Here’s a guide to my top food storage tips that I have learned over the years and personally use in my kitchen. I’ll include how to store various fruits and vegetables and what to do with various items after you buy them. The goal is to allow the produce to last as long as possible and still taste as good as the first day you purchased it. These are good tips to keep in mind now and beyond this time as well.
We are all now trying to limit trips to grocery stores and maximize whatever we find there. Here’s a plan to help you get the most out of your grocery store or farmers market haul. Understanding food storage tips and safety, and applying them in your kitchen is a good habit to get into. U.S. consumers throw out an appalling amount of produce with as much as ¼ of what we buy going into the trash.
It may surprise you, but not everything belongs in the refrigerator, and, like preschoolers who bring out the worst in each other, some produce needs to be separated. Many fruits produce the gas ethylene. It makes them ripen and become sweet but will make vegetables close by fade faster. For different reasons, kept side-by-side, potatoes and onions also bring out the worst in each other.
Tips to prepare your kitchen
- Have a thermometer or two in the fridge. Just like your oven needs to be the right temperature to cook, your refrigerator needs to be the right temperature to cool, 40˚F to just north of freezing. A thermometer will run you about $7 and lets you know if your fridge isn’t keeping up its end of the bargain.
- Organize your refrigerator drawers if you have them. Besides keeping the ethylene-producing fruits from the ethylene-sensitive veggies, produce drawers are designed to slightly alter the humidity. Fruits like a lower humidity and veggies a higher. The standard refrigerator climate with no protection is too drying for produce. If you don’t have separate drawers, keep fruits and veggies on different shelves.
- Prepare a dark “pantry” space. Potatoes, sweet and regular, onions (all alliums, really) except for spring onions and scallions should be kept in a dark, cool place that is not the refrigerator. No pantry? A designated drawer if it is ventilated, a shelf, or some type of ventilated box will work. Just keep onions and potatoes separate – they both produce too much moisture to be together.
- Designate fruit space on the counter. Bananas, stone fruit and avocados that need to ripen, and tomatoes always taste best when kept on the counter. Just make sure they are not baking in the sun or kept in plastic bags – both of which could hurt their freshness.
Tips for shopping at the store
- Find out the day your grocery store generally stocks new produce. This will help to make sure that you are buying produce at their freshest in the store. I also recommend going early in the morning if possible.
- Grab produce from the back of the shelf. A lot of grocery stores follow a first-in, first out organization for stocking perishables. That means the new inventory goes behind the old inventory. It might be worthwhile to grab the newest inventory, especially if you plan on storing it for a while in your fridge.
- Steer clear of damaged fruit and vegetables. If you have an immediate use for it, buying something that slightly looks damaged but not ruined, might be ok. But usually, if produce looks damaged at the store, it will decay faster and may even carry more bacteria.
- Bag produce separately from meat, poultry and fish to avoid contamination.
Tips for preparing produce after grocery shopping
- Don’t wash produce if you’re not intending to consume the same day. For the longest life, wash right before you are going to eat or prepare your food. Washing produce, especially soft foods like berries, before storing puts too much water on the fruit, making it soggy and inviting mold. For similar reasons, it is best to cut produce right before using. If you must wash them, make sure to dry thoroughly before storing.
- Keep fruits and vegetables in the plastic bags or clamshells from the store. If you have purchased at a farmer’s market, reusable mesh bags, or plastic bags with some holes poked in them will work real well.
- Don’t waste money buying special produce containers unless they help with organization. Consumer Reports tested several products on the market and found that none kept berries or lettuce much better or longer than grocer’s clamshell packaging or the plastic bags.
- Meal plan around the expected lifespans of your purchases. Food storage tips should also consider careful meal planning. For instance, if you have kale and cauliflower in your vegetable drawer, cauliflower lasts almost twice as long.
Tips for food storage for fruits and vegetables
Store these fruits in fridge:
- All pre-cut fruit
- Apples (to be kept for longer than a week)
- All berries – wash with water and vinegar (optional), remove any damaged ones and store in ventilated container lined with paper towel
- Grapes – wash with water and vinegar (optional), remove any damaged ones and store in a bowl lined with paper towel
Ripen these fruits on counter, then store in fridge:
- Most stone fruits, nectarines, peaches, plums, plumcots
- Avocados (they’re a fruit!)
Store these fruits on counter:
- Apples (to be eaten within a week)
- Bananas (until ripe and then they can be frozen)
- Most citrus: lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges
Store these vegetables in fridge:
Most vegetables need to be refrigerated. Some recommend cutting off leafy tops, of beets and carrots, for maximum freshness when storing vegetables.
- Any Pre-cut vegetables
- Green Beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Carrots – peel, cut and store in container filled with water; change water frequently
- Celery – wrap in aluminum foil for long shelf life or cut and store in container filled with water; change water frequently
- Cucumbers (others recommend keeping on the counter
- Herbs – place in jar of water with stems submerged in water and plastic bag loosely covering the herbs
- Mushrooms – place in a paper bag
Store these vegetables in cool dark pantry:
- Onions (not close to potatoes because they bring out moisture in each other which speeds aging)
- Potatoes (well ventilated paper bag helps)
Store these vegetables on counter:
- Peppers (Some recommend keeping them in the warmest part of fridge – like the door)
- Tomatoes (technically a fruit)
- Winter squashes
Can you freeze fruits and vegetables?
You can pretty much freeze all fuit and vegetables and it’s a great option for long term food storage. You can use frozen veggies and fruits, as they are, in your breakfast smoothies. It’s best not to freeze vegetables with high water content like lettuce, radishes, cabbages and cucumbers as they can become soft and mushy when thawed.
If freezing, be sure to use freezer safe containers or bags so that your produce doesn’t develop freezer burn. Frozen fruits and vegetables will last well for at least 6 months.
For more cooking resources:
- How to Stock your Pantry
- How to Stock a Freezer
- How to Cook with Canned Tomatoes
- 16 Pantry Meal Ideas
- 15 Easy No Bake Desserts
- 10 Recipes with Vegetable Broth
- Daily Breakfast Ideas to Stay Healthy
Fresh produce, unlike packaged food, does not have hard sell-by dates. Freshness – from just picked farmers market green beans to berries that may have traveled across the country – is highly varied. Let your eyes and nose help you judge. As always, when in doubt, throw it out.
If you find these tips for food storage useful, I’d love to hear from you! And if you snapped some shots of any of these tips and tricks, please share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!