One of the best parts of summer - especially late summer - is the bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. There’s nothing better than topping crisp salad greens with plump, vine ripe tomatoes fresh from the garden, or cooling off with a juicy slice of watermelon on a hot day; wouldn’t you agree? With so many fruits and vegetables available this time of year, understanding how to best store your produce can ensure that you get the chance to enjoy it all. It can help you decide what should be eaten right away, and what can be saved for later.

The three key things to keep in mind when storing produce are moisture, temperature, and compatibility.  Let’s look at why each of these is an important consideration when storing your fruits and vegetables.

Water Content

Who doesn't love a juicy strawberry or crisp lettuce? Both strawberries and lettuce have high moisture contents, but they aren’t the only ones! All fruits and vegetables contain moisture, and constantly release this moisture in a process called transpiration. If this moisture isn't retained or replaced, certain types of produce, such as salad greens, will degrade more quickly. However, not all produce needs to retain moisture. Onions, for example, will decay much faster if stored in moist conditions. Produce that needs to retain moisture is best kept in the storage bins of your refrigerator where, depending on the model, humidity levels can be controlled. For even more protection, placing items in perforated plastic bags to retain additional moisture will ensure they stay fresher longer. While those that do not need to retain moisture are best stored in dry conditions such as an airconditioned pantry, basement or cellar.

Temperature

Have you ever wondered why a tomato stored in the fridge gets mealy? Or why cut produce needs to be kept in the fridge? Well, different types of produce need to be stored at different temperatures, and with any type of produce, it is best to avoid extremes in temperature. Storing produce in conditions that are too hot can cause uneven ripening, shriveling or softening, while storing produce in conditions that are too cold can cause excessive softness or browning. The ideal storage temperatures for most produce is cold (refrigerator temperatures) or cool (pantry or basement), but some produce, like tomatoes, are best stored at room temperature. When storing fruits and vegetables at room temperature, it is best to leave them out in the open, as placing them in bags or containers will cause premature spoilage. Always refrigerate fruits and vegetables that have been cut, peeled, or portioned.

Compatibility of Produce

The last factor to consider when storing your produce is compatibility. Some produce, such as apples, tomatoes and pears give off ethylene gas, which causes produce to ripen. While this is a natural process, it may affect other produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas causing them to ripen prematurely and become overly ripe or bitter. Some produce, such as apples, both produce and are sensitive to ethylene, so they should be stored where they will have adequate air flow around them. While fruits and vegetables affected by ethylene gas are safe to eat, their quality will suffer. Keeping ethylene producers away from ethylene sensitive produce in separate bins or containers will help your sensitive produce to stay fresher longer. For an extended list of foods that are ethylene producers, ethylene sensitive or unaffected by ethylene, visit UCSD Community Health.

Now that you know a bit about different considerations for proper storage of summer produce, you’ll be able to enjoy the bounty for even longer. For more information about the storage of a specific fruit or vegetable, you can use the handy chart below or visit the University of Wisconsin Extension website.

Food Storage Guide

Item Moist Dry Temperature* Ethylene - Producer or Sensitive Length of Time
Apples X Cold Producer/Sensitive 1-6 Months
Apricots X Cold 1-2 Weeks
Asparagus X Cold Sensitive 7-10 Days
Beans, Snap X Cool 7-10 Days
Beets X Cold 1-2 Months
Blackberries X Cold 7-10 Days
Blueberries X Cold 7-10 Days
Broccoli X Cold Sensitive 2-3 Weeks
Brussels Sprouts X Cold Sensitive 3-4 Weeks
Cabbage Optional Cold 3-4 Months
Cantalope X Cool Producer/Sensitive 7-10 Days
Carrot Optional Cold 5-6 Months
Cauliflower Optional Cold 2-3 Weeks
Cherries X Cold 2-3 Weeks
Cranberries X Cold 2-3 Weeks
Cucumber X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Weeks
Eggplant X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Weeks
Grapes X Cold Sensitive 2-3 Weeks
Honeydew Melon X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Weeks
Leeks X Cold 1-2 Months
Lettuce X Cold Sensitive 7-10 Days
Onions, Green X Cold 2-3 Weeks
Onions, Sweet X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Months
Peaches X Cold Producer/Sensitive 2-3 Weeks
Peas X Cold 1-2 Weeks
Pears X Cold Producer/Sensitive 2-3 Months
Peppers X Cool Producer/Sensitive 1-2 Months
Plums X Cold 2-4 Weeks
Potato X Cool 4-6 Months
Rasberries X Cold 7-10 Days
Salad Greens X Cold 1-2 Weeks
Strawberries X Cold 7-10 Days
Squash, Summer X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Weeks
Swiss Chard X Cold 7-10 Days
Tomato X Room Temp. Producer 4-5 Days
Watermelon X Cool Sensitive 1-2 Weeks

Temperature: Cold = 32-40° / Cool = 50-60° / Room Temperature = 60-75°