Don’t let produce rot in the fridge
photo by jslander
It makes sense to know when to buy and how to store produce so it will last longer and taste fresher. No one wants to find a great deal on fruit and later find a rotten, slimy mess in the refrigerator.
Buying marked-down produce is OK if you plan to eat it right away, but if you plan to store it, you’ll want to buy just enough of the freshest produce you can find. Like all bargains, it’s not a deal if it goes into the trash.
The following is a handy, quick reference on buying and storing produce.
BEST TIME TO BUY
Fall: apples, grapes, pears, pomegranates, cabbage, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, garlic, pears, mushrooms.
Winter: papayas, potatoes, winter squash, oranges, tangerines, radishes, lemons, grapefruit.
Spring: apricots (late spring to early summer), grapes, carrots, pineapple, strawberries, chives, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, mangoes, rhubarb, spinach.
Summer: avocados, cherries, blueberries, peaches, watermelons, raspberries, eggplant, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, plums, cucumbers, corn.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Look for good coloring and firmness and produce that is free of bruising, dents, wilting, mold, leaking, shriveling and soft spots. See www.ams.usda.gov/howtobuy for a complete guide on how to buy produce.
When buying bagged fruits and veggies, weigh the bag and buy the heaviest package. With bagged apples or lettuce, you can often get an additional serving by comparing the package’s weight.
WHERE TO STORE
Refrigerator: apples, berries, grapes, cabbage, asparagus, beans, apricots, mushrooms, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, broccoli, corn, summer squash.
Countertop to ripen, then to refrigerator: pears, avocados, peaches.
Countertop/room temperature: pomegranates, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, garlic, papayas, potatoes, winter squash, citrus fruits, pineapple, mangoes, tomatoes, bananas, onions.
Although many types of produce can be stored in the refrigerator, some are best kept at room temperature for longer freshness and best taste. The juice from citrus, for example, is far superior at room temperature than refrigerated; tomatoes won’t continue to ripen in the refrigerator, and storing potatoes in the refrigerator alters the taste because the starch turns to sugar.
ADDITIONAL STORAGE TIPS
Celery can be wrapped in foil to make it last longer or crisped by soaking it in cold water.
Overripe bananas can be frozen to use for breads and smoothies.
Paper towels can help absorb moisture for lettuce, berries and mushrooms.
If you can’t eat your produce before it goes bad, consider freezing, dehydrating or canning it.
Wash produce before using it and not before storing it because stored, wet produce can grow mold. Grapes are one exception. Be sure to dry the produce thoroughly before storing it.
Use a cold-water rinse to crisp produce such as celery, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce, and a cool- or warm-water rinse for most other produce that doesn’t require crispness.
Vegetable scrubbers work well for vegetables such as potatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
Rinse fruits with rinds because bacteria and contaminants can stick to the outside and get on the produce upon cutting. Wash bagged produce, too.
If you’re looking for a wonderful book on this topic, I recommend “Keeping Foods Fresh” by Janet Bailey (HarperPerennial, 1989). It contains everything you need to know about food selection and storage, such as when to throw things out, storage containers, what to look for in the store and your garden, and plenty of useful tips. Her opinion is conservative when it comes to storage and shelf life, which I think is safest. Just because a food might still be edible doesn’t mean it’s going to be safe consistently. Veteran food preppers will want to keep this in mind when reading her book.