According to research conducted in 2004 at the University of Arizona, Americans toss an average of 470 pounds of food per year. That's 14 percent of all food purchased! Furthermore, we throw away about a ½ pound of fruits and vegetables daily.

You can reduce waste, extend shelf life, and retain the nutritional value of produce—plus decrease the risk of contamination of harmful bacteria—by storing and cleaning it properly. Here's what you need to know:

Proper Storage Techniques

Fruits and vegetables emit varying amounts of an odorless, harmless, and tasteless gas called ethylene. When you store foods that emit large quantities of ethylene with those that are sensitive to it, the latter ripen faster. There are exceptions; however, in general, most fruits produce ethylene and most veggies are damaged by ethylene.

1. Keep it cold

Storing food in the refrigerator extends shelf life by slowing the rate at which it breathes. Most vegetables will remain fresh in the refrigerator for four to seven days. Store vegetables separately in paper or perforated plastic bags, so those that emit ethylene do not contaminate the ones sensitive to the gas.

2. Getting greens to last

Wrap leafy greens and herbs, such as parsley, dill, and cilantro, in paper towels to absorb condensation. Then put in an airtight container or sealable bag. Asparagus lasts about four days if you store the stalks upright in a container with water loosely covered with plastic.

3. Better berries

Keep berries in the fridge in airtight containers and don't wash until you're ready to eat them.

4. Potato pointers

Store potatoes (with the exception of new potatoes) onions, mushrooms, garlic, and eggplant in a cool, dark place. Stored properly, onions, potatoes, and garlic will last for several weeks; mushrooms and eggplant generally only last a few days. Never refrigerate raw potatoes as doing so encourages the starch to convert to sugar and once cooked will have a foul test.

5. Tomato takeaway

You should also store tomatoes at room temperature and away from direct light. Once ripened, tomatoes will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.

6. The skinny on fruit with thick skin

Avocados, bananas, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, plumcots, and citrus fruits should ripen at room temperature. Mangos, melons, pears, and stone fruits should ripen on the counter, but you can store them in the refrigerator once ripe. Use a produce brush (for sturdy fruits and veggies) and always wash produce before eating or cooking.

If you're not sure how to store your favorite fruit or vegetable, follow your grocer's lead: if the grocery store does not refrigerate it, you probably shouldn't either.

Separate to Be Safe

Here are some safety tips to incorporate into your food prep routine:

  • Toss spoiled produce immediately since ripened fruits and vegetables grow mold quickly and can contaminate nearby food.
  • Keep produce whole until you are ready to eat it.
  • Buy produce last when grocery shopping and plan menus so you consume perishable food soon after purchasing.
  • Avoid cross contamination by using separate cutting boards for meat and produce.
  • When working with raw food, use separate, clean utensils for each item. Or, wash between uses with warm, soapy water when using on multiple raw or cooked food.

Allison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.




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Better Homes and Gardens. "Pack in the Nutrients: Tips for Refrigerating Produce," Web. 13 Sept 2013.

Huffington Post. "Produce You Should Never Put In The Fridge," Web. Updated 31 Aug 2012.

Vegetarian Times. "Spoiled Rotten - How to Store Fruits and Vegetables," Web. Accessed 13 Sept 2013.

Fruits and Veggies.  "Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Best Flavor," Web. Accessed 13 Sept 2013.

University of Arizona. Harrison, Jeff. "Study: Nation Wastes Nearly Half Its Food," UA News, 18 Nov 2004.