How to Store Fruits and Veggies to Keep them Fresh the Longest
That fresh basil smelled just incredible when you bought it over the weekend at the farmer’s market. And those fresh, ripe tomatoes were simply to die for. Oh, and the delicate Bibb Lettuce… just heaven.
But, when it came time to whip up a crisp Paleo salad to go with tonight’s grilled, wild salmon and asparagus, all that remained was a bunch of blackened basil, wilted greens and a mushy tomato that tasted more like packaging material than something fresh from the garden.
What went wrong?
Let’s start with the basics: How long are you trying to store things?
Aren’t you going to the market each and every day to peruse what’s available, prior to sauntering home at a leisurely pace to spend the afternoon preparing a lovely meal?
Say what, Paleoista?
I’m kidding. While the scenario above would be fantastic, for most people, it’s enough of an upside to simply prepare a home cooked meal, let alone try to create something that’s going to take any significant amount of time. Which is why we need to make sure we factor in which fruits, veggies, herbs and spices to buy, how long they’re going to last and which produce items might be better off passing on if they’re not going to be used right off the bat.
The best way to lengthen shelf life is to store food in cold temperatures to slow its respiration, or ‘breathing’ process. The warmer the temperature, the faster the rate of respiration, making refrigeration critical for most produce.1
However, don’t make the mistake of trying to asphyxiate your produce, either. The worst thing to do is seal fruits and vegetables in an airtight bag, which will suffocate them and speed up decay.2
Keep in mind that some produce releases gas that speeds up ripening, which comes in handy in some cases; placing an unripe avocado next to a banana, for example, helps to ensure it’ll be ready for that salad you’re going to serve tomorrow night!
Ethylene is an odorless, colorless gas that speeds ripening and can lead to the premature decay of nearby ethylene-sensitive vegetables. Put spinach or kale in the same bin as peaches or apples, and the greens will turn yellow and limp in just a couple of days. So, the first trick is to separate produce that emits ethylene from produce that’s sensitive to it.3
We’ve got the Not-To-Dos covered. What about the To-Dos? Here are six sure tips to keep your produce fresh!
- Poke holes in the plastic bags to store vegetables, or keep them in reusable mesh bags and don’t pack veggies tightly together, either; they need space for air circulation or they’ll spoil faster.4
- Don’t clean produce until you’re ready to use it. Washing fruits or vegetables before storing dampens them and encourages bacteria growth, making them more likely to spoil.
- Keep tomatoes out of the refrigerator; the cold breaks down their cell structure, making them mushy. Once they ripen at room temperature, eat them at peak flavor or freeze them to use later in cooking.
- Keep herbs fresh by snipping the bottom of the stems, placing in a glass with an inch of water and loosely covering with a plastic bag in the fridge.
- Lettuce can be kept crisp by wrapping the entire head in a paper towel, placing in a plastic bag, and storing in the fridge, pulling off leaves as needed.
- Finally, if at all possible, try and carve out time in your schedule to get out the market a little bit more frequently. While it is a balance of being efficient and getting the shopping done, fresh is always best!
 Marita Cantwell, PhD, postharvest specialist at the University of California, Davis
 Barry Swanson, food scientist at Washington State University