No one wants to spend their hard-earned money on food just to throw it away because it spoils. While industrial refrigerators in a restaurant or bakery provide ample room to separate all of your ingredients, storing food at home can require a bit more space management.
Produce in particular can spoil very quickly if not stored properly — plus, fruits and veggies taste best when they’re fresh and ripe. So we’re breaking down how to properly store and refrigerate some of the most common fruits and vegetables.
Fruits to Refrigerate
- Apples: Whether you’re snacking on the slices or using a tart variety for an apple pie, you’ll want to store these pome fruits in the fridge to keep them fresh. Keep your apples in a crisper drawer and maintain them above freezing to prevent them from getting mushy. Separate an apple that has soft or overripe spots and eat it sooner than later, as keeping it with the bunch will cause the rest to rot as well.
- Berries: A favorite fruit to add a burst of flavor to oatmeal, smoothies, or desserts, berries of all kinds can and should be refrigerated. Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries should all be refrigerated and ideally, eaten as soon as possible. It’s recommended not to rinse them until you’re ready to eat them, since dampness can contribute to mold growth in the fridge.
- Cherries: Cherries are a delectable treat that offer a host of nutrition benefits. But beware of not storing them properly… Even an hour at room temperature can affect the quality of cherries. These fruits demand immediate refrigeration. As with berries, it’s best to rinse cherries directly before consumption.
- Grapes: It’s true, grapes make a lovely centerpiece in a bowl on the kitchen table. But they store much better in the refrigerator. In fact, you can preserve grapes at their plumpest and juiciest for up to two weeks in the fridge. Grapes from the supermarket often come in a perforated plastic bag that is perfect for storing them. Not ready to use your grapes right away? You can rinse them and leave them to dry individually or in small clusters, then pop them in a sealable plastic bag or airtight storage container and keep them in the freezer for up to 12 months!
- Lemons: A zesty lemon slice can give a citrusy boost to beverages like water or tea, while half or whole lemons can add a ton of flavor to salads, pastas, desserts, and chicken or fish dishes. Lemons actually last up to four times longer in the fridge before hardening and becoming unusable. Store lemons together in a sealed plastic bag to give them longevity.
- Kiwis: These tiny, fuzzy fruits continue to ripen after they are picked. If you want to accelerate that process, leave these tangy kiwis at room temperature to soften them up. But kiwis last best in the fridge and can be stored there for up to several weeks.
Fruits Not to Refrigerate
- Avocados: There are some fruits that seem to take forever to ripen, and then remain that way for a very short window of time. One of those foods is the avocado — which is generally at its most ripe, edible point for only two to three days at the very most. These fruits are a bit finicky, and it’s not always easy to tell where they are in the ripening process. Using an unripe avocado can ruin the texture of a good guacamole or avocado spread. These fruits ripen at room temperature, but the process halts when they are put in an extremely cool environment (like the fridge.) However, avocados that have been cut open that are being saved for later use should be wrapped in airtight plastic and refrigerated. To keep them from turning brown, try squeezing some fresh lime juice on them — the citrus contains antioxidants that fight the oxidation that causes browning.
- Bananas: Does the idea of that sweet scent of banana bread or banana nut muffins on a weekend morning have your mouth watering? Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, but they’re also very susceptible to damage from cold temperatures. While it may be tempting to try to preserve them in the fridge, it’s best to leave them on a countertop or hanging in a fruit hammock. Refrigerated bananas will soften and turn brown quickly.
- Pears: A welcome addition for sweetness in salads and desserts, this fruit is intentionally picked when it is unripe and does best at room temperature. Pears can be left on the countertop and will begin to soften when they are fully ripe. If you want to delay the ripening process, you can pop them in the fridge for a day or so, but keeping them out of colder temperatures will prevent them from getting mealy.
- Tomatoes: A staple ingredient in cuisines from around the world — from French to Italian to Indian to Polish — tomatoes are one of the most versatile fruits out there. They can be eaten on their own in the bite-sized cherry variety, used in sauces, diced and sprinkled on bruschetta, and so much more. However, if refrigerated, tomatoes can quickly develop a mealy texture due to damage in their cell walls. Therefore, the best way to keep these flavorful fruits at their peak is to allow tomatoes to mature at room temperature.
Vegetables to Refrigerate
- Leafy greens: When it comes to veggies, there are a few that simply must be refrigerated to stay fresh. Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard need to be stored in the fridge quickly or else they’ll spoil, which means drying out, turning brown, or becoming wilted. For best storage practices that will yield the freshest salads, rinse these greens when you bring them home from the grocery store, wrap them in a paper towel or tea towel, and refrigerate them in an airtight Tupperware container or sealed plastic bag.
- Asparagus: Talk about a fresh, healthy addition to a home-cooked meal. Asparagus stalks are beloved by chefs around the world for their snappy succulence and versatility across various types of cuisines. Keep asparagus spears moist by wrapping them with a damp paper towel when you bring them home from the store, or snip off the bottom inch of each stalk and store them upright in a glass of cold water in the fridge.
- Cruciferous vegetables: These crunchy veggies are the perfect companion for dips of all kinds, or can be sauteed or roasted to make a nutritious side dish. Bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower should all be stored in a crisper in the refrigerator. Since they are particularly susceptible to yellowing and spoilage from ethylene, keep them separated from ethylene-producing foods like apples, apricots, kiwis, pears, and other fruits.
Vegetables Not to Refrigerate
- Squashes: Generally speaking, root vegetables like acorn, butternut and spaghetti squashes and pumpkins should be kept in a cool, dark place like a root cellar. (Don’t have one? Try a DIY option.) This will keep them fresher for longer, and ready for use in your favorite fall and winter dishes and desserts.
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes: Another veggie family that keeps best in a cellar, potatoes and sweet potatoes will do best outside the fridge, in cool, dark places. You can stack them atop each other and cover with a cloth, if needed, to avoid sunlight.
- Eggplant: A well-loved alternative to meat in dishes like eggplant parmesan, these veggies will remain at their best if stored at room temperature. That means keeping them on the countertop until you’re ready to use them is a-okay.
Want to Learn More About How to Prepare and Store Specific Foods?
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This article was originally published on July 3, 2014, and has since been updated.