How to Stay Fresh: Storage Tips to Maximize Produce Shelf Life


With several holidays ahead plus the normal quantity of birthdays, anniversaries, and the like, lots of people are trying to hide lots of presents. Closets, attics, trunks (of cars), trunks (at the foot of the bed), cabinets, the office, away from the dog, under the cat, and a myriad of other places are being put to use for the purpose. But stashing presents isn’t the only storage we have to worry about. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m talking about fresh produce. Whether the produce is grown out in the cold or in the warmth of a green house, don’t let the weather throw you. With these handy storage tips, you can take worry out of at least part of the seasonal storage equation.

Apples: Each variety of apple will have a different storage life, some will stay crisp longer than others. Apples will keep longest when stored in the refrigerator. To prevent moisture loss while in the refrigerator, store apples in a plastic bag. Most varieties will keep 2-3 weeks if stored in the refrigerator. Apples can also be stored at room temperature, but may only keep up to 7 days before they start to turn soft or mealy.

Arugula (5-7 days): Arugula is actually an herb in the mustard family. It is generally used similarly to salad greens, either as a substitute or as a complement. Arugula should be kept in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss, and refrigerated. It will keep for just a few days. Arugula tends to be gritty, so don’t forget to wash it just prior to using. If cooked, it should be added in just the last few minutes to prevent flavor loss and overwilting. Arugula makes a great pizza topping!

Broccoli: Broccoli should be stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for 4-5 days. Like most vegetables, broccoli will lose moisture as it ages, which you want to protect against, but you also want the broccoli to be able to breathe, so it is not a good idea to enclose it in plastic. A perforated plastic bag, or just an open plastic bag are usually the best options. During commercial transport, broccoli is packed on ice which keeps moisture level high, and temperature as close to freezing as possible, while still allowing the broccoli to breathe. However, this usually isn’t practical at home. Broccoli takes very well to freezing (if blanched first), so you may consider freezing broccoli if unable to use it within a few days.

Cabbage: If possible, do not remove outer leaves from cabbage. Outer leaves protect interior from damage and from moisture loss. However, if refrigerator space is an issue, you can remove the outer leaves, and will have a smaller head of cabbage, just know that it won’t keep quite as well. Cabbage can be used in portions, but once you cut into the interior of the cabbage, you will need to wrap the remaining portion tightly in saran wrap. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can be used raw as in coleslaw or cooked in a variety of ways. Cabbage is a food staple and is used in many types of cuisine.

Carrots: Carrots are hearty vegetable that will keep for an extended period of time. They will keep best if you can avoid moisture loss. Do this by storing carrots in a plastic bag, and by cutting off the greens about an inch or two above the carrots. Carrot greens will suck moisture out of the roots if they are left on. Carrots should also be stored away from fruits, which emit ethylene gas that may cause carrots to develop a bitter taste over time.

Greens – Collards, Kale, Chard (1-2 weeks): Greens should be placed in a plastic bag, and stored in the refrigerator. If greens start to look wilted, you can revive them by snipping the base of the stems, filling a tub with cold water, submerging the greens in the water, and placing the water tub in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours. The freshly snipped stems will soak up the cold water, and revitalize the greens. Grocery stores commonly use this trick before placing greens on their produce shelves.

Herbs, bunched: Commonly bunched herbs include basil, cilantro, and parsley. Remove band or tie, and pick out any stems or leaves that have been damaged from banding. Snip the base of the stems, wrap in damp paper towels, and store in plastic bag in the refrigerator. This will help herbs to retain moisture, and extend storage life.

Lettuce, heads: Lettuce loves moisture. Remove any wilted leaves, and dampen interior remaining leaves. Place in plastic bag, and store in refrigerator. If lettuce becomes wilted, you can revive it in a cold water bath similar to the method described for greens. However, 1 hour in the bath is usually plenty, more can result in oversaturation and wet-rot.

Strawberries: Check for any damaged or bruised strawberries, and remove them from the container. Damaged fruits release ethylene gas which signals other fruits to ripen at a faster rate. This means that one bad apple really does spoil the bunch. Berries can go bad quite quickly, so make sure they are covered, and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, strawberries will be at their juiciest at room temperature, so if possible bring them to room temperature prior to consuming.

Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes should be stored at room temperature. They attain maximum sweetness 1-2 months after being pulled from the ground and stored above 45F. Sweet potatoes often keep for over 6 months, just don’t forget about them!

Good storage practices lead to a good shelf life for great produce. It won’t be like that episode of Eerie Indiana where the people stayed young forever by sleeping in giant Tupperware containers, but it will maximize the shelf life of your food. I recommend following the detailed instructions above to increase the longevity of your produce, but below is a quick reference refrigerator vs counter list with estimated times to help you stay fresh:

3-5 days:
• Salad Mix – Refrigerate

5-7 days:
• Arugula – Refrigerate
• Beans, Green – Refrigerate
• Broccoli – Refrigerate
• Greens, Collards – Refrigerate
• Greens, Kale – Refrigerate
• Greens, Mustard – Refrigerate
• Greens, Turnip – Refrigerate
• Greens, Chard – Refrigerate
• Lettuce – Refrigerate
• Spinach – Refrigerate

7-10 days:
• Beets, Red, w/ tops – Refrigerate
• Bok Choy – Refrigerate
• Cauliflower – Refrigerate
• Cucumbers, Slicing – Refrigerate
• Eggplant – Refrigerate
• Peppers – Refrigerate
• Squash, Yellow – Refrigerate
• Squash, Zucchini – Refrigerate
• Tomatoes, Grape, Cherry – Refrigerate
• Tomatoes, Roma – Counter
• Tomatoes, Slicing – Counter
• Bananas – Counter
• Grapes – Refrigerate

10-14 days:
• Cabbage, Green – Refrigerate
• Carrots w/ tops – Refrigerate
• Kohlrabi – Refrigerate
• Radishes, Daikon – Refrigerate
• Radishes, Red – Refrigerate
• Turnips, Purple Top – Refrigerate
• Apples – Refrigerate
• Pears – Refrigerate

14-21 days:
• Potatoes, Red – Counter
• Squash, Acorn – Counter
• Squash, Butternut – Counter
• Sweet Potatoes – Counter

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