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Do you know where to put your produce to lock in freshness? Not all produce keeps fresh in the fridge. In fact, refrigeration can even cause some foods to spoil faster (sorry, potatoes). To help you make the most from your trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market, below is a quick guide to where – and how – you should store five of the most commonly purchased produce items for maximum freshness.
We reached out to chef, television host and food writer Alejandra Ramos to get her top tips on produce storage. When organizing our produce, Ramos suggests thinking about how we use our favorite fruits and veggies. “Sometimes the actual best way to store something is just the way that you are more likely to use it,” she says. “A perfectly ripe, room temperature mango is a glorious treat, but if you always end up throwing away more than you enjoy, that means your actual best way to store it is probably the freezer until you’re ready for it.”
Here, Ramos offers her expert tips for prepping, storing and enjoying some commonly purchased produce.
1. Leafy greens
To help leafy greens such as kale, chard, and collards last about two weeks in the fridge, Ramos offers her method for maximum freshness and flavor:
- As soon as you bring leafy greens home from the market or store, strip the leaves from the stems and set aside
- Give leaves a good rinse, either under running cold water or in a colander
- If you have a particularly sandy bunch, fill a large bowl with water. Dunk the leaves in, swish them around, then transfer with your hands to a colander for a final rinse. (Tip: Don’t pour them into the colander with the water from the bowl because the sediment will pour right back on top!)
- Use a salad spinner to remove excess liquid, or give them a good shake with your hands
- Place washed leaves on a clean dish towel or paper towel, gently roll them up, and place in a produce bag (towel and all!) in the fridge until you’re ready to use them
- For the stems: Rinse, remove the dry ends, then chop and place in a separate bag or airtight container for the freezer. These can be sautéed or used in soups
2. Root vegetables
While your grandma may have tossed all her carrots, potatoes, turnips and beets into the cold cellar, Ramos says root vegetable storage varies, depending on the type.
“Carrots, parsnips and radishes are the most delicate of root veg and do best in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator,” she says. One caveat – they will shrivel and dry out unless you wrap them in a damp paper towel. Also, remove any green tops from carrots, radishes or beets before storing the root, then refer to Ramos’s leafy greens method above to store the tops.
Carrots that feel soft are usually just dehydrated. “Trim the ends and let soak in a shallow container of ice water for 20 to 30 minutes and they should crisp right up,” she says.
For long-term potato storage, Grandma had the right idea. Ramos recommends a cool, dry and dark part of a cellar or garage. Or, if using potatoes within a few days, she says the countertop will be fine as long as they’re kept away from sunny windows, stovetops and any kind of heating vent. “Always remove potatoes and sweet potatoes from the plastic produce bags as they trap moisture. Store them loose in a container with ventilation (think mesh bag or wire basket) in a cool, dry place.”
The potato conundrum: Avoid the temptation to store potatoes in the fridge – the low temperatures negatively affect the starches and change the flavor of the potato. “Keep in mind that while regular potatoes can be a bit more forgiving, the high sugar content that makes sweet potatoes so sweet and tasty also causes them to spoil quicker than regular potatoes, so store them properly and cook them as soon as you can.”
Store these separately: While potatoes and onions are a match made in culinary heaven, Ramos recommends storing them far apart as the natural gasses released by each vegetable cause the other to ripen and spoil more quickly.
3. Citrus fruits
“Citrus fruit looks gorgeous on the counter or tabletop, but they actually last longer in the refrigerator,” explains Ramos, who keeps all her citrus together in a dedicated citrus drawer.
Do you often find dried-out limes or strange blue lemons in the back of your fridge? Ramos suggests storing a handful of whole fruits, then processing the rest:
- Zest citrus into airtight containers and store in the freezer until you’re ready to use
- Mix zest with salt for a tasty flavored seasoning for cooking
- Add fresh juice to ice cube trays, sealable jars or freezer-safe bottles and thaw just before use
- Jam or pie maker? “Be sure to save citrus seeds, too! Those can be simmered with water for a fantastic homemade citrus pectin.”
While jewel-like berries signal the start of summer, Ramos cautions they’re also the quickest fruits to spoil. Her biggest take-home tip: Don’t wash them until you are ready to enjoy them. “The delicate membrane of the berries become waterlogged and will start to spoil if rinsed far in advance of eating. This is especially true for blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Blueberries a little bit heartier, but not by much!”
- Sift through newly purchased berries and pluck out any rotting fruit
- Place the good berries back in the container they came in
- Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat them
- Only wash the amount you plan to eat at a time, and even then, be gentle. Use cold water, the softest setting on your faucet, and be delicate with your hands
5. Mangos and avocados
For the best ripeness and sweetness, Ramos suggests storing unripe mangos and avocados at room temperature until they soften. If you can’t eat them right away, she says transferring whole fruits to the refrigerator will slow down ripening and extend their life a few days. Still not ready for them? Peel, dice and freeze for months of smoothie-ready goodness.
When shopping, pick out mangos or avocados at different stages of ripeness. “I like to get one or two to eat right away, a few that will ripen soon, and a few unripe ones for later on. Only buy fruit at the same level of ripeness if you plan to eat or cook with all of them at once, such as fruit salad or a big batch of guacamole.”
For tips on minimizing waste, read Root-to-Stem Cooking: How to Maximize Your Produce and Minimize Waste. Also, check out How to Freeze Food.