Tips for Storing Produce
We love our veggies! But, sometimes find that we aren’t sure how to store them so they keep fresh and tasty until we use them. The following are some general guidelines for vegetable and fruit storage.
First, there are some fruits and vegetables that should be stored at room temperature. These include:
- Basil – treat basil like a cut flower, trimming the ends and standing in a glass of water
- Dry onions (fresh knob onions and scallions require refrigeration)
- Fruits that need to ripen (i.e. peaches, apricots, plums, pears, cantaloupe) – place on counter-top until they begin to soften, then refrigerate until you use it
- Potatoes (I do refrigerate my potatoes if I am not going to use them for a while)
- Pumpkins (store in a cool, dry and airy location)
- Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes do not to be stored below 60 degrees. So, store them in a basket on the counter top or in a pantry.
- Tomatoes (refrigerated tomatoes lose their flavor)
- Winter squash (store in a cool, dry and airy location) – If you have multiple squash, leave air space between each piece.
There are also a couple of vegetables that prefer to stay above normal refrigerator temperatures, but not as warm as room temperature – no lower than 50 degrees .
- Zucchini and summer squash
Most other vegetables need refrigeration, and generally, a little humidity. The following list is divided into broad categories, but will give you a good idea on how to store various crops.
- Baby salad greens and lettuce heads – keep bagged with a little humidity in the bag, sealed and in the refrigerator. If your greens have no moisture, they will wilt quickly, so add a few dribbles of water to the bag and then tie shut. If your greens have excess water, drain, and add a dry paper towel to the bag to absorb the excess moisture.
- Full size greens - (kale, chard, collards, etc.) – Larger greens will tend to wilt rapidly if not kept moist. Place your bundle of greens in a sink of cold water, letting them soak up the cold water. Take them out, shake out excess water and then store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. The extra moisture will keep them crisp, but you do not want them sitting in pool of water.
- Roots – (carrots, beets, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, etc) – Roots are easy to store for long periods of time. If you receive them with their greens, it is best to remove the greens for storage (store like full size greens). The bottoms are best stored in a plastic container or a plastic bag with a few sprinkles of water to provide humidity. If stored properly, root vegetables can hold for months without going bad. The greens will only store for a few days. If you find your roots becoming soft and mushy, you have not given them enough humidity. I prefer using a bag with a few holes punched in it so the root can breathe, but not dry out. For long term storage, you may want to open the container and check the humidity, adding more dribbles of water if necessary.
- Cruciferous crops – (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) – these crops require immediate refrigeration. Store them in a plastic container or bag in the refrigerator. Most of this group prefers not to be wet, but again, humidity does help keep them crisp – so a couple sprinkles of water will help. Cauliflower will not store long, and will tend to brown out in a few days, especially if exposed to air, so use it quickly and keep it tightly wrapped. Cabbage, on the other hand, will store for a couple of months. The outer leaves may turn yellow, but the inner head will be just fine.
- Peppers – Most peppers prefer to be stored in the refrigerator. Generally, they do not need any special treatment – just place them in the crisper drawer. Generally, they will store for two weeks. Some of the hot peppers, like cayenne, can easily be dried to storage into the winter. I use a dehydrator, but have dried cayenne outside in the sunshine. When drying them outside, place a screen over their container so the insects cannot get in their drying compartment. Only try this with very thin walled hot peppers. The thicker walled peppers are better dried in a dehydrator. Either way, dried pepper flakes are nice to have in the winter.
- Berries – Berries have a short life span once picked. Refrigerate and keep humid, but not damp. Use a berry basket or clam shell to store them. I try to either use my berries within a few days, or I process them for freezing. More on freezing and canning vegetables later.