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How to Store Fresh Produce So It Lasts Longer and Stays Fresh

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Photo: amriphoto / Getty Images

You stocked your grocery cart with enough fresh fruits and veggies to last you all week (or more)—you're all set for meal-prepped lunches and dinners, plus healthy snacks to have on hand. But then Wednesday rolls around and you grab a tomato for your sandwich, and it's all mushy and starting to rot. Meh! So, should you have put the tomato in the refrigerator? Or did it just ripen too quickly because of where you stored it on the counter?

No one wants to waste food (and money!). Plus, all that planning you did for your healthy meals feels like wasted effort if you go to make a smoothie and find that your spinach is wilted and your avocado is all icky inside. Not to mention, mold and bacteria can pose some real tummy troubles if food is not stored properly. (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth Is the Digestive Disorder That Could Be Causing Your Bloating)

Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., and author of The MIND Diet shares how you should really be storing your fresh produce so it stays fresher for longer, whether it's the fridge, the cabinets, the counter, or some combo. (Plus take a step back and learn how to pick the best fruit at the store in the first place.)

Foods to Store In the Fridge

The Quick List

  • apples
  • apricots
  • artichokes
  • asparagus
  • berries
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • cherries
  • corn
  • cut fruits and veggies
  • figs
  • grapes
  • green beans
  • herbs (with exception of basil)
  • leafy greens
  • mushrooms
  • peas
  • radishes
  • scallions and leeks
  • yellow squash and zucchini

Storing these foods in the chillier fridge temps will preserve flavor and texture, and prevent bacteria growth and spoiling. And if you're wondering whether to wash them first, Moon says that just about all produce should be washed right before eating for maximum freshness time.

However, lettuce and other leafy greens don't have natural preservatives to hold them up so they "can be washed and dried well, then loosely wrapped in slightly damp paper towels and stored in a ventilated plastic bag," she says. (A great way to use up those extra leafy greens hanging around in the produce drawer? Green smoothies—these recipes range from sweet to really green, so you're bound to find something you love.)

And if you've been storing your apples in a fruit bowl on the counter, get this: "Apples soften 10 times faster at room temperature," she says. Pre-cut fruit will need to be refrigerated immediately. "Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible to prevent spoilage," she says. Exposing the flesh of say, a sliced pear, will speed up the spoilage process. Finally, store fruits and veggies in separate plastic bags. 

Foods to Leave On the Counter

The Quick List

  • banana
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • garlic
  • lemon, lime, and other citrus fruits
  • melon
  • onion
  • papaya
  • persimmon
  • pomegranate
  • potato
  • pumpkin
  • tomato
  • winter squash

 

You'll want to store these foods at room temperature in a cool, dry area, away from direct sunlight. Also, foods such as garlic, onions (red, yellow, shallots, etc.), and potatoes (Yukon, Russet, sweet) should be stored in a cool, dark place with good ventilation, says Moon. (Related: Purple Sweet Potato Recipes That Could Dethrone Millennial Pink)

"The cold can prevent these foods from reaching their full potential for flavor and texture," she says. "For example, bananas won't get as sweet as they should, sweet potatoes will taste off and won't cook evenly, watermelon loses flavor and color after a few days in the cold, and tomatoes will lose flavor."

Foods to Ripen On the Counter, Then Refrigerate

The Quick List

  • avocado
  • bell pepper
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • jicama
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • nectarine
  • peach
  • pear
  • pineapple
  • plum

These foods will do well on the counter as they ripen for a few days, but should be refrigerated after that point to retain their freshness, says Moon. (Not like you need help eating all your avocados before they go bad, but juuuust in case, here are eight new ways to eat avocado.)

"These fruits and vegetables become sweeter and more flavorful at room temperature, and then can be refrigerated for a few days, which extends the life without losing that flavor," she says.

Ever have a rock-solid avocado and a hankering for guacamole at the same time? Stinks, doesn't it? The good news is you can actually speed the ripening process of avocados and other produce simply by storing them together. "Some fruits and veggies give off ethylene gas over time as they ripen, and others are quite sensitive to this ethylene and will degrade when they come into contact with it," says Moon. Apples are a known culprit for releasing ethylene gas, so storing a hard avocado near an apple (or even putting them in a paper bag together to "trap" the gas) can speed up the ripening of both. This is the catch though: While the apple will speed up the avocado's ripening, all that ethylene swirling around will speed up the apple's deterioration, as well. Storing each kind of fruit and vegetable separately maximizes the life of your produce, says Moon. 

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