With so many of us sheltering in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and cutting down unnecessary trips to the grocery store, not wasting food is more important than ever. But what about all the fresh, colorful, healthy produce – the fruits and vegetables that should be part of everyone’s daily diet? Should they stay out on the counter or go into the fridge? Should they be stored in plastic or paper bags or neither? Some general rules apply to many kinds of produce. When you bring vegetables home from the supermarket, remove any rubber bands or twist-ties, as these can scar the produce and give bacteria a convenient point of entry. If you store fruit or vegetables in a bag, whether paper or plastic, poke some holes in it to let the produce “breathe.” Another good thing to remember is that you shouldn't store fruit and vegetables in the same bag, or even too close to one another. To get the most out of your produce, follow these expert storage tips.
Apples might look pretty, all shiny and bright, heaped in a bowl on the counter. But if it's longevity you're after, it's better to store them in your refrigerator's crisper drawer with a damp paper towel over them. A colder refrigerator is better. According to some sources, the fruit's lifespan shrinks for every 10 degrees above 30ºF . It has also been said that apples soften 10 times faster at room temperature than when refrigerated.
If you buy this bitterish salad green in a plastic clamshell or sealed bag, just refrigerate it. Note the use-by date on the package, however, and discard the arugula if it gets too old. Bacteria can develop on the leaves even if they still look healthy. If you buy it unbagged, either loose or tied in bunches, trim the root ends, then wrap it in a damp paper towel and put it into a vented paper or plastic bag.
Keeping the spears fresh and crisp is easy: Just trim the ends slightly, then stand the asparagus upright in a jar or glass half-filled with water, fit a plastic bag loosely over the tops of the spears and refrigerate them.
Cut the greens off the beets, then store both parts in separate vented bags in the refrigerator. (Beet greens may be cooked like Swiss chard or kale; younger, tender leaves can be tossed in salads.)
Summer berries are delicate and tend to grow moldy quickly. Some experts counsel washing them in a vinegar bath (three parts water to one part vinegar), then spinning them dry in a salad spinner and storing them in a partly opened container lined with paper towels. An easier plan for blackberries and other varieties is to pick out and discard any berries that look damaged or are beginning to mold, wash the good ones gently, spread them out in a single layer on a plate or platter lined with paper towels, then refrigerate them.
Blueberries are hardier than blackberries or raspberries but should still be washed gently, with any crushed or moldy ones discarded. They're not porous like blackberries and raspberries, so don't need to be spread out in a single layer to avoid spoilage. Instead, dry them thoroughly and store them in a vented plastic bag.
Resist the urge to wash cherries when you first bring them home; it might cause them to split or to spoil too fast. Instead, store them in the refrigerator in an uncovered bowl or a paper or plastic bag left open at the top. Wash them just before eating.
The best way to deal with fresh corn is to eat it as soon as possible. Its sweetness starts to dissipate the moment it's harvested, so the longer you wait to eat it, the less enjoyable it will be. If you have to store it, simply refrigerate it, unshucked.
9. Leafy herbs
Leafy herbs like basil, cilantro, mint and parsley should be treated like flowers. Trim their root ends, then put them in jars of cool water and set them aside at room temperature and use them as soon as possible.
If you buy lettuce leaves in a clamshell or sealed bag, just refrigerate it – but consume it by the use-by date on the package, as bacteria can develop even when the leaves still look healthy. Heads of leaf lettuce and loose assortments of leaves (like mesclun mixes from the farmers market) should be washed and dried very thoroughly, then stored in the refrigerator in a vented paper bag with a piece or two of paper towel. Head lettuce, like iceberg, can simply be refrigerated in the crisper drawer.
Mushrooms sold in plastic-wrapped cartons can simply be refrigerated as is, and lightly washed or wiped off with a damp paper towel just before using. Loose mushrooms, especially wild varieties, are best stored in vented paper bags in the crisper drawer, and also lightly washed before use.
If your peaches are ripe, refrigerate them in an uncovered bowl. To ripen them, put them into a closed paper bag for a few days at room temperature, then refrigerate them in a bowl, uncovered, when they've ripened.
If you buy sugar snaps, snow peas or shucked English peas in bags, simply store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook them. Unshucked English peas or sugar snaps or snow peas you buy loose should be refrigerated in a vented paper or plastic bags.
Treat pears like peaches: If they need to ripen, close them inside a paper bag and let them sit for a few days at room temperature, then refrigerated in an uncovered bowl.
To distribute the sweetness evenly in the fruit, trim the green top off the pineapple without exposing any yellow flesh, then turn it upside down in a pot or bowl and let it sit on the counter for a couple of days. Then, turned right-side-up, it will keep for a few days at room temperature.
These are the most fragile of summer berries, so wash them gently, discarding any squashed or moldy ones, then spread them out in a single layer on a plate lined with paper towels and refrigerate them.
If it's packaged in a clamshell or sealed bag, simply refrigerate it – but pay attention to the use-by date, as leaves might develop bacteria even if they look fine. Wrap unpackaged spinach leaves loosely in a damp paper towel and keep them in the crisper drawer.
Strawberries should be stored in vented plastic bags in the refrigerator, unwashed, and then gently but thoroughly rinsed (they tend to have high concentrations of pesticide residue) before eating.
Treat turnips like their fellow root vegetable, beets. Cut off the greens, then store the halves in separate vented bags in the refrigerator. (Cook the greens as you would kale. They're equally nutritious, and actually higher in fiber, protein and calcium.)