Proper food storage not only saves money, but guarantees that you will have healthy, nutrient rich foods on hand when you’re ready to eat them. Whether you’re storing fruits and vegetables for short or long-term use, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

First, pay attention to moisture and temperature. Too much moisture or humidity, and you’ll get mold, yeast and bacteria growth. Second, be aware that some fruits and vegetables will emit ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is a plant hormone that has the job of regulating its growth and development process.  It can also be produced as a reaction to some type of injury to the plant such as bruising or cutting. Other evidence of the presence of ethylene gas is yellowing, withering leaves, discoloration, and softening.

With this in mind, it is important to know which fruits and vegetables will emit ethylene gas. It is also important to know which fruits and vegetables to keep separate from each other.

On the list of produce that emit ethylene gas are apples, pears, blueberries, melons, apricots, bananas, avocados, kiwis, peaches, nectarines, figs, pears, asparagus, plums, and cantaloupes.

How to Shop for Fresh Fruit

You’ve heard the computer expression “garbage in/garbage out.” The same holds true for shopping for produce. Buying produce that is overripe, bruised, or damaged is setting you up for failure. 

If you can afford to, buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Farmer’s markets are great places to shop for quality produce. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes an online national directory to help you find one in your area. 

Below are charts that will help you choose the freshest fruits and veggies throughout the year based on color, texture, firmness, and seasonality.

Fruits

Peak Season

Look for these qualities:

Apples Sep-May Firm with good color
Apricots June-July Plump, firm & golden yellow
Avocados Year-round Green to black color; bends slightly when pressed
Bananas Year-round Yellow with tinge of green color; firm
Blueberries June-August Firm & plump with tight skin
Cranberries Sept-Dec/March-July Firm & plump with tight skin
Cherries May-June Light to dark red, firm
Coconut September-March Shake to hear milk inside; good weight for size
Figs July-September Soft to touch. If smells sour then don’t use
Grapefruit October-June Heavy, smooth healthy skin; firm
Grapes June-December Uniform clusters, tender, plump, flexible stems
Kiwi June-August Soft to touch with avocado-like firmness
Lemons Year-round Shiny skin, firm, heavy for size
Lime May-October Shiny skin, firm, heavy for size; avoid dry skin
Mangos April-August Yellow/reddish skin color, not too soft
Cantaloupes May-September Smell for fresh aroma, thick netting w/yellow tinge
Honeydew Feb-October Yellow rinds with fresh smell
Watermelon May-August Cream-colored underbelly, dull surface
Nectarines/Peaches June-September Firm; yellow/reddish color
Oranges November-June Shiny skin, heavy for size
Papayas Year-round Greenish yellow; slight ‘give’ when pressed
Pears August-May Stem end yields slightly when pressed
Pineapples February-August Pine smell; ripe when leaves can be easily removed
Plums June-September Yields to gentle pressure; dark-bright red
Pomegranates September-Nov Purple-red color, thin-shiny skin
Tangerines November-Jan Glossy, loose skin
Tangelos Jan-October Glossy, loose skin

How to Shop for Fresh Vegetables

Vegetables

Peak Season

Look for these qualities:

Artichokes March-May Healthy green color, heavy for size, plump globes
Asparagus March-June Tender green stalks with tightly closed buds
Green/Wax Beans April-October Long, straight and blemish-free pods
Lima Beans April-August Plump pods that are lime green in color
Beets June-October Avoid long roots and rough skin; deep red; firm
Belgian Endive October-May White with green cast; firm with no bruises
Broccoli October-May Closed and firm dark green florets; tender stalks
Brussel Sprouts October-Nov Small, tight, bright-green heads
Cabbage Year-round Weighty for size with solid heads; well-trimmed
Carrots Year-round Firm/bright;avoid rough, cracked or green-tinged
Cauliflower Sept-November Bright green leaves around closely packed florets
Celery Year-round Crisp, strong stalks; Green/light green color
Corn May-September Plump, milky kernels; fresh, green husks
Cucumbers May-August Firm, uniform shape; bright, shiny green skin
Eggplant August-Sept Dark purple smooth, firm skin; bruise and cut-free
Lettuce Year-round Medium weight for size; no wilting or bruising
Mushrooms November-April Frim, dry caps and stems
Okra May-September Bright green, bruise-free pods < 4.5″ long
Onions Year-round Hard and well-shaped; small neck; dry skin
Parsnips October-April Smooth skin, firm; decay and bruise-free
Green peas April-July Plump and bright green; avoid grey-flecked pods
Peppers Year-round Glossy skin; firm exterior with good shape
Sweet Potatoes Sept-December Tapered ends; thick with no bruises or decay
White Potatoes Year-round Well-shaped, firm, smooth; free of blemishes
Spinach March-May Bright green, blemish free leaves; avoid coarse stems
Summer Squash June-August Smooth, shiny sking; firm;well-shaped; bright color
Winter Squash Sept-November Unblemished rind; hard; heavy
Radishes May-July 3/4-1″ diameter, rich red color with bright green tops
Tomatoes May-August Plump and tender without blemishes; rich red color
Turnips September-March Purple/white color, heavy w/smooth skin, roots

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, produce guide

Basic Fruit and Vegetable Safety Tips

Before we dive into specifics of fruit and vegetable storage, here is a quick review of how to safely handle and prep your perishables:  

Wash Everything

The first line of defense against bacteria is cleanliness. In addition to washing your hands, be sure to wash cutting boards, utensils, countertops and all food prep utensils before and after preparing meals.

Clean Fruits & Veggies

Before you chop, juice, or cook anything, wash your fruits and veggies under clean running water. Use a vegetable scrubber for hard foods like potatoes, carrots, beets, and even avocados. Even if you’re eating organic, there will be dirt residue on the food and you don’t know how many people have touched your potato before it landed in your shopping cart. Ewww.

Pre-washed items usually don’t have to be washed again, but I do it anyway, just to be on the safe side. Dry with a clean paper towel and discard

Use Designated Cutting Boards

When cutting or chopping food, have designated cutting boards for fruits and vegetables. Don’t use the same cutting board for produce as you used to process raw meat, poultry, or seafood. They carry bacteria which can be spread through their juices.

Wear Disposable Gloves

Wear disposable gloves when handling meat, fish, and poultry. Discard and wash hands when finished.

Don't Mix or Mingle

When storing produce in the fridge, take care not to place them next to or beneath meats or seafood. Use separate plates and bowls for prepping meat and produce for cooking.

How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

How you store fruits and vegetables will depend on the time-frame in which you intend to eat them. I have tried to pack as much information as I could without having this article turn into War & Peace 📖. 🙃

Keep these tips in mind as you go through the list:

  • Your refrigerator temperature should be set at 40℉ (or at a range of 35℉ – 40℉).
  • Separate ethylene producers (EP) from ethylene-sensitive (ES) food.
  • Keep potatos away from onions!
  • To keep potatoes and onions dormant by leaving them in darkness.
  • Don’t freeze produce that contains a lot of water (i.e.tomatoes and lettuces).
  • Cutting produce will cause them go bad sooner.
  • Before freezing, blanch or steam produce.
  • You can usually ‘bring back’ greens by cutting their stems and placing in water.
  • Ideal freezer temperature is below 32℉.

Long-term storage options for vegetables and fruit include fermenting or dehydrating. To find out more about fermenting you can visit this website. To learn about food dehydrators and the process involved, go here.

The suggestions listed below are for short-term storage, when the intent is to prepare and eat within a few days. At the end of each tip you’ll see alpha-numeric information in bold. This is what it means:

EP = Ethylene Producer
ES = Ethylene Sensitive
R = Refrigerator
P = Pantry
C = Countertop
D = Days/Number of Days

apples

Apples

Refrigerate and keep sealed in plastic produce bag. Do not wash until ready to be eaten.
EP, R, D3

Asparagus

Asparagus

Trim off ends and place in 1″ of water or wet paper towel and cover with baggie to refrigerate.
ES, R,D3-5

Red Bell Pepper

Bell Peppers

Refrigerate in plastic bag. Green peppers up to 7 days, others about 5.
ES, R, D5-7

Cauliflower

Cauliflower

Keep in packaging and refrigerate. Do not wash until just before use.
ES, R, D7

Celery

Celery

Rinse and loosely wrap in a paper towel. Then wrap in foil and place in refrigerator crisper.
R, D14+

Corn on the cob

Corn

Store uncovered with husks in fridge. Wrap in foil and store in crisper if husks are removed.
ES, R, D14

green grapes

Grapes

Can be stored in fridge in bag they came in or in plastic bag with air holes. Wash when ready to eat.
R, D7

green lettuce

Lettuces & Leafy Greens

Rinse thoroughly, dry, and wrap in paper towel. Bag it and store in refrigerator crisper.
ES, R, D 2-3

Onions

Onions

Can be kept on counter at room temperature. Moisture in fridge can cause to go bad pretty fast.
C, D14+

white potatoes

Potatoes

Keep away from onions and store in a cool, dry, place or pantry at room temperature.
EP, C, P, D30-90

apricots

Apricots [Stone Fruits*]

Refrigerate for 5 days. To hasten ripening, place in paper bag on countertop.
EP, R, D5

Bananas

Bananas

Store on countertop away from other produce. Can be bagged & refrigerated (will blacken).
EP, C, D5

Berries

Berries

Discard if moldy. Refrigerate & store loosely on paper towel in shallow container.
EP, R, D2

Cabbage

Cabbage

Store in plastic bag and place in crisper. Do not chop or wash until just before use.
ES, R, D14

Cherries

Cherries

Inspect for bruised or damaged cherries, then place in a plastic bag and store in refrigerator.
R, D5-7

cucumbers

Cucumber

Store at room temperature on countertop until ready to eat. Will stay fresh 2-5 days on average.
ES, C, D2-5 

Jalapeño peppers

Jalapeños

Either leave on countertop, or store in refrigerator in crisper. Will stay fresh longer in fridge.
R, D7

sliced melon

Melons

Store at room temperature, then place in refrigerator in a covered container when ripe. 
EP, C, R, (D7)

Pears

Pears

If unripe, store on counter. When ripened seal and refrigerate in a closed container.
EP, C, D7

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Store in cool, dry place but stay away from plastic bags. Place in fridge to stop ripening.
EP, P, D5-7

avocados

Avocados

Refrigerate for 3 days. Place in paper bag at room temperature to ripen quickly.
EP, R, D3

green beans

Beans (Green or String)

Can be refrigerated in plastic bag for up to one week. Do not wash until ready to use.
ES, R, D7

Broccoli

Broccoli

Keep in packaging and refrigerate. Do not wash until just before use.
ES, R, D7

Carrots

Carrots

Refrigerate after thoroughly washing. Cut off green tops & wrap in paper towel.
ES, R, D14

Citrus fruits

Citrus

Store on countertop whole and uncut. Place in refrigerator to stop ripening process.
EP, C (D7), R (D14)

Garlic

Garlic

Can be kept on counter at room temperature. Moisture in fridge can cause to go bad pretty fast.
C, D14+

Kiwi fruit

Kiwi

Keep on countertop until ripe; usually in 1-2 weeks. After that can be stored (covered) in refrigerator.
C (D7+), R (D1)

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Whole? Refrigerate and store loose in paper bag. Sliced? Store in packaging. Do not pre-wash.
ES, R, D7

Pineapples

Pineapple

Place on countertop until ripened, then move to refrigerator. Keep away from other produce.
EP, C, R, D5

Zucchini squash

Zucchini

Store at room temperature. Do not wash them until you’re ready to eat. Refrigerate in air tight bag.
C, R, D4

*Stone fruits include peaches, apricots, nectarines, and plums. They belong to the Prunus family genus which is characterized by seeds surrounded by a hard shell in the center of the fruit. These large seeds are also called stones.

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