Refrigerator humidity effects on produce quality

Your fruit and vegetable crispers can keep your produce in good condition longer when you control the amount of humidity they are exposed to.

The drawers in your refrigerator may be called crispers, bins or drawers. Regardless of what you call them it is important to know how to best use them so you have as high quality produce as long as possible.

Fruit and vegetable crispers are designed to maintain a higher humidity than the rest of the refrigerator, so your fresh produce lasts longer. But different types of produce have different storage needs. That is why some refrigerators give you the ability to control humidity levels by increasing or decreasing the air flow permitted into the storage bins.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following 10 tips when it comes to storing your fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator.

  • Less air flow means higher humidity.
  • Essentially, veggies like high humidity and fruits like low humidity.           
  • Leafy greens tend to fare best with higher humidity and the coolest conditions. Lettuce, spinach, collard greens and even green onions belong in this group. 
  • Apples, grapes, bell peppers, summer squash and other thin-skinned fruits and vegetables tend to like conditions that are slightly less humid than the conditions of leafy greens.
  • Citrus fruit prefers even less moisture – you can store oranges, lemons and grapefruit in a basket outside of the crispers in the main part of your refrigerator.
  • Besides controlling humidity, crispers also offer the opportunity to separate foods that don’t play well together. For example, some fruits continue to ripen after harvest. When they do so, they release ethylene gas, and that can affect other produce stored nearby. Apples, pears, plums, cantaloupes and peaches are all high-ethylene producers.  The gas can cause green vegetables to turn yellow; lettuce to be marred with rust-colored spots; asparagus spears to toughen; potatoes to sprout; and carrots to turn bitter. The best advice is to store fruits away from other produce.
  • Some fruits and vegetables do best outside of the refrigerator. Tomatoes can lose flavor, and even become overly soft, if kept too cold, so keep them on the counter instead. Although cucumbers purchased at most grocery stores have a protective wax coating, they are best stored at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 60 degrees. Storing them too long in the refrigerator can cause them to become mealy. 
  • If you refrigerate bananas, they’ll stop ripening and their skins will turn black. Keep them on the counter unless they’re becoming too soft.
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and dry garlic prefer cool, dry conditions, so keep them out of humid crispers. They actually don’t need to be refrigerated at all.
  • Cauliflower likes high humidity. Wrap cauliflower it in a damp paper towel to maintain moisture.

Paying attention to the amount of humidity your produce is exposed to will help you to maintain good quality food for the longest possible time.

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