Proper produce storage

Storing and using produce properly saves money and cuts down on waste.

The peak growing season is just around the corner and soon we will be visiting farmers markets, local grocers, our own gardens or maybe even a neighbors’ garden to enjoy the wonderful produce so many of us like to consume. But once we bring home this wonderful produce, how do we keep it to maintain its peak freshness and healthy nutrients?

Most fruits and veggies are easily bruised when not handled carefully. If you are harvesting, treat the produce carefully. Tossing fruits and vegetables into baskets or boxes may not leave visible bruises and damage, but decay can soon begin under the skin. Some produce will not store well if it is bruised.

Understanding how to properly store produce is important to keeping your taste buds happy. The Produce for Better Health Foundation recommends the following:

  • Keep tomatoes, unripe melons, pears, peaches and nectarines at room temperature to ensure better flavor. They will ripen and become sweeter. Once they have ripened you may store these products in the refrigerator, if you slice them they must be refrigerated after two hours. Sometimes as fruit ripens it releases gas, which may impact other fruit near it. It is a good idea to keep different fruit separate from one another to maintain freshness, as long as possible and avoid the ripening process taking place too quickly.
  • Berries will last longer if kept in a refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they will also have better flavor if they are consumed within three days of purchase. They should be washed in cold, running water just before eating. Cherries can be handled in this same manner. Grapes will taste best within the first few days of purchasing, but can be kept in the refrigerator up to two weeks. Citrus fruits, oranges, grape fruits, lemons and limes can be stored for a few weeks at room temperature, but last longer if stored in the refrigerator.
  • Vegetables offer different storage methods. Corn will taste best when eaten right away. Storing corn in the refrigerator for any length of time turns the naturally occurring sugar into starch. Leafy greens should be refrigerated and eaten within two days. Green and yellow beans should be refrigerated and used within three to four days. Lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers need to be refrigerated and consumed within one week. Celery, cabbage and bell peppers can be kept one to two weeks. Onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash will last several weeks in a cool, dry place. Keep potatoes away from light to prevent greening on the skin.

Michigan State University Extension recommends keeping storage areas clean and well ventilated to help increase quality and food safety. All produce should be stored unwashed, unless it appears very dirty from the field. Washing too soon removes nature’s protective coating and the produce will begin to break down faster and become mushy. Potatoes store better if they have a fine layer of soil left on the skin to reduce moisture loss and prevent the infestation of water-borne bacteria or fungi (this is why it is important to wash potatoes before peeling them). Lettuce and leafy greens should be washed right away and refrigerated, because they will remain crisper.

A Federal Study found that 96.4 billion pounds of edible food is wasted by retailers, food service businesses and consumers annually, equating to about 122 pounds of food thrown out monthly by a family of four. Of those 122 pounds, 24 pounds are fruits and vegetables. By following these simple guidelines, you will not only extend the life of your produce and save money, you will enjoy the summer’s bounty even more with its fresh tastes.

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