Tips To Keep Produce Fresh

by | Jun 11, 2012
spring vegetables

Vegetables

“How do you store fruits and veggies so they don’t go bad? It seems like I can never keep things fresh…”

I employ several different strategies to keep my produce in good condition until I’m ready to eat it. Here are my tricks for buying, cooking and maintaining the freshest fruits and vegetables.

Shop Regularly

Although it is probably self-evident, I think it is important to state that the freshest vegetables are the ones you bought today. They are even fresher if you get them at the farmers market (picked yesterday) rather than a grocery store that imports produce from around the world. In order to keep fresh vegetables and fruit in the house and eat healthy, you must shop for produce and groceries at least once a week.

Download my free guide for more tips on How To Get Started Eating Healthy.

Shop Strategically

This is my true secret to keeping food fresh. Different foods have different shelf lives, and you can take advantage of this fact when planning your meals for the week. Always make sure you buy a few robust vegetables for your Thursday and Friday night dinners (or try to schedule your restaurant dates for later in the week).

Cruciferous vegetables (both leaves and roots) store the best and can last well over a week in the crisper. Examples of cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, chard, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Root veggies include carrots, beets, parsnips, sunchokes and potatoes.

Summer squash can last for many days in a dry plastic bag in the crisper, and winter squash can last weeks on a shelf. Eggplant has a shelf-life similar to summer squash and can be stored in the same manner. I’ve heard eggplant keeps even better outside the fridge, but I’ve never tried.

Delicate vegetables like lettuce, spinach and other spring greens are not as robust and should be eaten more quickly. Juicy fruits like berries, stone fruits and even tomatoes are more time sensitive and should be incorporated into meals earlier in the week.

Cook Intelligently

Having a rough idea of what meals you are going to make during the week can help you keep veggies fresh in several ways. In addition to planning your dishes around which vegetables last the longest, you can also prepare large batches of food early in the week then freeze or refrigerate the leftovers to eat later.

Avoid over-shopping by buying ingredients to use in multiple different dishes, rather than buying extra items for vastly divergent menus. For example, rather than purchasing red peppers for a stir fry and radishes for a salad, you can skip the radishes and add your extra pepper to your salad instead.

When buying herbs, I like to get one bunch of Italian parsley (it keeps a long time and is incredibly versatile) and only one bunch of a more delicate herb like thyme or cilantro. With this strategy you can explore recipes of different cuisines that utilize similar ingredients. For instance, if I have cilantro I may make Mexican food one night and a Vietnamese dish another night. Both incorporate fresh vegetables and herbs, but the flavor profiles of these cuisines are entirely different.

This is where it comes in handy to have a well-stocked pantry–go beyond the basics and learn to work with ingredients like fish sauce, coconut milk or quinoa. This is a great way to delve into a cuisine and explore different flavors.

Store Properly

Proper food storage can also go a long way in keeping your produce as fresh as possible. Generally speaking, most vegetables maintain their crispness best in the aptly named refrigerator compartment, the crisper. Crispers have different humidity settings than the rest of the fridge and are optimized for vegetables.

I find that leafy greens and herbs keep best in dry plastic bags or tuppers. When you get home with a large bag of salad greens from the farmers market, rinse them clean and spin them in a salad spinner. Let them sit out for an hour or so to completely dry, then put them in large tuppers to store for the week. With this strategy the crisper is not necessary.

Most fruit (including tomatoes) I keep outside the refrigerator to protect the taste, but berries are an exception. I have had fantastic luck using a reader’s suggestion to keep berries in a jar or tupper with the lid closed tight. I always put my berries away immediately after getting them home, trying to handle them as little as possible to keep any mold or bacterial spores out. I try to roll the berries into their new container without actually touching them with my hands. I buy berries much more often now :)

Revival Techniques

Sometimes despite your best efforts you end up with a wilted head of lettuce or a floppy bunch of basil. But if wilting is your only problem and the plant looks otherwise edible (still green and free of mold), all is not lost!

The reason plants wilt is they lose water from their cells to the environment through osmosis. But the osmotic properties of leaves can be used to your advantage. You can revive wilted greens by submerging them in a bath of cold water for 30-60 minutes, which replenishes the water in the leaves and allows them to regain their crispness! It is astounding how much they will perk up.

I learned this trick from a friend and fellow scientist–one of the many advantages of being a little nerdy.

Mold is another issue when storing fruits and vegetables, but you can sometimes salvage a batch of food if you catch it early and carefully remove all traces of it to keep it from spreading to the rest of your produce (this may involve finding a new container for the uncontaminated portion). Remember, mold is a living, growing thing that breeds more of itself. Keeping foods in sealed containers and touching them as little as possible with your hands can help control it.

Finally, fruits produce gases that cause neighboring fruits to ripen more quickly. If you have something that is perfectly ripe or over ripe, you may want to keep it away from the rest (unless of course you want the nearby fruit to ripen faster). Likewise, keeping fruits in bags will trap the gases and cause them to ripen more quickly.

Conclusion

With a few tricks and a strategic plan it is possible to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the house for an entire week. Beyond that it is a little tough if you want your food to be truly fresh.

How do you keep your veggies fresh?
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This article was originally published June 22, 2009.

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39 Responses to “Tips To Keep Produce Fresh”

  1. Darya Pino says:

    BTW, does anyone have any experience with these products being advertised on this post to keep produce fresh longer? I’ve never used them.

    • jplsr says:

      I have had good luck using Debbie Meyer Green Bags, which are available in most supermarkets in the Washington DC area. The enemy of fresh produce is ethylene gas which is generated by all vegetables and fruits. The green bags are made with “a natural mineral Oya” (I don’t know what that is) which absorbs ethylene gas, keeping the produce fresh for a week, and often two. The bags look expensive, but they can be washed (and dried) and reused up to ten times.

  2. Linda Simon says:

    I have not tried the plastic containers. It seems I remember some mention of nanotechnology used here. That scares me. Maybe you can research that. And I am using far less plastic and going to glass containers.

    I had a salad spinner and liked it. It saved using up lots of counter real estate waiting for the greens to dry. But it took up lots of storage space and I eventually gave it another home.

    The berries in a jar is a great idea. I’ll have to try that. We have a huge raspberry patch and when it is in full swing the berries come faster that we can eat them. So I put a bunch in the blender, whirl for a few seconds, fill small freezer containers, then freeze. These are handy for pancake or dessert toppings. Or to mix in with smoothies.

    You can also put the whole berries on a rimmed sheet pan in a single layer and freeze. Then put just the berries into freezer containers. Pop them into your mouth frozen and whole. That will wake you up.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks Linda, great advice!

      • jayjay says:

        i always using newspaper to cover any types of fresh vegatable and fruit before put it on refregirator.. and its work to make it fresh.. but i am worried about the health.. are there any effect.

      • Dee says:

        Sounds like the ink could be toxic…

      • Canuckette says:

        I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic which comes into contact with my fruits and veggies. I can’t eliminate it (I still stand my fresh herbs in a mug of water with a plastic bag over top), but I’ve cut down. I find that plastic does keep lettuce fresh longer, but I’ve started wrapping veggies like greens and celery in damp tea towels and I store that in the plastic bag.
        Here are two hand sites which I refer to quite often:
        http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1103
        http://myplasticfreelife.com/images/Berkeley%20Farmers%20Market%20Tips%20for%20Storing%20Produce.pdf

        BTW, it’s easy to know if your newspaper ink is safe or toxic. I looked into that because I was putting shredded newsprint in my vermicomposter at school and I didn’t want to kill my worms. You need to check with the individual newspapers to know what kind of ink they use. The four newspapers here all use soy-based inks, which are OK, as least for worms. I’m assuming they aren’t toxic for humans. Of course, don’t use the glossy inserts.

  3. Joan Nova says:

    I agree with your storage techniques and do basically the same thing. I’ve also started using the ‘green plastic bags’ and I think they work.

  4. Condo Blues says:

    I store my produce in the crisper in a plastic produce bag. If it’s starting to look a little limp, I pull it out of the crisper and onto a shelf in the refrigerator to remind me I have to use it before it spoils.

    Now that I have enough shopping totes, I’d like to start switching over to cloth produce bags. My husband says he thinks the plastic produce bags will keep the food fresher in the refrigerator longer than cloth. Does anyone use cloth produce bags? What do you think?

    • Darya Pino says:

      I’d love to know about those bags too. I also saw some nylon bags on Etsy that I’ve considered getting.

      • Maria says:

        I use a microfiber salad bag to keep greens in and it makes a great deal difference! Lettuce last a 4-5 days longer (both loose and head). I’ve started keeping celery in them too. I just got a bunch of celery from my CSA on tuesday and almost a week later it’s still crisp, bright green and the leaves are still full of life. I also use cloth bags to keep the veggies I buy at the farmers markets and I can tell that the veggies last longer. The cloth allows it to breath and have access to moisture without getting trapped in the plastic and eventually getting slimy and gross. HUGE FAN of the cloth bags.

  5. Thanks for answering my question, Darya! I bookmarked it so I can reference it later. :-)

  6. Jeff Clark says:

    One trick that seems to work for any berry or produce that you store in a plastic bag or tupper in the refrigerator is to include a dry paper towel with the berry or lettuce. That seems to help absorb some of the moisture and we think we get a day or two more of storage time. If the paper towel seems too wet after a few days, just replace it with a new dry one.

    • Dee says:

      Yes… Mom say it does…I don’t make it a point to do though… When she comes over, she opens the fridge and may wrap, the lettuce , celery… Occasionally.. Just can’t stop mothering! :)

  7. LuckyHouse says:

    I love using the Still Tasty app on my iPhone to keep track of how long my farmers’ market purchases will stay fresh. I look up all the goodies on my iPhone as soon as I get back from the market on Saturday mornings – the app tells me the best way to store each item, how long it will last and even alerts me when it’s time to use something up before it goes bad.

  8. Tracy Sinclair says:

    I store herbs (cilantro, parsley) & asparagus with the ends in a glass of water (like flowers). Seems to keep them from going limp or drying out.

  9. laura says:

    At my farmers in San Diego market bunches of dill, parsley and cilantro are gigantic! I treat them as flowers: clean and separate all broken parts out. After a fresh stem cut, I stick the them in a glass of water and cover with plastic bag. No leaves should touch the water! This “bouquet” keeps in the fridge for more than a week! :)

  10. Sheila says:

    I’ve been using the “Forever Green” bags for my produce, and I don’t think I’m hallucinating when I say they work extremely well. They are reusable too, which is great—I take them to the farmer’s market with me and put my produce in those so I don’t have to throw anything away when I get home.

  11. Timmy says:

    There are three elements to successful produce storage — and all three are vital!

    Temperature. You will want the temperature to remain about 38-48
    degrees at all times.

    Ethylene gas control. Produce naturally gives off ethylene gas, which speeds up ripening. You must use an ethylene gas absorber to protect your entire storage space from ethylene gas.

    Humidity. Ideal humidity can be neither too dry or too wet. Most plastic bags do not breathe and end up keeping produce too wet. We recommend poking a few dozen holes in your plastic bags with a fork in order to keep produce humid, but not dripping. Sometimes with items like broccoli, a damp paper towel in the plastic bag can help maintain humidity. Keep produce in the refrigerator crispers.

    Foe ethylene gas control use the Bluapple (www.thebluapple.com). It lasts three months and is refillable. It easily saves cost of the product every month.

  12. Angela says:

    We purchased these refillable E.G.G containers, and are VERY happy with them. We bought the package with two E.G.G.s, one for each produce drawer, and a year’s refill of the ethylene gas absorbing pouches. You replace the little pouch every three months and then pour the “used” pouch contents on your plants as fertilizer, or discard. Simple, environmentally friendly, and I’ve really seen a difference in the length of time my produce stays fresh using these. I’m certain I’ve made up the cost of these in non-wasted produce!

    http://www.amazon.com/Ethylene-Guardian-Refill-Combo-Package/dp/B000QA536A

    I also recently heard about storing potatoes in paper rather than plastic, to help keep them from sprouting. I’m doing the same with my onions, so far so good.

  13. Karen B. says:

    I cut off the ends of greens and herbs then put them in a vase and they stay crisp and they’re beautiful at the same time. Right now I’ve got parsley, cilantro, green onions and a tomato (upsidedown with it’s stem in a tiny drop of water) in a glass in my kitchen window. You can fully revive spinach that looks positively dead this way in about an hour.
    Keep ginger in a pot buried in potting soil. When you want some just dig it up, snap some off and re-bury it. It may grow a stem and that’s ok too. You can snap that off if you like or let it grow tall. It’ll keep growing in the dirt and depending how often you use it, it’ll last quite a while. Sage is VERY easy to grow in a pot, just trim it back when it starts to look bad and it’ll grow beautiful again. I’ve had the same plant for 10 years or so.

  14. Karen B. says:

    Oh, I forgot, celery can be cut into lengths, covered with water and refrigerated and it’ll go from limp to crisp in no time.

  15. Chris says:

    I use the Debbie Meyer green bags and they really extend the freshness. Hefty also has a zip version of the green bags, but they aren’t big enough for big veggies like celery. You can re-use the bags so the cost makes sense.

  16. julie says:

    I use these tight sealing containers called Lock-n-Lok, or something very similar, that I get at Kamei, though any Asian kitchen supply place would probably work. I keep salad greens edible for 2 weeks, as well as microgreens, cilantro, asparagus, carrots, red cabbage, etc. When I open them, I wipe off the water that condenses on top. I love them, and they are easily washable. Yes, they are plastic, but I think that’s okay for storing, they’re definately not for microwave or heating. Fruit doesn’t work in these, other than bell pepppers and eggplants, vegetably fruit, but it keeps most stuff fresh far longer than it seems

  17. Mary Swanson says:

    An E.G.G., Ethylene Gas Guardian, absorbs that ethylene, and preserves the freshness of your produce. You’ll be amazed at how much less food you’ll waste, and how much money you’ll save.

    Check this for more info
    http://fresh-fruits-and-veggies.com/

  18. amui says:

    I wrap them in paper towels, this lets them breath while protecting them from the dryness of the refrigerator.
    In the country I come from we used newspaper sheets -no paper towels there-, which has made me think I’ve ingested some potentially harmful ink, but it always worked.
    Also, I usually take the not-so-fresh looking veggies at the end of the week and make them into a soup, chopsuey, or any other dish that includes them cooked.

  19. Joe says:

    That “revival technique” will come in handy… thanks.

    -Joe

  20. ginger k says:

    This is probably a dumb question, but what is a tupper?

  21. Patricia says:

    I have heard but, have never done this. You can blend up your herbs and put them in ice cube trays and freeze them and when it comes time to make soup or other dishes you throw the cubes right into the so that you have “fresh herbs” on hand. Just a suggestion. :)

    • Dee says:

      Yes! My mom does that…..She does a big batch – thyme, chives, garlic, ginger etc… And stores them in small containers. Takes out one and put in fridge very 3-5 days… Lasts fresh for months …. Actually she gives me some when she makes … So I don’t have to do the work :)

  22. Dee says:

    Darya, this is very good article and interesting question. I think the perishable nature of veggies make people avoid them, but that’s Gods way of saying eat them all up before they spoil! I try not to leave the vegs in the crisper for too long…

    We do Market shopping once every 2-3 weeks. A lot of veg! We’re a family of four and I encourage veg with every meal – even snack ( so it won’t waste) these activities take place close to the time of purchase:
    1. Fruits – wash and place in bowl on kitchen table – ready to eat and ready to pack in lunch bags. (this is supplemented by the fresh fruit I pick up from the office every day)
    2. Vegetables – i buy fresh from the market, go through as much prep as my energy would allow – wash, cut, peel, package in zip lock gallon bags then freeze raw. Or i may cook a big batch right away then freeze in containers- so they can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner, on pizzas, pita, roti, in omelets, with rice etc . Eg. String beans, Tomato choka, Spinach, pumpkin, ochre, pak choy, egg plant etc.
    3. Raw Salad veg – I wash and chop – make ready to eat- place in glass bowls in the fridge – grapes, pineapple watermelon, lettuce, salad spinach, romaine, cucumber, tomato, radish, carrots ,for snacks or to accompany meals 
    4. Bits and pieces of veg that remain and about to go bad – I cut up and throw them in a soup….

    I do AIM for very little wastage. :)

  23. Canuckette says:

    BTW, for info about plastic and reasons to avoid it or to reduce its use, watch the movie Bag It!.

  24. Thanks for the tips~ I usually try to find those Green Bags, that helped A LOT!

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