5 Tips to Extend the Life of Your Produce

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be a staple on your shopping list. Get the most life out of your fruits and vegetables – while minimizing food waste – with these simple tips to extend the life of your produce.

By
Chelsea Brinegar

We’ve all been there. You open your fridge excited to use your leafy greens in a big, beautiful salad only to find that they wilted overnight. Or maybe your bananas turned brown faster than you anticipated. Fresh fruit and vegetables can be some of the pricier items on your grocery list, so it can be a bummer when this happens.

Ripening is a natural occurrence, so this process is inevitable to a degree. But, there are a few simple tips and tricks you can utilize to help you get the most out of your produce, save some dollars, and minimize food waste along the way. Keep reading as we share five tips to extend the life of your produce.

1. It starts at the store

If you want your fruit and vegetables to last longer at home, do your best to pick the best options at the store or market. We recommend buying items that are locally grown versus ones that have been imported from far away.

To choose the best produce items, look for options that are vibrant in color with little to no signs of browning, yellowing, or wilting. Uniform color is usually a good sign indicating the fruit or vegetable was able to ripen naturally. Use your senses to explore the options available to you. When appropriate, touch items to feel for softening or smell them to gauge for freshness. Shopping with the seasons is another way to ensure your produce is fresh. A quick Google search will teach you what fruits and vegetables are in season in your part of the world.

2. Wash and dry your fruits and vegetables

When I bring my fruits and vegetables home, I like to wash them immediately by running them under some cool water. The FDA recommends not using any sort of produce wash or soap, so I don’t. The key, though, to getting the most life out of your items is to dry them before storing.

Depending on what I’m washing, I use a towel or a salad spinner to remove any water. Moisture encourages mushiness and mold growth, so getting everything completely dry better prepares them for storage.  You can also leave them out on the counter to air-dry before storing in their appropriate bags or containers.

There are some caveats to this rule. Green onions and asparagus like to be stored with their stalk bottoms in water. Submerging carrots and celery in water can help them retain their shape and keep them crunchy. I also do not bother washing items that have an inedible peel such as bananas, oranges, or avocados.

3. Wrap up your herbs and greens

Fresh herbs and certain leafy greens are delicate and delicious, but they can sadly turn slimy quite quickly if they are not stored correctly. The best way to extend the life of your herbs and leafy greens is to gently wrap them in paper towels and store in the fridge.

Some herbs come bundled together with a rubber band. Remove the band and wash under a gentle stream of water. If your greens are in packaging, remove that as well. After washing, ensure that you dry them completely. A salad spinner is a great tool to use.

Once dry, bundle them in dry paper towels. It’s best to softly bundle them, so avoid tightly packing them in there. They need some air circulation around them to breathe. Place the bundled herbs or greens into a plastic or reusable bag or container and store in the refrigerator.

4. Store items correctly

There are general rules of thumb when it comes to storing certain produce items that will help increase their shelf life. While we won’t be able cover every fruit and vegetable, we hope to give you a few usable tips to extend the life of your produce that can be implemented into your routine.

Tomatoes: Refrigerating tomatoes can lead to unwanted mushiness. Keep them sweet and juicy by storing them on the counter away from direct sunlight.

Leafy Greens: As we outlined above, your greens are best kept refrigerated, dry, and wrapped in a paper towel. Place the greens inside of a container or reusable bag.

Cucumbers: The generally agreed-upon rule for storing cucumbers is like that of greens and herbs. Wash them, dry them thoroughly, wrap in a towel, and place inside of an opened plastic bag. The opened bag promotes air flow. Place in the fridge in an area that gets cold but not too cold.

Bananas: Bananas should be kept on your countertop out of direct sunlight and preferably away from other fruits and vegetables. Once the bananas start to brown, you can place them in the refrigerator to get a little more life out of the fruit.

Avocados: Similar to bananas, avocados can be stored out in the open until they start to ripen. At that point, you can move them to the fridge if you don’t plan on using them immediately. If you have an opened avocado, store it in the fridge with the pit still in the fruit. You can squeeze a little citrus juice onto the flesh to keep it from browning.

Apples: While apples can be stored on the counter, we recommend keeping them in your crisper drawer to drastically increase their shelf life. Store them away from bananas and citrus as they emit a gas called ethylene which speeds up the ripening process.

5. Don't overcrowd your produce

I value my own personal space, and your produce does too! When storing fruits and vegetables, do your best to not overcrowd the space that they occupy. Give everyone a little bit of breathing room.

Again, moisture is an enemy of freshness; when vegetables are too crowded in a drawer, it’s difficult for air to circulate around the items. This can lead to moisture buildup and eventually mold. It might take some strategic planning and a Tetris-like strategy to find space for your grocery haul in your fridge, but your fruits and vegetables will likely thank you for it.

Not only is it important that we eat fruit and vegetables daily, but we should all commit to doing our part to minimize our personal food waste. Utilize these simple tips to extend the life of your produce. It’s a win for your health, your wallet, and the planet.