start by planning, shopping and cooking smarter. Then, make sure the food you’ve already bought or cooked (and your time and money) doesn’t go to waste. Learning how to store vegetables and fruit properly is the first step.

To keep fruits and vegetables fresher longer, the key is proper preparation, proper storage and proper attention to ripeness. While every ingredient is different, here are some general guidelines for how to store vegetables and fruit.

How to Prep Vegetables and Fruit for Fridge Storage

The first step is prepping your produce to last — some items can be put away as is, others need to be treated in order to preserve their freshness and quality before storing. Depending on the item, water can either hurt or help items last much longer. Some produce — like radishes — can be trimmed and stored in water to extend their crunchy bite. For softer leaves and greens like spinach or arugula, it’s about keeping them dry and cool. Here are some additional tips for preparing produce for storage:

Berries: When time permits, it’s best to sort through berries as soon after purchasing as possible. Pull out any moldy berries for compost, and eat or use any super-ripe or bruised berries right away. The rest can be stored in the refrigerator; berries can keep for up to 5 days chilled, and do best when stored in a single layer, loosely covered with a paper towel or thin cloth like a flour sack towel.

Celery: The trick to keeping celery crisp is wrapping it in tinfoil, covering it but not crimping the edges. This allows the moisture to stay in, while letting the ethylene gas, which naturally causes the vegetable to ripen, to release. Be careful when wrapping and you can use the same piece of aluminum for multiple heads of celery. If celery becomes limp, trim its base and place in a glass of water in the refrigerator until crisp again.

Herbs: Wash herbs before storing them — soak in cold water, for about 5 minutes, swirling the leaves gently with your hands to loosen debris and dirt. Dry in a salad spinner, ideal for removing as much moisture as possible and keeping your greens freshest longest. If you don’t have a salad spinner, we suggest waiting to rinse herbs until you are ready to use them; to dry herbs without a spinner, place in a single layer on a kitchen towel, top with a second towel, and gently blot dry.

To store herbs, place in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel or thin cloth, or trim the stems by an inch and place into a jar of water (like you would with flowers), covering loosely with a plastic bag. You can use the same technique for asparagus. The only exception here is basil, which can also be stored with ends in a jar of water, but is better kept at room temperature. To make this practice less wasteful, make sure to reuse the plastic bags or use reusable silicone bags.

Leafy Greens: While the two-pound bag of salad greens might seem like a cost-effective purchase, if the greens go bad before you use them, it’s not helping anyone. To reduce spoilage, go through your leafy greens (including arugula, baby spinach and mesclun) and pull out any greens that are wilted, discolored or slimy. Transfer greens to a large container, preferably not a bag, with room for air circulation between the leaves. Line the container with damp paper towels or a thin cloth and store in the crisper drawer.

Mushrooms: As mushrooms sit, moisture builds up and they can become slimy. Mushrooms that are sold loose should be transferred to a paper bag, which allows for airflow, but packaged mushrooms (usually sold in a carton covered in shrink wrap) are fine as is. If you need to use some, but not all, of the mushrooms, carefully open the shrink wrap or poke as small a hole as possible to remove mushrooms. Re-wrap with shrink wrap or additional plastic wrap if necessary.

Root Vegetables: If you purchase root vegetables like carrots, beets, daikon and turnips with their greens still attached, remove them as soon as possible to prevent the greens from continuing to draw out the root’s moisture. Store the greens as described in the leafy greens section, and the roots in the crisper drawer.

How to Store Cut Vegetables and Fruit

Most fruits and vegetables will last 3 to 5 days after being sliced, if you store them in an airtight container, refrigerated. Keep sliced onions away from other foods, as the smell and flavor easily permeates. Fruits like apples, pears, bananas and avocados brown quickly after being sliced so should be stored whole.

What Temperature to Store Vegetables and Fruit

When it comes to the question of how to store vegetables and fruit, temperature is also important. Some items should go in the fridge, some sit out on the counter and others do best in a cool, dark spot out of the light.

Managing temperature is key to getting some produce to ripen just enough but then not spoil. Tomatoes are the perfect example: ripen them on the counter and then refrigerate once they’re ripe, in order to extend their lifespan. Some fruits — particularly bananas, apples, citrus and tomatoes — naturally produce a lot of ethylene gas which hastens the ripening process of the produce stored around them. You can use this to your advantage — store an apple in a bag with a rock-hard avocado to speed up ripening — but in general, it’s a good rule of thumb to store fruits and vegetables separately, keeping them away from nearly-ripe or ripe produce, or delicate leafy greens.

Fruits and Vegetables Storage Chart

Storage Method Types of Fruits and Vegetables
Types of Fruits and Vegetables Store at Room Temperature Bananas, Basil, Cucumber, Eggplant, Garlic, Melons, Onions, Potatoes, Rutabagas, Sweet potatoes, Shallots, Watermelon, Winter squash, Zucchini
Types of Fruits and Vegetables Store at Room Temp Until Ripe, then Chill Apricots, Avocados, Kiwifruit, Mangoes, Nectarines, Papayas, Peaches, Pears, Pineapple, Plums
Types of Fruits and Vegetables Store in the Refrigerator Apples, Asparagus, Beets, Bell Peppers, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cherries, Cilantro, Corn (whole ears in the husk), Dark leafy greens, Grapes, Grapefruit, Green beans, Leeks, Lemons, Lettuce, Limes, Mushrooms, Oranges, Parsley, Peas, Pomegranate, Raspberries, Strawberries, Summer squash

How to Store Vegetables and Fruit in the Freezer

If you know you can’t use items before they’ll go bad, freezing produce is a great way to keep them fresh for future use. In general, you’ll want to freeze cut fruit or vegetables in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan or silicone sheet pan, then transfer to airtight containers for storage. Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing, while fruit does not need to be. Here are some more specific tips:

Fruits and Vegetables to Blanch Before Freezing

Asparagus and Green Beans: Trim woody ends and/or stems, blanch and freeze in a single layer. Transfer to airtight containers.

Bell peppers: Remove seeds, cut into 1/2″ pieces, blanch and freeze in a single layer. Transfer to airtight containers.

Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower: Cut into 1/2″ pieces, blanch and freeze in a single layer. Transfer to airtight containers.

Corn: Remove kernels from cob, blanch, and freeze in a single layer. Transfer to airtight containers.

Fruits and Vegetables to Freeze Raw

Tomatoes: Wash, dry and remove cores from tomatoes. Freeze in a single layer, then transfer to airtight containers.

Bananas: Peel bananas and slice into 1” pieces. Freeze in a single layer, then transfer to airtight containers.

Berries: Rinse and dry thoroughly. For strawberries, remove stem and hull. Freeze in a single layer, then transfer to airtight containers.

Stone Fruit: Remove pit, cut into 1” pieces. Freeze in a single layer, then transfer to airtight containers.

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