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(Am I Doing This Right?!) How to store produce for the longest shelf life

Dec 8, 2020

How to store produce for the longest shelf life

Happy Tuesday!

Here with a VERY helpful post you’re going to want to bookmark, especially as we’re staying in and cooking at home more than we have in previous months! This is Kendall’s last post she wrote before maternity leave–it’s a GREAT one–and is another Am I Doing This Right?! post- Kendall’s series that tackles a variety of adulting topics that seem straightforward at first glance, but upon further inspection, actually aren’t! 

So, here we go–handing it over to Kendall! (Per usual, with a few editor’s notes from me. ????) 

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Admittedly, I chose today’s particular topic because I selfishly wanted to research how to keep my dang produce fresher, longer! Especially this year with more time in the kitchen, I’ve found I’m not the best at using all of my grocery hauls before things start to go bad.

Does anyone else unload produce in their refrigerator drawers only to never return to them for weeks?? ???? (RIP mixed greens!)

That mistake is all me, but other times I swear I’ll buy a perfectly ripe avocado and it’ll go bad by the time I cut into it for dinner- how? why?! After tossing another bag of bad produce this week, I’ve decided to actually learn how to store everything I’m buying to keep things fresher- especially going into the fall/winter season. 

And while I was no expert at storing produce, I didn’t realize how clueless I truly was until diving into this topic. I’ve been making many, many mistakes! (Who knew how many fruits and veggies impacted the ripening process of their shelf mates?!)

(Am I Doing This Right?!) How to store produce for the longest shelf life

If you’re struggling with fresh ingredients too, here’s a step-by-step guide for how to store your produce for the longest shelf life! I also included a little cheat sheet at the end if you want to store it in your kitchen for easy reference ????

How to store produce for the longest shelf life

Step 1: Identify freshness at the store

First thing I learned in my research: If they say abs start in the kitchen, then fresh produce starts at the store! To give yourself the best odds at keeping things fresh, you need to know what to look for when loading up your grocery cart. Here are some tips:

  • Use your hands- Pick up produce and turn it over. Look for a smooth, even surface. You’ll want fruit that is firm, but not rock hard, while most vegetables should be pretty firm (cucumbers, peppers, onions and potatoes). If you feel dents under the surface, it could be from damage via shipping or rotting- avoid those!
  • Give it a smell- You’re looking for a light, sweet smell. If the aroma is too strong, it might be overripe, and if you get a sour or stinky smell, the produce is probably past its prime.  
  • Shop with the seasons- When possible, try to shop for produce that’s in-season. This ups your chances of fresh produce that will last the longest, and it’s better for your wallet and the environment! This article highlights when popular produce is in season. 

Step 2: Ditch the store bags

You know those flimsy plastic produce bags you wrap everything in at the store? They shouldn’t be used at home! Whether on the counter or in the refrigerator, keeping produce in those bags speeds up the aging process by a LOT! 

Instead, get some bags that absorb the ethylane gas that produce emits (that makes it ripen faster!) Jess swears by these reusable produce bags that do just that! (Seriously, they’re life-changing). You can put any kind of produce in them. (Tip: also wrap loosely in a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture, which can also lead to browning/rotting.)

Also, these airtight produce bins are another great option for keeping things organized and fresh!

Step 3: Store correctly 

Ok, step 3 is where things begin to get complicated. I used to put a lot more in my fridge than I should have, contributing to my food waste problem. Here’s a breakdown of what should be stored in the fridge and what should be kept at room temperature. *And just when you think you can handle the two lists, we have a plot twist- an additional list of items that should first be kept at room temperature to ripen, then moved to the fridge to prevent over-ripening. (Kind of like all those “exceptions” in chemistry class). ????

Tip: herbs can be stored in the fridge, dry at room temperature or trimmed in a glass of water. How easy going!

Refrigerate: 
  • Apples *in a crisper drawer away from anything else
  • Asparagus *trim the ends then store upright in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag. so high maintenance right? 
  • Beets * in a crisper drawer, unwashed
  • Bell peppers *unwashed
  • Berries *unwashed
  • Broccoli *cover with a moist paper towel in the crisper drawer
  • Brussels Sprouts *keep unwashed in a bag in your fridge
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (Tip: big carrots last FOREVER–way longer than baby carrots and are way more delicious!) 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Celery
  • Corn 
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Grapes *don’t wash until you’re ready to eat
  • Leafy greens *wash and dry them fully, then store in a plastic bag with a paper towel
  • Lettuce heads 
  • Parsnips
  • Pears
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Summer squash
  • Turnips
Room-temperature: 
  • Apricots
  • Avocado (unless it’s perfectly ripe, then straight to the fridge it goes!) 
  • Bananas
  • Citrus *away from direct sunlight
  • Cucumbers *one of the few veggies that lasts longer at room temperature!
  • Garlic
  • Melons *uncut
  • Nectarines
  • Onions *don’t store with potatoes
  • Peaches
  • Pomegranate
  • Potatoes *don’t store with onions
  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Tomatoes *out of direct sunlight (refridgeration ruins their texture!) 
  • Winter squashes 
Room temperature then refrigerate (once ripe): 
  • Avocados (you’ll be shocked at how long avocados last in the crisper drawer!) 
  • Kiwis
  • Mangoes *speed up the ripening process by putting in a paper bag
  • Pears 
  • Pineapple *if uncut, wrap in plastic before storing in the fridge. If cut, keep in an airtight container. 

Step 4: Keep ethylene producing fruits separate 

And just when you think you have your new kitchen organization down, a final caveat appears: ethylene. Ethylene is a gas released by some produce that causes faster ripening, and some fruits and vegetables are more sensitive to ethylene than others. It’s important to know which produce emits ethylene, so you can keep them separate from your other produce- this will keep everything from spoiling quicker.

Bottom line: do not store fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene with those that are sensitive to ethylene (this applies to both refrigerated and room temperature storage (i.e. bananas and avocados should never be stored next to each other). Also, never store ethylene producers in bags or sealed containers as that will trap the gas and expedite ripening even faster. 

Jess’ note: OR… an easier solution is just to get these magic bags already so they individually absorb ethylane gas from each type of produce AND keep each item separated. ????

Here is a list of ethylene producers:
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
Here is a list of ethylene sensitive produce: 
  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Collard Greens
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Grapes
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwi
  • Lemons
  • Lettuce
  • Limes
  • Mangos
  • Onions
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Watermelon

* Fun fact- if you do want to speed up the ripening process of something, place the produce in a paper bag and/or add an ethylene producer! (i.e. put an avocado next to an apple or banana).

Here’s a cheat sheet that you can keep in your kitchen and refer to when putting away produce:

How to store produce for the longest shelf life

 

I hope this was helpful! Here’s to fresh produce all season long! 

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