Storing Fresh Garden Produce

 

Fresh fruits and vegetables require different storage methods and can be stored for various lengths of time. Some fresh produce (onions, potatoes, tomatoes) is of better quality when not refrigerated.  All storage areas should be clean and dry.  Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.  Keep your refrigerator at 40° F or less.  If your refrigerator has a fruit and vegetable bin, use that, but be sure to store fresh produce away from (above) raw meats, poultry or fish. 

 

To wash or not to wash?  Even the experts disagree when giving advice on washing garden produce.  Some tell you not to wash before storage and some will tell you to wash off any garden dirt before even bringing produce into the home.  At issue is this:  if you bring in garden dirt on your fresh produce, you may be introducing pathogenic microorganisms into your kitchen—while, if you wash your produce before storage, you run the risk of increasing the likelihood that your fresh produce will mold and rot more quickly. 

If you choose to wash produce before storage, be sure to thoroughly dry fruits and vegetables with a clean paper towel. If you choose to store without washing, take care to shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside.  Never wash berries until you are ready to eat them.  Storing fresh produce in plastic bags or containers will minimize the chance that you might contaminate other foods in the refrigerator.  Keep your refrigerator fruit and vegetable bin clean.

All stored produce should be checked regularly for signs of spoilage such as mold and slime.  If spoiled, toss it out.   All cut, peeled or cooked vegetables or fruits should be stored in clean, covered containers in the refrigerator at 40° F or less.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Storage Chart

Fruit/Vegetable

Storage method/time

Tips

Apples

Room temperature: 1-2 days; refrigerator crisper: up to 1 month

Ripen apples at room temperature.  Once ripe, store in plastic bags in the crisper.  Wash before eating.

Asparagus

Refrigerator crisper:  up to 3 days.

Once picked, asparagus loses quality quickly. Wrap the base of a bunch of asparagus with a moist paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.  Wash before using.

Beans, green or yellow

Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days

Store in plastic bags. Do not wash before storing. Wet beans will develop black spots and decay quickly. Wash before preparation.

Broccoli

Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days

Store in loose, perforated plastic bags.  Wash before using.

Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Radish, Turnips

Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 weeks

Remove green tops and store vegetables in plastic bags. Trim the taproots from radishes before storing.  Wash before using.

Berries

Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days

Before storing berries, remove any spoiled or crushed fruits. Store unwashed in plastic bags or containers.  Do not remove green tops from strawberries before storing.  Wash gently under cool running water before using.

Brussels sprouts

Refrigerator crisper: 1-2 days

The fresher the sprouts, the better the flavor.  Remove outer leaves and store fresh sprouts in plastic bags. Wash before eating.

Cabbage

Refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Store, after removing outer leaves, in perforated plastic bags.

Fruit/Vegetable

Storage method/time

Tips

Chard

Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days.

Store leaves in plastic bags. The stalks can be stored longer if separated from the leaves.  Wash before using.

Collards

Refrigerator crisper: 4-5 days

Collards store better than most greens. Wrap leaves in moist paper towels and place in sealed plastic bag. When ready to use wash thoroughly. Greens tend to have dirt and grit clinging to the leaves.

Corn

Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 days

For best flavor, use corn immediately.  Corn in husks can be stored in plastic bags for 1 to 2 days.

Cucumbers

Refrigerator crisper: up to 1 week

Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Do not store with apples or tomatoes.  Wash before using.

Eggplant

Refrigerator:  1-2 days

Eggplants do not like cool temperatures so they do not store well. Harvest and use them immediately for best flavor. If you must store them, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Be careful as it will soon develop soft brown spots and become bitter. Use while the stem and cap are still greenish and fresh-looking.

Herbs

Refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days

Herbs may be stored in plastic bags or place upright in a glass of water (stems down). Cover loosely with plastic bag.

Lettuce, spinach and other greens

Refrigerator crisper: 5 to 7 days for lettuce; 1 to 2 days for greens

Discard outer or wilted leaves. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. Wash before using.

Melons

At room temperature until ripe

Refrigerator: 3 to 4 days for cut melon

For best flavor, store melons at room temperature until ripe. Store ripe, cut melon covered in the refrigerator.  Wash rind before cutting.

Nectarines, Peaches, Pears

Refrigerator crisper: 5 days

Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and then
refrigerate it in plastic bags. Wash before eating.

Onions and scallions

Dry onions: Room temperature 2 to 4 weeks; scallions:  Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days

Store dry onions loosely in a mesh bag in a cool, dry well-ventilated place away from sunlight.  Wash scallions carefully before eating.

Peas

Refrigerator: 2-3 days

The sugar in peas quickly begins to turn to starch even while under refrigeration, so eat quickly after harvesting. Store peas in perforated plastic bags.  Wash before shelling.

Peppers

Refrigerator crisper: up to 2 weeks

Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Wash before using.

Potatoes

Room temperature: 1 to 2 weeks

Store potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light, which causes greening.  Scrub well before cooking.

Summer squash, patty pan

Refrigerator: 2-3 days

Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Wash before eating.

Tomatoes

Room temperature; once cut, refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days

Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator.  Refrigeration makes them tasteless and mealy. Wipe clean and store tomatoes at room temperature away from sunlight.  Wash before eating. (Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further.) Store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Winter squashes, pumpkins

Room temperature for curing; then cool, dry storage area for 3 to 6 months.

Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata. Wipe clean before curing. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days.

After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50°F), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures result in a shorter storage time. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly.

The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator.

References:

Project of the Universities of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and funded by CSREES/USDA. Project 2003-5111001713