How to store fruits and vegetables: Produce storage ideas
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How to store fruits and vegetables: Produce storage ideas

Jan 11, 2024

Despite our best efforts to eat produce soon after we purchase it, we’ve all forgotten about a container of berries or a head of lettuce shoved in the back of the fridge. Opening the refrigerator to find produce that's gone bad is frustrating, and it may be even more so now that rising food prices are increasing the cost of Americans’ grocery bills. Learning how to store produce properly can help it last longer, helping you get the most out of everything you buy.

SKIP AHEAD Best produce storage containers | Produce storage tips and tricks

Each fruit and vegetable variety requires different storage conditions to maximize freshness, explained dietitian Abby K. Cannon, founder of Abby's Food Court. While you may be tempted to put everything in the refrigerator or pantry when you get home from the supermarket or unpack a grocery delivery, taking time to preserve produce only benefits you: You’ll waste less food over time and ensure you’re using everything you pay for.

To learn how to store produce and help it last longer, experts shared methods for extending the lifespan of fruits and vegetables you may have at home right now. They also recommended helpful products that can help create optimal storage environments.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to storing fruits and vegetables, experts told us. But there are a few staple products that can be adapted to what you’re storing, like reusable silicone bags and glass jars. Experts told what items they use to store produce and we found highly rated options that meet their guidance.

Certain fruits like berries should be kept in airtight containers — microorganisms in the air can speed up the decomposition process, experts said. This pack of four glass containers from Rubbermaid comes with airtight, leak-proof lids that easily snap on and off, according to the brand. Each dishwasher-safe container has a 3.2-cup capacity, and you can stack them on top of one another when they’re not in use. These containers have a 4.8-star average rating from 2,267 reviews on Amazon.

Stasher makes my favorite reusable silicone bags, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit a wide array of produce. The bags are designed with the brand's airtight Pinch-Loc seal, and Stasher says they’re dishwasher-, freezer-, microwave-, stovetop- and oven-safe up to 425 degrees Farenheit — this means you can store and cook your produce in the same bags. You can also write on Stasher Bags with dry markers to label their contents. This six-pack Stasher bundle comes with three snack-size bags and four sandwich-size bags. In addition to storing my produce in Stasher Bags, I use Stasher Bowls for bulkier cut produce like pieces of melon.

Instead of using plastic wrap to cover half an onion or cucumber, experts said beeswax wrap is a great reusable alternative. You can shape these beeswax wraps around food to create a protective, breathable seal and reuse the wraps for up to a year, Bee's Wrap says. This pack of three comes with one small, one medium and one large wrap — I purchased this set months ago and use it to cover everything from cut lemons to watermelon slices. You can handwash the wraps after each use and compost them when they’re ready to be discarded, according to the brand. You can purchase the wraps in 10 patterns including honeycomb, ocean and more.

I bought these Food Huggers about a year ago and use them similarly to how I use Bee's Wrap. After I cut a cucumber, pepper, avocado or apple, for example, I cover the half I’m not using with a Food Hugger and store it in the refrigerator. Food Huggers stretch to fit produce and create an airtight seal around fruits and vegetables, the brand says. They’re dishwasher-safe, according to the brand, but I find them easy to hand wash. Food Huggers come in a pack of five assorted sizes, and in addition to produce, I use them to cover open cans, butter sticks and hard cheeses like a block of parmesan.

Cannon said she likes to prep her salad ingredients in advance and store them in glass jars, both for convenience and to keep her produce fresh. Weck Canning Jars are easy to fill thanks to their wide mouth opening, the brand says — I’ve found this to be the case when I’ve meal prepped with them. They come with a glass lid, a sealing ring and two sealing gaskets to create an airtight, leak-proof seal on top. The brand says these jars are dishwasher-, microwave- and freezer-safe, and you can purchase them in 10- and 26-ounce sizes. They have a 4.8-star average rating from more than 300 reviews at Crate & Barrel.

Some brands make containers specifically designed to store produce — you don't necessarily need to purchase these, experts told us, but they can be useful. OXO's Produce Keepers come with a replaceable carbon filter built into the lid, which the brand says absorbs ethylene gas to slow down the ripening process. There's also a colander inside each container that keeps produce away from the walls to promote airflow, according to OXO. The container is designed with an adjustable vent on top to help you control humidity levels, too. The Produce Keepers are available in small, medium and large sizes, and you can purchase carbon filter replacements online. This container has a 4.4-star average rating from more than 2,100 reviews on Amazon.

Paper towels come in handy when storing many different types of fruits and vegetables — not only can you put them under freshly washed berries to absorb the moisture, but experts also recommended placing a damp towel on top of greens like lettuce to keep them crisp. To avoid wasting them, you can purchase reusable ones. This roll of reusable cotton paper towels comes with 24 machine-washable cloths. After you clean and dry them, the brand says the towels cling together so you can roll them up and put them on a paper towel holder, or fold them to keep in a drawer. The towels come in multiple colors and patterns like a vintage lemon print and a variety of rainbow shades. The reusable paper towels have a 4.6-star average rating from more than 700 reviews on Amazon.

Wrapping certain types of vegetables in a dish towel before placing them in the fridge helps them stay crisp, though the produce also needs to be packed loosely enough that it can breathe, explained Brandi Brady, Northeast produce category merchant for Whole Foods Market. Amazon Basics offers a four-pack of machine-washable dish towels made from a cotton terry fabric. The towels have a 4.7-star average rating from more than 3,200 reviews on Amazon.

Improper storage is the main reason why produce usually quickly declines in quality after you purchase it, experts said. Fruits and vegetables require different storage conditions to maximize freshness, and if you’re storing produce incorrectly, you may be speeding up the ripening and eventual rot process. But if you are storing your produce the wrong way, you can learn from your mistakes and identify what you should avoid in the future, Cannon said.

Below are a few specific factors that contribute to degradation, each of which comes into play when deciding how to store fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that since different produce varieties thrive in different conditions, it's important to research the specific fruit or vegetable you’re storing to learn how to keep it fresh. You can find many resources online, as well as download apps like FoodKeeper from the United States Department of Agriculture. Cannon also recommended printing out graphics you find online that cover how to store vegetables and fruits you usually eat. You can hang it up on your fridge, and over time "you’ll quickly remember how to properly store the produce you use regularly and be able to check anything you can't remember," she said.

Since there are so many types of fruits and vegetables, it's challenging to explain exactly how to store each specific variety — people write entire books and dedicate websites to this exact information. To help you get started, experts shared general advice for storing fruits and vegetables people commonly have at home.

Learning how to store produce properly is just one way to avoid wasting fruit and vegetables. Cannon suggested saving all the leftover vegetables you don't eat — whether it's a handful of string beans or a couple of carrots — and using them to make a stir fry at the end of the week. You can also save leftover fruit to use as an oatmeal or yogurt topping, or freeze it to eventually use in smoothies. And when it comes to veggie scraps you can't figure out how to cook with, like onion or carrot skins, Cannon said you can save them to make vegetable broth.

Additionally, avoid trashing limp leafy greens, Brady said. She recommended reviving them by placing them in a bowl of ice cold water for a few minutes to restore their crispness. And if produce has really gone bad, composting it is always better than throwing it in the garbage, experts told us.

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Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor for Select on NBC News.

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