Food & Drinks

How to keep your fruit and vegetables staying fresh longer - 10 easy storage tips

Did you know you should never put fruit and vegetables in the same refrigerator drawer, or next to one another on the countertop? Here’s how to stop some of your favourites spoiling once you get them home

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:35am

You bring home fresh fruit and vegetables, stash them in the refrigerator, then wonder what the heck happened to make them shrivel, rot or go limp a few days later. Much of the time, the culprit is the way you’re storing them.

To keep your produce fresher longer, remember: fruit and vegetables do not play well together. So do not store them together in a refrigerator drawer, or even next to one another on the counter or in the pantry. Why? Because many types of fruit produce ethylene gas, which acts like a ripening hormone and can speed spoilage.

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Vegetables need to breathe. Poke holes in the plastic bags you store them in, or keep them in reusable mesh bags. An airtight plastic bag is the worst choice for storing vegetables, according to Barry Swanson, professor emeritus of food science at Washington State University. And do not pack vegetables tightly together, either; they need space for air circulation or they’ll spoil faster.

Finally, do not clean produce until you’re ready to use it. Washing fruit or vegetables before storing them makes them more likely to spoil; the dampness encourages bacteria growth, says food research scientist Amanda Deering of Purdue University.

Follow these storage techniques to help 10 favourite foods stick around as long as possible.

1. Garlic

Store at room temperature in an open container, allowing air circulation. Don’t take off a clove’s protective papery husk until you’re ready to prepare it. It’s fine to store garlic next to its friend, the onion.

2. Onions

Find some (clean) tights. Add onions to each leg, tying a knot between each one. Hang at room temperature. If that does not appeal to you, onions can be stored like garlic at room temperature on a worktop. Just keep them away from potatoes. And do not put them in the refrigerator: the humidity and cold temperature will cause onions to turn mushy. Storing them away from light also helps keep them from becoming bitter.

3. Potatoes

Keep these in a dark and cool place, but do not refrigerate. The cold, damp air in the refrigerator causes their starches to turn into sugars, which can affect taste and texture. Store them in a paper bag – more breathable than plastic – in a coolish spot, such as a pantry. Keep them away from onions or fruit such as apples that exude ethylene gas, which can make your potatoes begin to sprout.

4. Asparagus

Cook’s Illustrated magazine tested four ways of storing asparagus; the best one, hands down, was to trim half an inch off the end of the stalks, then stand them up in a small amount of water (covered loosely with a plastic bag) in the refrigerator, like a bouquet. They stay fresh for about four days. Retrim the ends before using.

5. Carrots

First, trim off any green tops; they draw out moisture and cause carrots to go limp pretty quickly. Trimmed, unpeeled carrots can be refrigerated in an unsealed zip-top bag in the crisper drawer for about two weeks. Trimmed carrots (such as baby-cut carrots or carrot sticks) will last longer when kept submerged in a tightly covered container filled with water. Change the water frequently, Deering advises.

6. Brussels sprouts

They last longer on the stem. Refrigerate the stem end in water and break off sprouts as needed. If you bought them as loose sprouts, refrigerate them unwashed and untrimmed in an unsealed zip-top bag in the crisper drawer. Trim off outer leaves before cooking. The longer they’re stored, the stronger their flavour will be.

7. Cucumbers

They hate to be cold. Anything below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) will cause them to spoil faster, according to researchers at the University of California at Davis. If you must refrigerate them, do it for no more than three days. Cucumbers also are sensitive to ethylene gas, so keep them away from bananas, melons and tomatoes.

8. Celery

To keep it crisp, refrigerate it wrapped tightly in aluminium foil, not cling film, so the ethylene gas it produces can escape. Rewrap tightly after each use. Store celery sticks like carrot sticks: submerged in water in a tightly covered container.

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9. Tomatoes

Stem side up or down? Refrigerator or worktop? The debate continues, but North Carolina tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes, says the evidence in favour of storing standard-size tomatoes stem side down (which Cook’s Illustrated advised in 2008) is scant at best.

It might help keep moisture from collecting around the stem and causing spoilage, he concedes, but “it really depends on the type of tomato. A thin-skinned, delicate heirloom will have a different result than a thick-skinned supermarket variety.”

More important: Cook’s Illustrated and others have done an about-face when it comes to tomato refrigeration. As long as tomatoes are fully ripe, a few days in the fridge will not ruin their flavour – and it will extend their shelf life. So let whole tomatoes ripen on the counter, then store them stem side down on a plate in the refrigerator.

Cut tomatoes do better in an airtight container so they do not pick up any off-flavours. Let tomatoes come to room temperature before serving.

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10. Bananas

Break up the bunch, as charming as it might look. Then wrap each stem in cling film. That will reduce the emission of ethylene gas, forcing the fruit to ripen more slowly. Once a banana reaches the desired amount of ripeness, you can refrigerate it; the cold will keep it from ripening further.