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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Best Storage Practices for Produce

For a couple of years now I have been participating in produce cooperatives. I sometimes end up with more produce than I can use in a week, and sometimes I only participate in a monthly coop so I want to extend the life of my produce as long as possible.

After a bit of research I found that there were things that I was storing incorrectly. Now I am finding that not only do I have more refrigerator space, but my produce is maintaining the quality longer.

Apples - Avoid washing apples before storing. Remove any spoiled apples. Put in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the fridge or store in a cool place no longer than 6 weeks. Warning: storing apples next to broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, greens or cauliflower will cause these veggies to spoil faster. Apples give off ethylene gas, which causes faster ripening. (Or, put an apple in a bag with fruits such as peaches, plums and bananas to speed up ripening.)

Artichoke - Refrigerator life: 4 to 5 days. Add a few drops of water to a plastic bag.

Butternut Squash - Store in a dry area with good air circulation up to 6 mos. Winter squash should not be refrigerated unless cut. Stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light, it will keep for up to three months. Cut squash will keep 1 week when wrapped tightly and refrigerated.

Cabbage - Whole Refrigerator life: 1 to 2 weeks in a plastic bag.

Cabbage - Cut Refrigerator life: 1 to 2 days if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Carrots - Refrigerator life: Very variable. Store in their original plastic bag.

Cauliflower - Whole, Refrigerator life: Up to 5 days. Store stem-side up in a plastic bag.

Celery - Refrigerator life: Up to 2 weeks. Store in a plastic bag.

Cherries - Cherries are highly perishable; refrigerate ASAP. Sort carefully and place loosely in a shallow container so that air can circulate. Wash cherries just before using. For highest quality, fresh cherries should be stored only 1 or 2 days. Cherries make a guilt-free snack: they're fat-free, low in calories, and rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and beta-carotene. I love pitting them and freezing in a single layer and then transfer to a freezer bag.

Cilantro - Wash in cool water, remove dead stems/leaves, snip ends. Pat dry and place stems in cup with water but avoid submerging the leaves. Cover with a plastic bag/wrap and refrigerate. Change water if it becomes murky. Can also store, prepped as above, wrapped with a damp paper towel in a plastic bag. Most fresh herbs will last more than a week stored this way.

Corn - More than any other vegetable, sweet corn tastes best when it's fresh from the garden. The minute it's picked its sugar content starts turning to starch.

Cucumber - Refrigerator life: 1 week if waxed; less if not waxed.

Eggplant - Refrigerator life: 3 to 4 days. Store in a plastic bag.

Garlic - Shelf life: A few weeks to a few months, depending on size. Store in a dark, cool spot.

Grapes - Avoid washing grapes before storing them. Check through bunches for spoiled grapes and remove; put grapes in a plastic bag in your fridge and store for a week max. Wash under cold water just before serving.

Green beans - Refrigerator life: 3 to 5 days. Store in a plastic bag.

Jalapenos - Keep cool and dry. If you refrigerate them, first remove them from the plastic produce bag; otherwise they'll become soft and moldy. Generally they'll keep for 3-4 days. Once the skin begins to wrinkle, it loses potency, and if you're roasting or blanching them, the skins will be difficult to peel.

Leafy Vegetables - Refrigerator life: 3 to 5 days. Wrap in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag.

Leeks - Refrigerator life: Up to 1 week. Loosely wrap in a plastic bag.

Lettuce - Refrigerator life: Lettuce stored in sealed plastic bags in the crisper will last from a few days to 2 weeks. The firmer the lettuce the longer it will keep; iceberg up to 2 weeks, Romaine 10 days, butter and leaf lettuces for 4 days. Do not store with melons, apples, pears, or other ethylene gas-emitting fruits as they will cause the lettuce to turn brown.

Mangos - A few black spots on the skin are typical of ripe mangoes. Put in a paper bag to ripen at room temp (two will ripen faster than one) and keep in a cool place, such as a cupboard. Move to fridge when ripe and use within a few days.

Mushrooms - Prepackaged mushrooms can be stored, unopened in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. Once opened, mushrooms should be moved to a paper bag and refrigerated.

Nectarines - Store at room temperature until fully ripe. Once fully ripe, store them in the fridge for no more than a 2 of days. Nectarines stored longer may lose their juicy flavor. Use a little lemon or other citrus juice on the cut areas to retard the browning affect.

Onions - Cut, Refrigerator life: 2 to 3 days if tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Onions - Green, Store green onions/scallions away from odor-sensitive foods such as corn and mushrooms, which will absorb the odor of the onions. Remove bands and damaged leaves and store in plastic bags in the crisper. They'll last up to 5 days.

Onions - Whole, Shelf life: 3 to 4 weeks. Store in a cool, dry, open space. (Although my neighbor stores them for MONTHS in her garage!

Oranges - Store citrus at room temp if you'll eat it in a week or so, or it will keep in the crisper for 6-8 weeks. Citrus is ripe when picked. Surface marks usually do not affect the fruit inside.

Peas - Refrigerator life: 1 to 2 days. Store in a plastic bag.

Peppers - Refrigerator life: Up to 1 week. Store in a plastic bag.

Potatoes - New, Shelf life: 1 week. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.

Potatoes - all-purpose and baking, Shelf life: Store in burlap, brown paper, or perforated plastic bags away from light, in the coolest, non-refrigerated, and well-ventilated part of the house. They can last up to 3 months, but more realistically, 3-5 weeks. Don't store onions and potatoes together, as the gases they each give off will cause rot.

Pumpkin - Shelf life: Up to 1 month in a cool, dry place.

Spinach - Untie, remove blemished leaves, wash thoroughly in cold water, spin dry, and refrigerate in plastic bag for 2-3 days. Rich in anti-oxidants, loaded with folic acid, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese.

Squash (Winter) - whole, Shelf life: Up to 3 months. Store in a cool, dry place.

Squash (Winter) - cut, Refrigerator life: Up to 1 week if wrapped tightly in plastic.

Squash (Summer) - Refrigerator life: Up to 1 week. Store in a plastic bag.

Strawberries - Strawberries are extremely perishable and should be refrigerated immediately. Wash just before enjoying. Refrigerate in a single layer on a paper towel in a moisture-proof container. Eat them within 72 hours, or freeze up to 10 mos. Ideally, let come to room temp before serving to bring out best flavor. Nutritional powerhouses: vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, phytochemicals.

Sweet Potatoes - Shelf life: Up to 1 month if stored in a cool, dry place; up to 1 week if stored at room temperature. If refrigerated, their natural sugar will turn to starch and ruin the flavor.

Tomatoes - Shelf life: Up to 2 days once fully ripe. Store at room temperature for the best flavor. Tomatoes should never be in the fridge until they have been cooked, cut or put into a raw dish like a salsa, or are fully ripe and would spoil if left at room temp. Place tomatoes stem end up, in a sealed paper bag with or without ethylene-producing fruit such as bananas. Refrigerated ripe tomatoes will taste better if brought to room temp before eating.

Watermelon - Uncut watermelons keep at room temp for up to 2 weeks. Store cut watermelons in fridge. Cover cut surface loosely with plastic wrap.


Unknown said...

Wow! This is soooo useful! Thanks!

Chelsea said...

Thanks for the great info - I've never really known whether to set the produce drawers on high humidity or low. Any suggestions on that?

Jenny said...

thanks for the info! I've been learning over the years too, but it is so nice to see it all written down in one spot!

Unknown said...

what about bananas?


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