Learn how to properly store produce to stretch those dollars and reduce waste
For those of you who don’t know me very well, I love juicing and I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. There’s nothing like hand-selecting a colorful bounty of fresh fruits and veggies to send through my cold press juicer and combining them to produce delicious yet healthy beverages than I and others can enjoy.
However, as a mother of two young children and the co-/founder of two businesses, it wasn’t always easy to preserve the freshness of all the produce I purchased. This was initially frustrating because I felt wasteful and shopping for groceries is time-consuming.
Luckily, you can benefit from my early mistakes. Here are 12 storage techniques that I’ve learned over the years that you can start doing to preserve your fresh fruits and veggies longer, while saving both time and money.
1. Wash and dry fresh herbs.
If you wash your herbs, always rinse them in cool water. Regardless, you should always dry your fresh herbs by placing them on a cloth or paper towel and gently patting them to remove excess moisture. You can also use a salad spinner like this one (this post is not sponsored; this is just an example). This step is important because excess moisture can cause the herbs to disintegrate into a slimy mess.
2. Store hard and soft herbs differently.
There are two types of herbs, soft and hard. Soft herbs tend to come into season in the spring and fall and have soft stems and leaves, like basil, parsley, and cilantro. Hard herbs have woodier stems and firmer leaves, like thyme and rosemary. Because they’re hardier, hard herbs tend to stay in season throughout late fall as the weather gets colder.
Treat soft herbs like a bouquet of flowers. Place the them upright in a small jar or glass with about an inch of water. Basil should be left out on the counter at room temperature (you should also do this with green onion). All other soft herbs should be covered loosely with a plastic sandwich bag and stored in the fridge. The plastic bag helps retain moisture while maintaining a healthy balance of oxygen, which prevents the herbs from dying for 1–2 weeks. Soft herbs like cilantro and dill can live up to 3 weeks.
Wrap hard herbs in a damp towel. Place a towel under cool running water in a sink. Squeeze the paper towel to distribute the water and to make it just damp enough that it doesn’t drip. Wrap the towel loosely around the bundle of herbs and then place the towel inside of a container or re-sealable bag to prevent oxygen damage. The herbs can live this way for about 2–3 weeks or longer when stored this way.
3. Regulate the temperature inside of the refrigerator.
Keep produce fresh for longer periods of time by keeping the temperature in your fridge to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Double-check that the thermometer in your fridge is accurate by confirming the temperature with another thermometer.
4. Don’t store produce on the inside door of the refrigerator.
Nearly all refrigerators have shelf-space located on the inside of the door. While it may be convenient to store your fruits and veggies there, you can extend the life of produce by storing them in their proper places within the fridge. Produce that is stored on shelves located on the inside of the refrigerator door are constantly exposed to different temperatures which cause them to decay.
5. Wash before eating.
Just like herbs, fruits and veggies are sensitive moisture, particularly if they have soft skin like grapes and berries. To keep them fresh, don’t wash them right when you purchase them and remove any water from packaging before storing them. Only wash them as you’re about to eat them.
6. Store produce whole.
It may be tempting to chop up certain fruits and veggies right when you get them to free up space in the fridge, but this will cause them to decay. If you have to cut up your veggies for space, roast them and freeze them to extend their shelf life.
7. Separate gassy produce.
Produce such as apples, bananas, garlic, and onions emit ethylene, which is a natural plant hormone that causes other produce to ripen faster and eventually rot when stored together for long periods of time. Store these ethylene producers separately on the counter or fridge to extend the life of your produce.
For produce that should be stored in the fridge, separate your ethylene producers. If you are storing broccoli and cauliflower, separate each head into its own bag or container. You can cover the crown of a bunch of bananas in plastic wrap to slow the release of ethylene.
You can also use this trait to your advantage, like when you want to make banana bread but there were only green bananas at the market. I often use this trick for unripe avocados. I store them with apples in a paper bag on the counter so that my avocados will ripen faster. You can see a full list of ethylene producers and ethylene-sensitive foods here.
8. Store stone fruit and tropical fruits at room temperature.
Store stone fruits such as mangos, nectarines, peaches, and plums in a paper bag at room temperature until they ripen. When stone fruit are placed in the fridge they will harden and lose flavor. This causes a lot of people to throw them out.
Fruit that grow in warmer and tropical areas like peppers and eggplants (anything with seeds are fruit) are generally sensitive to the cold. Store them at room temperature rather than in the fridge. When produce like peppers and eggplants are placed in the fridge, they tend to shrivel up and lose their flavor. This is because of the biochemical process that occurs when they’re exposed to cold air and the way that oxygen is circulated in the fridge.
9. Keep produce away from sources of heat.
For fruits and veggies that are stored on the counter, make sure they are nowhere appliances that emit heat like near or above the stove. Also make sure that they are nowhere near appliances like a hot water kettle, crockpot, or coffee brewer.
10. Learn the lifecycle of nuts.
Nuts are considered a single-seeded fruit and they can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 months. After that, you should store them in your fridge for up to 6 months and then move them to the freezer, where they can be stored for about a year in an airtight container.
11. Wrap celery.
I know it sounds strange, but you can extend the life of your celery by wrapping the bunch in aluminum foil or slightly damp towel. This will protect the celery from moisture while allowing the ethylene gas to escape.
12. Store cucumbers and summer squash on the top shelf.
Cucumbers and squash will stay crispy longer when they have a lot of air circulation. The area of the fridge with the most air circulation tends to be the top shelf.