You bring home fresh fruits and vegetables, stash them in the refrigerator, then wonder what the heck happened to make them shrivel, rot or go limp a few days later. Much of the time, the culprit is the way you’re storing them. To keep your produce fresher longer, remember:
Fruits and vegetables don’t play well together. So don’t store them together in a refrigerator drawer, or even next to one another on the counter or in the pantry.
Because many fruits produce ethylene gas, which acts like a ripening hormone and can speed spoilage.
Vegetables need to breathe. Poke holes in the plastic bags you store them in, or keep them in reusable mesh bags. An airtight plastic bag is the worst choice for storing vegetables, according to Barry Swanson, professor emeritus of food science at Washington State University. And don’t pack veggies tightly together, either; they need space for air circulation or they’ll spoil faster.
Finally, don’t clean produce until you’re ready to use it. Washing fruits or vegetables before storing them makes them more likely to spoil; the dampness encourages bacteria growth, says food research scientist Amanda Deering of Purdue University.
Follow these storage techniques to help 10 favorite foods stick around as long as possible:
Store at room temperature in an open container, allowing air circulation. Don’t take off a clove’s protective papery husk until you’re ready to prepare it. It’s fine to store garlic next to its buddy, the onion.
Find some (clean) pantyhose. Add onions to each leg, tying a knot between each one. Hang at room temperature. If that doesn’t appeal to you, onions can be stored like garlic at room temperature on a countertop. Just keep them away from potatoes. And don’t put them in the refrigerator: The humidity and cold temperature will cause onions to turn mushy. Storing them away from light also helps keep them from becoming bitter.
Keep these in a dark and cool place, but don’t refrigerate. The cold, damp air in the refrigerator causes their starches to turn into sugars, which can affect taste and texture. Store them in a paper bag – more breathable than plastic – in a coolish spot, such as a pantry. Keep them away from onions or fruits such as apples that exude ethylene gas, which can make your spuds begin to sprout.
Cook’s Illustrated magazine tested four ways of storing asparagus; the best one, hands down, was to trim half an inch off the end of the stalks, then stand them up in a small amount of water (covered loosely with a plastic bag) in the refrigerator, like a bouquet. They stay fresh for about four days. Retrim the ends before using.
First, trim off any green tops; they draw out moisture and cause carrots to go limp pretty quickly. Trimmed, unpeeled carrots can be refrigerated in an unsealed zip-top bag in the crisper drawer for about two weeks. Trimmed carrots (such as baby-cut carrots or carrot sticks) will last longer when kept submerged in a tightly covered container filled with water. Change the water frequently, Deering advises.
6. Brussels sprouts
They last longer on the stem. Refrigerate the stem end in water and break off sprouts as needed. If you bought them as loose sprouts, refrigerate them unwashed and untrimmed in an unsealed zip-top bag in the crisper drawer. Trim off outer leaves before cooking. Keep in mind: The longer they’re stored, the stronger their flavor will be.
They hate to be cold. Anything below 50 degrees will cause them to spoil faster, according to researchers at the University of California at Davis. If you must refrigerate them, do it for no more than three days. Cucumbers also are sensitive to ethylene gas, so keep them away from bananas, melons and tomatoes.
To keep it crisp, refrigerate it wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, not plastic wrap, so the ethylene gas it produces can escape. Rewrap tightly after each use. Store celery sticks like carrot sticks: submerged in water in a tightly covered container.
Stem side up or down? Refrigerator or countertop? The debate continues, but North Carolina tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes, says the evidence in favor of storing standard-size tomatoes stem side down (which Cook’s Illustrated advised in 2008) is scant at best. It might help keep moisture from collecting around the stem and causing spoilage, he concedes, but “it really depends on the type of tomato: A thin-skinned, delicate heirloom will have a different result than a thick-skinned supermarket variety.”
More important: Cook’s Illustrated and others have done an about-face when it comes to tomato refrigeration. As long as tomatoes are fully ripe, a few days in the fridge won’t ruin their flavor – and it will extend their shelf life. So let whole tomatoes ripen on the counter, then store them stem side down on a plate in the refrigerator. Cut tomatoes do better in an airtight container so they don’t pick up any off-flavors. Let tomatoes come to room temperature before serving.
Break up the bunch, as charming as it might look. Then wrap each stem in plastic wrap. That will reduce the emission of ethylene gas, forcing the fruit to ripen more slowly. Once a banana reaches the desired amount of ripeness, you can refrigerate it; the cold will keep it from ripening further.