Food Storage 101 — Stash It or Trash It

by Anne Marie Hampshire • Illustration by Bambi Edlund

It’s easy to dream big at the market—envisioning a week filled with home-cooked, healthy meals using fresh, and in some cases, just-harvested ingredients. But for many of us, it’s a challenge to eat it all before it withers away, either on the counter or in the fridge. And we’re not alone. American families chuck at least one-quarter of all the produce they buy, largely because of spoilage. Here are some tips to increase the longevity of your market bounty while also optimizing your health.

Click here for the larger illustration. 

Many fruits emit ethylene gas, which makes other fruits and vegetables ripen too fast and desiccate in the fruit bowl or get mushy in the crisper. Best to separate produce that releases the gas from produce that’s sensitive to it. 

 

Ethylene Releasers

Sensitive to Ethylene

Refrigerate:
Apples
Apricots
Cantaloupe
Figs
Honeydew

Do not refrigerate:
Avocados
Bananas, unripe
Nectarines
Peaches
Pears
Plums
Tomatoes

Bananas, ripe
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Lettuce & other leafy greens
Parsley
Peas
Peppers
Squash
Sweet potatoes
Watermelon

 

Green Onions

Have you ever pulled out a bundle of green onions from the fridge only to discover they’ve gone slimy? Yeah, we’ve been there, too. Avoid this by removing the rubber bands and placing the root ends in a jar filled with an inch or two of water—then keep on the windowsill until ready to use.

Root Vegetables

Beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips and radishes, oh my! Enjoy the cool season’s bounty longer by cutting the tops off the roots (all but ½-inch) before storing in an open container in the fridge, covered with a damp towel. Store the edible, trimmed greens separately in an airtight container in the crisper.

Potatoes

If, like most of us, you lack a root cellar, store potatoes in a cool, dark place in a basket, bowl or paper bag. Remember to keep potatoes a healthy distance from onions, which can make those spuds sprout more quickly. Also be aware that light causes potatoes to turn green and sprout, and refrigeration causes the potatoes’ starch to convert to sugar and discolor while cooking.

Fresh Herbs

Some herbs—especially basil—are cold-sensitive, meaning they’ll turn black in the fridge before you can say pesto alla Genovese. To keep basil fresh, cut a bit off of the stems and place in a jar of water on the counter away from direct sunlight. Do the same for cilantro or parsley, but place those in the fridge.

Eggs

Dry-clean your fresh-from-the-coop eggs with an abrasive sponge to remove any dirt or debris, but don’t soak the eggs in water—cold water pulls bacteria from the surface of the egg into the interior. If you prefer rinsing the eggs, wait until you’re ready to use them. Rinsing removes the egg’s bloom, the natural antibacterial coating on the shell. If planning an omelet in the near future, no need to store fresh eggs in the fridge. But to keep eggs longer (up to a month or so), it’s best to refrigerate.

Bread

As counterintuitive as it may seem, bread actually gets stale faster when refrigerated rather than left at room temperature. Keep sliced sandwich bread in a bread box or other airtight container, but leave crusty, artisanal loaves in a paper bag.

Avocado

Unlike many other fruits, avocados don’t ripen on the tree; they naturally ripen on their own once harvested. To speed up the process, store avocados outside of the fridge in a paper bag and throw in an apple or a banana; these fruits release ethylene gas that hastens the ripening process.

Grains & Flours

Store intact whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, millet or oats, in airtight containers (mason jars are ideal) for up to six months in the pantry or up to a year in the freezer. Whole-grain flours and meals, on the other hand, don’t last as long; they lack the bran layer that protects the grain from the detrimental effects of oxygen. Store these in airtight containers, as well, for up to three months in the pantry or up to six months in the freezer. If your pantry environment is particularly humid, however, refrigerate rather than keep at room temperature.

Berries

Discard any bruised or moldy fruit, then store raspberries, strawberries or blueberries in a sealed container in the fridge, where they’ll last for a couple of days. (Note: Wait to wash berries until right before eating.) To keep longer, wash berries carefully, pat dry and freeze on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, transfer to a container and freeze for up to a year. 

Asparagus

Wash thoroughly, remove the rubber bands, cut 1 inch off the stems and place upright in a jar filled with about an inch of water. Refrigerate and change the water frequently until ready to use. 

Citrus

’Tis the season for citrus! To keep it longer than a couple of days, store citrus in the fridge loosely. If juicing, bring it back to room temp to extract the most juice.

Cheese

Place soft cheeses, such as brie, mozzarella or chèvre in an airtight container in the fridge once opened. Wrap hard and semi-hard cheeses, such as Gouda, cheddar or blue, in parchment or wax paper first, then in aluminum foil. Store all cheeses in a warmer part of the fridge—in the vegetable drawer or on the bottom shelf.