Cooking from scratch often means you’re working with more whole ingredients like fruits and vegetables. We love the nutritional power of fresh produce, but we definitely don’t dig reaching into the fridge to find moldy berries or a wilted bunch of lettuce. Learning how to best store produce in the fridge helps you maximize the freshness and flavour of ingredients, as well as cut down on food waste. This not only reduces the impact on the environment, but will save you a lot of cash.
Canadian households toss about $1,500 worth of food a year, while Americans waste about $2,000 worth annually. When you calculate other sources of food waste (restaurants, grocery stores, farms, etc.) – we are wasting billions – $31 billion here in Canada and $165 billion in the US.
There is a lot that we can do at home to store our food properly and the benefits are more than economic. When our food is vibrant and fresh, it will be more appealing and we’re more inclined to cook with it. Also, having produce batch prepped and ready to go means you’ll reach for carrots and dip as a snack rather than resorting to junk food. One of the first things we teach our students in the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program is how to prep and store produce. It’s an essential first step to healthy cooking and eating!
How to Best Store Produce
To store your produce, you need to optimize your fridge. Refrigerators have different temperatures in different spots and because of this, some places are better to store your produce than others. Some things are better stored outside the fridge for maximum freshness, too.
As you get your fridge organized and your produce stocked for healthy eating, keep these guidelines in mind to help you preserve the freshness. We’ve included some of the common types of produce people tend to buy here – for a full list you can grab a free download.
How to Store Vegetables
Dark Leafy Greens
No one likes eating soggy greens. Wash before storing by soaking in cold water to remove the dirt, then drain. Store in the fridge in a water-draining container. Do not spin until ready to use as this will damage the cell wall and cause it to go off faster. You can put your greens that have long stems, like kale, Swiss chard and collard greens in a mason jar with water – just like putting flowers in a vase. Cover the greens with a bag and secure with a twist tie or rubber band.
Wash and dry them well. You can store them in a mason jar with water (like the greens above) or wrap them in a cloth napkin or paper towel.
Broccoli + Cauliflower
Store these in an airtight container in the fridge. Wash just before using.
Remove the tops first, as that draws moisture from the carrots. Cut to size and store in a bowl of water or glass container. Change water every 3–4 days. We like to cut the carrots in different sizes for multiple uses – sticks for munching, coins or cubes for dairy-free soups and stews, and shreds or spirals for salads.
Cut to size and store in a bowl of water or glass container. Change water every 3–4 days. You can also freeze ends of celery, carrots onions and other veggies for soup stocks.
Cucumber and Zucchini
Store in your crisper. Too much moisture will cause spoilage.
Store in warmer parts of the fridge: Towards the door and out of the produce bins, which tend to be cooler. These can be cut to size and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3–4 days.
Potatoes and Winter Squash
Store at room temperature in a dark cool place with good air circulation. These can be cut to size and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3–4 days.
Onions and Garlic
Store at room temperature in a dark cool place with good air circulation. Cut them to size and store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3–4 days. We find it helpful to mince a whole bunch of garlic at the beginning of the week to add to dishes.
How to Store Fruit
Store loosely in the fridge (ditch the plastic bag). If washing first, dry completely before they are stored.
Store at room temperature. To help them ripen faster, place them in a paper bag. Once ripe, transfer to fridge.
Store at room temperature. If you’re going to freeze them, do yourself a favour and peel them first.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge, with a towel underneath to absorb extra moisture. Be sure to remove any soft or moldy berries before you store them. Wash just before eating. Some berries, like strawberries and raspberries, can be quite delicate so it’s best to eat them within 1-2 days of buying them.
Citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits)
Store in the fridge. We like to juice a bunch of lemons or limes at the beginning of the week to use in our recipes. You can also freeze citrus juice in small jars or ice cube trays for easy use in recipes and smoothies.
Store at room temperature. Ripe tomatoes will keep for up to three days.
More Things to Store in the Fridge
- Nuts and seeds. These contain delicate oils that are susceptible to heat, light and air. Keep them in glass jars in the fridge or freezer.
- Polyunsaturated oils (flax, hemp, chia, walnut). The nutrients in these oils are sensitive to heat, light and oxygen, which means you also never want to cook with these. Store in the fridge, preferably in a dark glass container.
- Grains and flours. Grains have loads of magic inside, like essential fats and vitamins, which are sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. For short-term storage (1- 2 months), a glass jar in your cupboard will work (just not a cupboard over your stove). For long term, go with your fridge or freezer. With proper storage, these can stay fresh for two years. Get a free gluten-free flour guide here.
Additional Ways to Keep Produce Fresh
- Buy produce that is seasonal and local. Farmers markets typically offer fresh fruits and veggies that were picked the day before (or even the day of). The shorter the time and distance from farm to plate, the longer that produce is going to last in your fridge.
- Create a menu plan. If you have a plan for your fruits and veggies, they won’t languish in the fridge. Meal prep through batch cooking, or have some fun by creating a cooking club.
- Clean your fridge regularly. Dirt, residues and shriveled stems or other vegetable bits can influence the freshness of the new stuff.
- Store certain foods away from one another. Many fruits produce high amounts of ethylene gas, which can cause other fruits and veggies to ripen too quickly. Discover more about ethylene-producing and ethylene-sensitive foods here.
- Keep things organized. Messy fridges give us hives. Know what you have in the fridge and monitor produce for freshness every couple of days. Then you won’t end up with moldy, disintegrated peach or a withered beet.
We’re big nerds around here and love seeing photos of organized fridges and pantries, like this one from one of our 2017 Culinary Nutrition Expert students. If you clean up your fridge, please take a snapshot and tag us at #cneprogram or #culinarynutrition.