How to Clean and Store Your Produce
Having fresh produce around the house may seem like a simple endeavor, but proper storage and care of this produce is essential to reducing food waste. Wasted food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills across the country (1). As consumers, it is important to know how to properly store fresh produce to do our part in eliminating food waste.
Washing Fruits and Vegetables
Especially during a pandemic, we are eager to wash our produce as soon as we get home from the supermarket. Washing produce is important to remove harmful residues and germs that may exist on the surface of fruits and vegetables.
Generally, fresh produce should not be washed until right before you’re ready to eat it. Washing too soon may create a bacteria promoting environment, especially if the food is washed and stored for a period of time.2 Lettuce and greens are the exception. These can be washed in a salad spinner or colander and patted dry, then stored in a container or bag between paper towels.
Here are some simple and effective techniques to clean produce demonstrated by N4L’s CEO Jennifer Maynard.
The fridge seems like the best place to store your fresh fruits and vegetables, but it is important to note that not all fruits and vegetables can be stored in the refrigerator. Some produce is cold sensitive, meaning it may not last as long or provide the intensity of flavor if refrigerated. For proper food safety and storage, fridge temperatures should be set around 40℉ or lower.3
Produce that should be stored in the fridge include:
- Fruits such as apples, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, grapes, and plums.
- Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, corn, green beans, lettuce, peppers, summer squash, peas, and zucchini.
When storing fruits and vegetables on the counter, it is important to keep in mind which produce is placed near ethylene producing fruits and vegetables. Ethylene is a gas released by some fruits and vegetables that causes ethylene sensitive produce to ripen faster.4
Some ethylene producing foods include avocados, bananas, peaches, nectarines, plums, and tomatoes. They can be stored on countertops away from ethylene sensitive foods such as citrus fruits such as clementines, grapefruits, lemons, and limes.
This separation strategy also applies to refrigerated produce. Foods such as lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers are ethylene sensitive and should be kept in a separate area of the fridge from ethylene producing foods.
Pantries are great storage areas for foods like potatoes, garlic, onions, shallots, watermelon, and winter squash. These foods tend to not spoil as quickly in cool, dark environments.
Did you know raw potatoes should never be refrigerated? The cold temperature induces chemical changes which will affect both how the potato tastes and how it cooks.5
Quick Tips for Storage
- Plan Ahead: Think about what meals you will be preparing the following week and check your fridge to see what items you already have before buying more.6
- Refrigerate peeled or cut veggies for freshness and to keep them from going bad.
- First in First Out: Try to organize your fridge space so the older produce is in the front and will be used before it starts to spoil.
- Freeze any produce that you may not be using soon if it is starting to deteriorate. Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious and make for less waste! 6
- Nutrition C for FS and A. Food Loss and Waste. FDA. Published online March 5, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/food-loss-and-waste
- How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables: A Complete Guide. Healthline. Published June 5, 2020. Accessed February 4, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/washing-vegetables
- How to Keep Produce Fresh Longer - Infographic. www.eatright.org. Accessed February 4, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/homefoodsafety/multimedia/infographics/how-to-keep-produce-fresh-longer-infographic
- UCSD Center for Community Health. Ethylene in Fruits and Vegetables. ucsdcommunityhealth.org. Published 2017. https://ucsdcommunityhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ethylene.pdf
- What is the best way to store potatoes, onions, and garlic? Have A Plant. Accessed February 4, 2021. https://fruitsandveggies.org/expert-advice/what-is-the-best-way-to-store-potatoes-onions-and-garlic/
- Center. Tips to Reduce Food Waste. Fda.gov. Published 2019. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/tips-reduce-food-waste