You have decided to finally get your kitchen organized. Once the cabinets have been rearranged to make everything easier to find, and infrequently used appliances have been packed off to a self-storage unit, you can move on to managing edible items. Start with produce. Because of the highly perishable nature, you can lose a lot of money unless you know how to store vegetables and fruit properly. Don’t be so quick to stow everything away in your refrigerator’s crisper, either. You may be surprised to find that the countertop is the best place for a considerable amount of fruit and vegetable storage.
One Rotten Apple
Image by Steven Lilley
There is a reason one rotten piece of fruit will spoil the bunch: it’s because as some produce ripens, it releases ethylene gas that can affect other fruits and vegetables in the same storage container. Most produce that gives off ethylene is fruit, such as apricots, bananas, cantaloupes, kiwis, peaches, pears, and tomatoes–yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit. However, the gas can affect both fruits and vegetables that are considered ethylene-sensitive. Those items of produce include apples, broccoli, green beans, watermelon, summer squash, and greens such as lettuce. Citrus fruits do not continue to ripen after picked, so they are safe.
According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, the ethylene-emitting produce should be stored at room temperature until it ripens, and then it should be placed in the fridge to prevent over-ripening. Avocados are one notable exception. Though they don’t produce ethylene, they still fall under the category of fruits that should ripen on the counter then stored in the fridge. Both in the refrigerator and on the countertop, keep ethylene-producers separate from fruits and vegetables that are ethylene sensitive to keep everything fresher, longer.
Fruits and Vegetables Keep on the Counter
Image by Geoff Peters
Because so much produce should only be stored at room temperature, you should designate a section of your countertop for fruit and vegetable storage. That area should be dry, have good ventilation, and should also be out of direct sunlight. A set of tiered hanging wire baskets is ideal for room-temperature fruit and vegetable storage. Just be sure to place the same items together in individual baskets.
Fruits that should be stored at room temperature include:
citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit)
Cucumbers, garlic, onion, eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, tomatoes, and winter squash are some of the vegetables that do best when stored at room temperature. It’s OK to store cucumbers and peppers in the fridge if you will be using them within a few days, however.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes should be kept out of the fridge, too, but they need a cool and dark storage space. If you have a root cellar, that is the best place to keep potatoes, but a well-ventilated spot in the pantry will work just as well.
Root Vegetable Storage
Image by Jason Rosenberg
Many times root vegetables such as carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips come with the greens still attached to the tops. Vegetable storage for these root veggies starts with cutting the green tops off so that they won’t drain moisture and nutrients from the vegetable. Then, you can store them loose in the fridge. However, root vegetables such as carrots will stay crisper longer if you wrap them in a damp paper towel or place them in a container of cold water. Although celery isn’t a root vegetable, the cold water bath storage trick works well for keeping the stalks crisp and crunchy.
Image by timlewisnm
Lettuce, arugula, and most leafy greens are delicate, and won’t last long if you store them wet. Lay individual leaves flat to dry, or use a salad spinner to eliminate as much moisture as possible. Wrap the leaves in a dry paper towel and store in an open container in the refrigerator.
Keeping Herbs Fresh
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Nothing beats cooking with fresh herbs, but it is a waste to buy a bundle of basil or thyme when most of it will go bad before you use it all. Fresh herbs will keep for a month or more if you trim off the bottoms and put them in a small jar or glass of water, kind of like a spray of flowers in a vase. Keep your herb bouquet in the fridge and clip off what you need, as you need it5.
What Vegetables Do You Put in the Crisper?
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If room temperature is how to store fruits and vegetables for the most part, then you’re probably wondering what the crisper drawers in the fridge are for. They are designed to better control the humidity than the rest of your refrigerator does. Most modern fridges have two crisper drawers and, if you look closely, you will notice that one drawer is marked “higher humidity” and one is marked “lower humidity” to accommodate the different needs of fruits and vegetables. Keep produce that does better with less moisture, such as lettuce and leafy greens, grapes, berries, and cherries in the low humidity drawer. Asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, and lima beans are vegetables that can go in the higher humidity drawer.
Storing Vegetables in Plastic Bags
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The plastic bag that vegetables come in is mostly for the convenience of transporting produce home. Plastic traps moisture, though, so if you use plastic for fruit and vegetable storage, your produce will rot quickly. This is especially true for mushrooms, which are difficult to store anyway. Remove fresh mushrooms from the plastic they come in and place them in a paper bag, then store them in the high humidity drawer of your fridge. Stored this way, mushrooms can keep for up to a week or more.
Perforated plastic bags are how to store vegetables, as they allow the produce to breathe and moisture to escape. If you can’t find these specialty bags for vegetable storage, use a knife to poke holes in the bags to ventilate them.