You may have gotten a great deal on this season’s freshest fruits and vegetables, but if your purchases spoil before you have a chance to eat them, your great finds can quickly become a great waste of money. Wouldn’t it be great if you could preserve the life of your produce? Or, at the very least, wouldn’t it be nice if you could know when it was going to spoil so that you could use it before it’s too late?
Below you’ll find a guide for how to store produce that will help you maximize each vegetable and each piece of fruit so that you’ll get the most bang for your buck. When possible I’ll also offer you tried and true methods for using old produce so that you won’t throw it away the minute it’s overripe. We may not be able to prevent world hunger by using up more of our purchased produce, but we can surely prevent ourselves from wasting both produce and money. And if that’s not a peachy idea, I don’t know what is.
Apricots – If you purchase apricots that aren’t yet ripe, let them ripen in a paper bag on the counter for 1-3 days. Check them regularly. Once ripe, store apricots in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Soft or mushy apricots can be used in fruit soup, cakes and pies. You can also mix ripe apricots into homemade applesauce by boiling them with the apples.
Apples – Apples should be stored on the counter for up to 1 week and then placed in the fridge, where they can survive for up to one more week. Be careful not to store apples in close proximity to other produce as the gases emitted by apples can cause other produce to ripen faster than normal. Use soft apples in apple pie, apple sauce, apple cake or compote.
Artichokes – These flowery vegetables are best stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Arugula – Wash arugula in cold water and let it dry on paper towels. Wrap the clean, dry leaves in cling wrap or a tightly sealed plastic bag. Arugula is best if used within 2-3 days after washing.
Asparagus – If possible, store asparagus upright in the fridge. Keep the stems wet either in water or with a damp paper towel wrapped around the base of the bunch. Asparagus should last in its fresh form for 3-5 days when stored this way. If your asparagus is turning brown, cook it immediately. Cooked asparagus can last another 2-3 days in the fridge.
Avocados – Unripe avocados should be left to ripen on the counter. For quicker ripening, leave your avocados in a paper bag. Once ripe, avocados can be stored in the fridge for 5-7 days. If you haven’t used your avocados before they start to get mushy, make a quick guacamole and freeze it for later use. Frozen guacamole should contain lemon juice (to slow the oxidation process) and should be sealed in an air-tight container.
Banana – Bananas should be stored on the counter. Once they begin to turn brown you can extend their life by placing in the fridge for another day or two. The chill will hasten the browning process but the fruit inside should remain firm. Most people don’t know that overripe bananas can be frozen. Just put the bananas directly in the freezer for 1-3 months. They will be mushy when you defrost them but can still be used in banana cake, muffins or bread.
Beets – Wrap beets tightly in plastic before refrigerating them. They should last at least 7-10 days. Many beets last even longer. When they are starting to wilt, cook them immediately and you’ll prolong the life of your beets for another 5-7 days.
Blackberries – Store blackberries in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. There is no way to preserve the life of these delicate fruits so plan to eat them immediately after purchase.
Blueberries – Blueberries can last in the fridge for 3-5 days. Store them in an open, airy container before they’ve been washed. Wet blueberries will spoil quickly.
Broccoli – Fresh broccoli should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. It should last for 3-5 days. You can also freeze broccoli for up to 10 months. Prepare the broccoli by steaming it for 5 minutes. Let it cool completely. It will last in the freezer for up to 10 months.
Cabbage – Rumor has it that cabbages can last for months in a cool, moist place…but I don’t have a cellar in which to experiment. If you’re stuck storing your cabbage under normal conditions, place it in the refrigerator where it should last for 2-3 weeks. Pre-shredded cabbage won’t last longer than a week so make sure to eat it quickly. Make sure that your cabbage isn’t placed near the fan of the fridge where it can freeze quickly.
Carrots – Carrots can last for up to a month in the fridge. If your carrots begin to wilt before you’ve eaten them, peel them and use them in carrot cake or carrot bread which can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Cauliflower – Store cauliflower stem side down in a plastic bag placed. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Celery – Celery should be stored in the fridge, preferably in a loose plastic bag. It should last for 1-2 weeks.
Cherries – For best results, store dry cherries in a wide-mouthed bowl in the fridge. Cover the bowl with a light towel or paper towel for extra protection. Cherries stored this way should survive for 2-4 days. Slightly mushy cherries can be used in compote, fruit soup or cherry pie.
Coconut (fresh) – Whole coconuts can be stored on the counter for about a month. Cut coconut should be refrigerated where it will probably last about 5 days.
Corn – Fresh corn should be stored in its husk, in the fridge, for up to 3 days. Once it’s boiled or grilled corn can last another 5 days in the fridge.
Cucumber – Cucumbers can last up to a week in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Preserve the life of your cucumbers by pickling them or making cucumber salad with a vinegar base which can last another week or so.
Eggplant – Whole eggplant can survive for at least a week in the refrigerator. For optimal results keep it in the crisper.
Endives – See arugula (above).
Garlic (fresh) – Store garlic outside of the refrigerator in a cool, dark place that has ample air flow. Garlic stored in this way should last for 1-2 months. If you wish to store fresh garlic in the refrigerator, peel the cloves and place them in a glass jar. Pour olive oil on the garlic so that the cloves are fully covered. Garlic stored in the fridge in this way should last for at least 3 months.
Grapefruit – Store grapefruits on the counter for up to two weeks without packaging. You can also store grapefruits in the fridge in the vegetable drawer for a similar shelf life.
Grapes – Grapes should be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. They should be entirely dry and placed in a plastic bag for storage. Try to remove all spoiled grapes before placing the remainder in the fridge. Grapes should remain fresh and crisp for about a week when stored in this way.
Kiwis – Refrigerated kiwis should last for about 1-2 weeks. Unripe kiwis should be ripened in a brown bag before being placed in the refrigerator.
Lettuce – Lettuce should ideally be stored unwashed in the refrigerator’s crisper. If you must prewash your lettuce, make sure to drain it thoroughly and wrap in a paper towel before refrigerating. Keep lettuce far away from apples and pears which may cause it to wilt faster.
Mango – Unripe mangoes should be stored in pairs in a brown paper bag. When ripe, mangoes should be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
Melon (cantaloupe, honeydew) – Although most people store melons on the counter because they take up space, they should actually be stored in the refrigerator. While they don’t spoil quickly, melons lose their sweetness the longer they’ve been cut. If you really have no room in the fridge, store your melons in a cool, humid place. They should last for 5-7 days outside the fridge.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms can last in the fridge from 3-5 days when stored properly. Keep them covered with a wet paper towel or stored in a paper bag, as dark, cool places will prolong the life of your mushrooms.
Nectarines – Fully ripe nectarines should be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, where they can remain fresh for at least 5 days. Unripe nectarines can be ripened in a paper bag for 1-2 days. Overripe nectarines can be used in compote, applesauce or fruit soup.
Onions – Instead of refrigerating your onions (as many people do), store yours in a pantry or vegetable drawer, where they will remain fresh for at least 3-4 weeks. (You may want to line the drawer or pantry to contain the mess of shedding onion skins.)
Oranges – See grapefruits (above).
Peach – See nectarines (above).
Pear – Unripe pears should be stored on the counter in a bowl. You can hasten the ripening process by keeping your pears near apples or bananas. Once ripe, place pears in the fridge where they will last for about 5 more days.
Pepper (bell, chili) – Refrigerate peppers immediately to preserve them for 5-7 days.
Plums – Ripen plums in a paper bag for about 2 days. When ripe, keep plums on the counter (in a bowl) for another 3-4 days. Overripe plums can be used in fruit soup or fruit compote.
Potatoes – See onions (above).
Radish – Refrigerate dry radishes and they should last 10-14 days.
Rhubarb – Fresh rhubarb should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. It will last about 5 days. You can also freeze fresh rhubarb for up to a year. Cut the rhubarb into small chunks and place in an airtight plastic bag before freezing.
Scallions – For best results, wrap scallions in a wet paper towel and place them in the crisper of the refrigerator. They should remain fresh for about a week.
Sprouts – Keep sprouts in their original container in the refrigerator before using. They should last 2-3 days. Once the container is open, make sure all the sprouts are dry before refrigerating.
Squash – Refrigerate summer squash in a plastic bag for about 5 days.
Strawberries – Store strawberries in the refrigerator in their original packaging. Make sure they are completely dry and remove all mushy or rotten berries before refrigerating. Strawberries should last for about 3 days when stored this way. You can also freeze strawberries for later use. Wash them quickly in water and place them on a cookie sheet to freeze. When frozen, transfer strawberries to a plastic bag. They will last for up to one year in the freezer.
Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark pantry. They will last for up to a month. In most cases, mushy or brown spots can be removed from sweet potatoes so that the rest can still be salvaged and enjoyed.
Tomatoes – Ripen tomatoes on the counter in the sun. When ripe, refrigerate for another 3-5 days.
Watermelon – Store watermelon on the counter for up to two weeks. Cut watermelon will remain fresh in the fridge for about 3 days.
Zucchini – Zucchini should be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator where they will last for up to two weeks. Slightly soft zucchinis can be peeled and used in zucchini bread, soup or casseroles.