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Making your Produce Last: Storage tips for fruits and veggies — from the Farmers’ Market, CSA, local grocer, or your own garden!

June 21, 2019

Some of us overshop at Target. Others of us overshop at the Farmers’ Market. I definitely fall into the market category, enticed by all the beautiful colors, shapes, and textures of produce (and flowers and hand-crafted items, too). I love walking the aisles, chatting with vendors about their wares, filling—and overfilling—my market basket.

It’s all good. Well, as long as none of all that lovely produce goes to waste. In fact, I gave up gardening on a large scale in favor of growing flowers in part because I felt guilty if I didn’t put up (or find owners for) every last tomato, pea, and carrot. Food waste is silly (because it shouldn’t happen) and serious (because it does).

We’ll be quickly growing the “Food” section of this blog with posts on specific foods (the best way to keep bananas, how to store squash, etc.), but right off the bat it’s helpful to know what produce to store together—and what produce to keep apart, like rival siblings.

Why separate certain fruits and vegetables?

In a nutshell: Some fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas, and some are sensitive to ethylene gas, which means it’ll make them ripen—and rot—faster. While ethylene gas sounds like something you’d pump into a gas can, it’s actually just a natural plant hormone that fruit and veggies make as they ripen.

Refrigeration and humidity slow ripening but don’t stop ethylene gas from being produced.

The more a fruit ripens, the more ethylene gas it produces.

Which produce should be stored separately?

If you know which produce produces the gas and which are sensitive to it, you won’t toss the onions in the potato basket (like I’m always prone to do).

We could make this more complicated, because some produce is more susceptible than others to ethylene gas (making it more important to keep separate), and some give off more gas than others, and it depends on the stage of ripening, but let’s keep things simple, shall we? Without getting into all the specifics for each fruit and veggie (which we’ll do in individual posts), we’ll do well to keep produce that makes ethylene away from produce that’s sensitive to ethylene.

I’m thinking we all might benefit from a handy chart. Maybe print it off and tuck it in a kitchen drawer or tack it on the fridge?

Produce to Separate

Produce that produces ethylene:Produce that’s sensitive to ethylene:
Apples
Apricots
Avocadoes
Bananas when ripe
Blueberries
Cantaloupe
Cherimoyas
Cranberries
Figs
Green onions
Guavas
Grapes
Honeydew
Kiwi
Mangoes
Mangosteen
Nectarines
Papayas
Passion fruit
Peaches
Pears
Persimmons
Plums
Potatoes
Prunes
Quince
Tomatoes


Asparagus
Bananas when unripe
Blackberries
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Chard
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Endive
Garlic
Green beans
Kale
Leafy greens
Leeks
Lettuce
Okra
Onions
Parsley
Peas
Peppers
Raspberries
Spinach
Squash
Strawberries
Sweet potatoes
Watercress
Watermelon

Can I use ethylene gas to more quickly ripen produce?

Sure can.

Place the unripe fruit or veggie in a brown paper bag with an ethylene-producing item—an unripe banana with an apple, for example. Fold the top of the bag down and let them mingle. The apple will have a ripening effect on the banana. Check every day until the unripened fruit has reached perfection!

What else should I know about storing my produce bounty?

Here are some general tips:

  • Be a better shopper than I am. Try to bring home only what you’ll eat. (On the other hand, if you enjoy canning, drying, or freezing, the Farmer’s Market or CSA is a goldmine.)
  • Once home, give the produce a once-over. Remove any fruits or veggies that are rotting before they spoil the whole batch. (It’s true what they say about one rotten apple.)
  • Store produce that shouldn’t be refrigerated in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and the heat of your stove. This includes onions and potatoes, unripe avocadoes and bananas, watermelon, tomatoes, and winter squash. Citrus can be stored outside the refrigerator, in a cool, dark place, but it’ll last longer in the fridge.
  • That’s right — don’t refrigerate tomatoes, or they’ll quickly become soggy. Besides, they don’t taste nearly as good as tomatoes that are not cold. (Though once they start to overripen, refrigerating tomatoes will slow the process. Time for a tradeoff – better less flavorful than rotten, right?)
  • A fun (and beautiful) option for onions is to braid and hang them (if they still have tops on them). Some people like to tie them in mesh bags, or in pantyhose, with a knot between each onion. (Does anybody wear pantyhose anymore?)
  • You can store your bananas in the refrigerator, if they’re perfectly ripened and you won’t be eating them before they go bad. The peels will turn horridly dark, but the inside will be fine.
  • Keep things (well, most things) dry. Don’t wash berries or mushrooms before storing them (wait until you’re about to eat them), and make sure other produce, like carrots, broccoli, and greens are dry before refrigerating them. Place them in produce bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. I like cotton mesh bags for my produce, but there are many options.
  • Put greens in produce bags, but don’t seal them tightly. Leave a little air in the bag, so the greens don’t get/stay wet.
  • Store produce in the produce bins or main shelves of your refrigerator, not on the door where the temp changes often.
  • When you cut fruits and vegetables ahead of time (for convenience, if you have your kitchen act together), place a paper towel or clean cotton cloth in the bottom of a glass container and store them in there. The cloth will absorb moisture.
  • Cut the bottom off your celery bunch and slide the stalks in a glass of water in the refrigerator. I love how this looks when I open the fridge (like a bouquet), and the celery stalks will keep a long time when stored this way.
  • Ripen stone fruit (in that paper bag on the counter, if needed) before refrigerating. (It won’t continue to ripen when it’s in the fridge.)
  • Store corn in the refrigerator, unhusked until ready to cook. The taste of corn on the cob deteriorates quickly, so for the sweetest treat, eat it up soon!
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly. Mold spores (ugh) and leftover residue from old food can spoil new food you put in there.
  • Keep the air circulating in your refrigerator – don’t overstock it.

What storage tips do you have to share? Do you use produce bags? Which are your faves? What produce do you have trouble keeping fresh?

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