There’s something incredibly satisfying about heading home from your local farmers’ market or grocery store with a tote full of fresh produce. But, as good-intentioned as your haul may be, if you’re not careful, a substantial portion of it will ultimately go to waste.
Research estimates that almost 32 percent of food purchased by American households ends up in the trash can, which is a problem for your wallet, your healthy eating efforts, and, of course, the environment. One major difference-maker that can help ensure your produce lasts as long as possible: proper storage.
Use these storage tips to make finicky produce (lookin’ at you, avocados!) last long enough to make it into your mouth (and not your trash can).
First Things First: Use Your Fridge Drawers Properly
The first must-do for making your produce last is to actually organize your fridge properly. You know those two crisper drawers in your refrigerator? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “fruits go in one, veggies in the other.” Instead, those two drawers actually exist so that you can keep gas-producing produce away from gas-sensitive produce.
You see, some fruits and vegetables release ethylene when they reach maturity, according to Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to increase fruit and veggie consumption. The gas promotes ripening, so you want to make sure you’re not placing, say, an ethylene-producing apple next to sensitive broccoli or bananas.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet, courtesy of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to help you make sure you’re storing produce in a compatible way.
Gas producers (to store together in one drawer)
- Bananas (unripe)
Gas-sensitive produce (to store together in the other drawer)
- Bananas (ripe)
- Brussels sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
How To Make The Most Finicky Produce Last Longer
Once you’ve got that out of the way, use the following tricks to help your produce go the distance.
Avocados are notorious for being unripe one day and spoiled the next. As soon as your avocados have ripened to your liking, transfer them to the fridge, says dietitian Erica Julson, M.S., R.D.N. (Ripe avocados, by the way, are dark green to nearly black, slightly bumpy, and yield to pressure without leaving indentations, according to Avocados from Mexico). The cool temperature in the fridge will keep them perfectly ripe for up to five more days.
Once you slice open your avocado, brush the exposed flesh of whatever you’re not using with lemon juice before popping it back in the refrigerator, says Annie Singer, food entrepreneur and founder of Reciply. The citric acid in the lemon juice slows down that unsightly browning.
To keep leafy salad greens (spinach, kale, romaine, etc.) fresh, place one to two paper towels in the container with them, says Angela Lago, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
“This method has allowed me to keep greens fresh and crisp up to twice as long as normal, because the paper towel absorbs the moisture instead of the moisture sitting on the produce,” she says. For best results, replace the paper towels frequently (once they become moist).
If your greens are stored in a plastic container, simply place one to two paper towels over the top of them. If they’re in a plastic produce bag, wrap the paper towels around the greens.
To prevent carrots from getting dry and mushy, place them in a jar full of cold water to keep them crisp, says dietitian Brenda Peralta, R.D. Your next best option is to keep them in a perforated plastic bag.
Fresh raspberries and strawberries go bad extremely quickly when they’re stacked on top of each other, says chef Rosanna Stevens. “Berries have a high water content so are prone to mold and once one goes bad, the rest follow,” she says. Since it’s typically the berries in the middle of the container that start to turn first, she recommends transferring them onto trays (or into larger, shallow containers) lined with paper towel in as few layers as possible to keep that moisture in check.
Refrigerating fresh herbs in a jar, standing upright in an inch of water, is a great way to drastically extend their shelf life, Singer says. Additionally, when purchasing packaged herbs, look for paper or cellophane packaging rather than plastic, since plastic cuts the plants off from oxygen, promoting spoilage, according to The Farmer’s Almanac.
Rule number one for making bananas last is to keep them away from gas-producing fruits like apples. Hanging them up on a banana hanger can also keep them from bruising. According to Dole, bananas fare best when they’re stored at around 54 degrees Fahrenheit in a darker room without direct sunlight. If it’s too warm and sunny, they’ll ripen quickly. (At the very least, keep them far from any sunny kitchen windows.)
Once bananas are ripe, you can pop them in the fridge. And if you plan on keeping cut banana in the refrigerator, squirt a little lemon or pineapple juice on it to prevent browning.