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How Long Do Vegetables Stay Fresh in Your Fridge?

Monday, 08 April 2019 14:07

There’s nothing worse than buying, say, a couple of on-the-vine tomatoes or a bunch of green onions, only to have them go bad on you. No one likes wasting money, or food for that matter. So how long do vegetables stay fresh in your fridge? And is there anything you can do to increase their longevity?

The question of how long vegetables stay fresh in the refrigerator is complex. There is no simple answer because there are so many variables when it comes to refrigerating vegetables. For one thing, it depends on the temperature of your fridge (check your owners manual for its optimal temperature range). For another, it also depends on what part of the fridge you store them in. Finally, different foods actually favor different environments and different storage methods.

So first, let's talk about the crisper drawer, sometimes referred to as the “humidity drawer” in your fridge. That’s where most people put most of their veggies, fruits and fresh herbs regardless of what they are. Would it surprise you to learn that some vegetables shouldn’t go in the crisper? Would you also be surprised to know that it makes a difference whether you keep those vegetables in their original bags/clamshell containers or not? You might also not realize that crisper drawers have a humidity control, and how this is set also affects how long things last in them.

Don't Store These Fruits and Vegetables in the Fridge!

These fruits and vegetables don't tolerate cool temperatures and/or the climate of a refrigerator. Some, like bananas, are probably familiar. If stored in the fridge, they will deteriorate faster. However, there are likely to be several on this list of what NOT to store in your refrigerator that you'll be shocked by:

Bananas
Oranges
Grapefruit
Lemons
Limes
Cucumbers
Basil
Eggplant
Garlic
Green beans
Onions
Potatoes (all types, plus sweet potatoes and yams)
Summer and winter squash
Zucchini

Counter to Refrigerator

Some fruits and vegetables like to sit on the counter to begin with, but later need to be moved to the refrigerator. How long before you transition from the counter to the fridge depends on how ripe they are when you first bring them home.

Let's use avocados as an example. Avocados are finicky. Not only that, but they have a very short window of time in which they are “just right:” not underripe (too hard and yellow/light green inside) and not overripe (too soft and dark green/brown, splotchy or stringy inside). Miss that perfect window, and you'll be crying over wasted fruit AND money (avocados are expensive!).

So when you bring avocados home from the grocery store, check their condition. If they are underripe, place them on the counter. Once they ripen, move them to the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. (Avocados will continue to ripen in the refrigerator, just not nearly as quickly as they do at room temperature.)

Here's a list of fruits and veggies that should start on the counter and then move to the refrigerator when they are ripe:

Avocados
Apricots
Kiwis
Mangoes
Melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.)
Nectarines
Papayas
Peaches
Pears
Pineapples
Plums

Store These Vegetables and Fruits in the Refrigerator

These items should always go straight to the refrigerator when you bring them home. They should never be stored on the counter.

Apples
Blueberries
Cherries
Grapes
Pomegranate
Raspberries
Strawberries
Asparagus
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cilantro
Corn (whole ears in the husk)
Dark leafy greens and lettuces
Leeks
Parsley
Peas

A note about counter storage: all fruits and veggies will deteriorate faster if placed in direct sunlight, thanks to the sun's UV rays. When storing on a countertop, try to avoid placing them in front of a window or under a skylight where they will be exposed to direct sunlight.

Airtight VS Breathable Storage

Some fruits and vegetables thrive in storage containers that are airtight. Others need some air exposure to ensure longevity. The converse is also true: veggies that prefer an airtight environment will rot faster if exposed to air. Those that need to “breathe” will go bad more quickly if not given some air.

Foods that need to chill in airtight containers:

Celery (best to wrap tightly in foil)
Peeled carrots (store in wet bag/container)
Tomatoes
Cucumber
Eggplant
Mushrooms
Radishes
Turnips
Zucchini

Foods that need to “breathe:”

Artichokes
Brussels sprouts
Corn on the cob
Garlic
Onions (don't store them near potatoes)
Unpeeled carrots
Asparagus (for best results, stand them on end in a cup of water)
Brussels sprouts
Pumpkins
Peas
Spinach
Winter squash

Finally, there are a few foods that are “light breathers.” These fruits and vegetables need less air exposure than “breathers” but shouldn't be airtight:

Bok choy
Cabbage
Lettuce
Cauliflower
Green beans
Peppers

Now, Back to the Crisper…

Most refrigerators have two crisper drawers. Each drawer should have its own control so that you can set the level of humidity in the corresponding drawer. You should set one drawer to high humidity and one to low. Here’s what you should put in each.

Low-humidity drawer:

Apples
Apricots
Avocados
Bananas (ripe)
Cantaloupes
Figs
Honeydew melons
Kiwis
Mangoes
Nectarines
Papayas
Peaches
Pears
Plums

High-humidity drawer:

Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cilantro
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Green beans
dill, parsley, thyme)
Leafy greens (kale, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, watercress)
Okra
Peas
Peppers
Strawberries
Summer squash
Watermelon

A general rule of thumb to help you remember is that vegetables don't go in the low humidity drawer and that most fruits don't go in the high humidity drawer (with, of course, the exception of strawberries and watermelon).

These storage recommendations may sound confusing, and it may take you awhile to get the hang of which produce items prefer particular environments. But if you are determined to stretch your investment in fresh foods and/or enjoy your fresh produce at its most optimal, these guidelines will help you accomplish that.

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