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How to Store Fruits and Vegetables

Produce from your CSA box that spoils prematurely can be prevented most of the time. The produce you receive in your box was picked either one or two days prior to your receiving it. Keeping it fresher longer greatly depends on how it is stored.

Follow these suggestions for better quality and less waste:

  • Pick up your box from your drop location as soon as practical after they are delivered.
  • If you must store the box prior to getting it home, don't leave your box in a hot car.
  • Unpack the produce as soon as possible when you get home. For produce that needs to be refrigerated, the sooner it gets in the refrigerator the better.
  • Use the guidelines below for storing your produce. 

Keeping your produce out the compost pile.

Most CSA members tend to check on an uneaten produce when their next box arrives or when some unpleasant odor starts emanating from the refrigerator or cupboard. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently spent a year tracking families’ food use habits. Working with United States Department of Agriculture, they interviewed the families about their eating habits, collected their gross receipts, watch them prepare meals, and then sifted through every last discarded lettuce leaf, slice of bread, overripe banana and moldy piece of fruit.

The results, reported in 2002, were pretty shocking. The families tossed out an average of 470 pounds of food per year, about 14% of all food brought into the home, at an annual cost of $600. Every day, they discarded more than half a pound of fruit and vegetables. In total, Americans tossed a fourth of all the produce they buy, mostly because it had gone bad, says Timothy Jones PhD, contemporary archaeologist at the University of Arizona. Nationally we dump $43 billion worth of food every year.

Dumping your produce is wasteful not only environmentally, but financially as well. If your produce goes bad in just a few days, most likely it is how you are storing it. Generally most of the produce you receive in your CSA box was picked 24 to 48 hours before you receive it.

Fruit and vegetables give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent. Storing fruit and vegetables together is a bad idea. If you want your gorgeous greens to go bad quickly, store them with overripe fruit. They will turn yellow very rapidly. You can however, use ethylene gas to your advantage. To speed up the ripening of an avocado, put it in a bag with a ripe banana. The ethylene gas given off by the banana will speed up the ripening of the avocado. However, if the fruit is bad, overripe or starting to get moldy make sure you dispose of it immediately. One bad piece of fruit will spoil the rest prematurely. That old adage "one bad apple...." you know the rest.

Don't cut the fruit or vegetables up into you're ready to use them. Storing your fruit and vegetables whole and intact will keep them fresher longer and maintain their nutritional content better as well. The one exception is root vegetables. Removing the tops of the carrots, radishes and turnips etc. will keep the green tops from pulling moisture from the root (the part you normally eat). That said, the greens removed from the root vegetables are nutritious, can and should be eaten as well.

Use common sense. Get in the habit of using vegetables and fruit that ripen quickly first. Slow ripening fruit and vegetables should be stored in order of how you want to consume them. Example: if you don't want your avocados to ripen immediately keep them in the refrigerator. If you want to use them as soon as possible leave them on the counter to ripen or ripen them in a bag.

Never dump your vegetables or fruit directly into the storage drawers of the refrigerator. Even the new refrigerators will not keep the produce fresh without some kind of container or bag. Adding a damp paper towel to a bag or a storage container of greens will add the necessary humidity to keep them fresher longer.

Once you get them home, fruits and vegetables must be stored under proper conditions, the most important of which are temperature and humidity. Each fruit or vegetable has its own ideal set of conditions at which it will store most successfully for the maximum length of time. These conditions can be classified into four groups:

1. Vegetables which require cold and moist conditions
2. Vegetables which required cool and moist conditions
3. Vegetables which require cold and dry conditions
4. Vegetables which require warm and dry conditions

Generally speaking most of the literature available regarding storage for fruits and vegetables, was done at several universities and talks mostly about temperature and humidity. Properly stored you fruit and vegetables should last a week or more, not days. Below are some examples

Most root crops, beets, carrots, potatoes and radishes like it cold and moist with a temperature between 32° and 40°F. They also like high humidity somewhere between 90 and 95%. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower along with most greens will do well stored with the same temperatures and humidity.

Cucumber, eggplant, green beans and bell peppers will do better with a higher storage temperature between 45 and 50°F and slightly less humidity between 80 and 90%.

Onions and chili peppers will do well in temperatures between 45 and 55°F with about 50 to 60% humidity.

Squash will do well between 55 and 60°F with 60 to 70% humidity. We store our squash and onions in a corner of the counter that is dark and stays cool most of the year.

See the table of Fruit and Vegetable Storage for more information at the end of this article. 

Most people will say, hey I only have one refrigerator how am I supposed to keep all of the stuff at different temperatures and humidity in the same refrigerator? Temperatures vary from the top shelf to the bottom shelf of the same refrigerator. Keep the vegetables that require slightly warmer temperatures on the top shelf and the cold requiring vegetables on the lower shelf. Always keep them in some kind of bag or container. For the vegetables that require high humidity dampen a paper towel and put it in the container along with the produce. A few extra minutes of preparation will keep the produce fresher for many additional days.

There are also some innovations to help extend the life of your fruits and veggies. Some products actually absorb ethylene and can be dropped into a crisper, such as the E.G.G. (for ethylene gas guardian), which is shaped like, you guessed it, an egg (click here) and ExtraLife, a hockey puck-like disk. A variety of produce bags are also on the market, such as those by Evert-Fresh and BioFresh, which both absorb ethylene and create an atmosphere that inhibits respiration. See our container recommendation here.

Picking up your CSA box as soon as possible and getting the produce refrigerated as soon as practical will add many days to the life of your produce and keep it from going bad quickly. If you'll be making several stops between the pick up location and kitchen, put a cooler in the car. A few extra minutes of preparation will pay back in fresher, more nutritious produce.

Fruit and Vegetable Storage

Table 1. Fruits & Vegetables that require cold, moist conditions
Vegetable  Temperature (oF)  Relative Humidity (%)  Length of Storage 
Asparagus  32-36  95 2-3 weeks 
Apples  32 90 2-6 months 
Beets  32 95 3-5 months 
Broccoli  32 95 10-14 days 
Brussels Sprouts  32 95 3-5 weeks 
Cabbage, Early  32 95 3-6 weeks 
Cabbage, Late  32 95 3-4 months 
Cabbage, Chinese  32 95 1-2 months 
Carrots, mature  32 95 4-5 months 
Carrots, immature  32 95 4-6 weeks 
Cauliflower  32 95 2-4 weeks 
Celeriac  32 95 3-4 months 
Celery  32 95 2-3 months 
Collards  32 95 10-14 days 
Corn, sweet  32 95 4-8 days 
Endive, Escarole  32 95 2-3 weeks 
Grapes  32 90 4-6 weeks 
Kale  32 95 10-14 days 
Leeks, green  32 95 1-3 months 
Lettuce  32 95 2-3 weeks 
Parsley  32 95 1-2 months 
Parsnips  32 95 2-6 months 
Pears  32 95 2-7 months 
Peas, green  32 95 1-3 weeks 
Potatoes, early  50 90 1-3 weeks 
Potatoes, late  39 90 4-9 months 
Radishes, spring  32 95 3-4 weeks 
Radishes, winter  32 95 2-4 months 
Rhubarb  32 95 2-4 weeks 
Rutabagas  32 95 2-4 months 
Spinach  32 95 10-14 days 
Beans, snap  40-50  95 7-10 days 
Cucumbers  45-50  95 10-14 days 
Eggplant  45-50  90 1 week 
Cantaloupe  40 90 15 days 
Watermelon  40-50  80-85  2-3 weeks 
Peppers, sweet  45-50  95 2-3 weeks 
Potatoes, early  50 90 1-3 weeks 
Potatoes, late  40 90 4-9 months 
Tomatoes, green  50-70  90 1-3 weeks 
Tomatoes, ripe  45-50  90 4-7 days 
       
Table 2. Vegetables that require cool, moist conditions  
Vegetable  Temperature (oF)  Relative Humidity (%)  Length of Storage 
Beans, snap  40-50  95 7-10 days 
Cucumbers  45-50  95 10-14 days 
Eggplant  45-50  90 1 week 
Cantaloupe  40 90 15 days 
Watermelon  40-50  80-85  2-3 weeks 
Peppers, sweet  45-50  95 2-3 weeks 
Potatoes, early  50 90 1-3 weeks 
Potatoes, late  40 90 4-9 months 
Tomatoes, green  50-70  90 1-3 weeks 
Tomatoes, ripe  45-50  90 4-7 days 
       
Table 3. Vegetables that require cool dry conditions.  
Vegetable  Temperature (oF)  Relative Humidity (%)  Length of Storage 
Garlic  32 65-70  6-7 months 
Onions  32 65-70  6-7 months 
       
Table 4. Vegetables that require warm dry conditions.  
Vegetable  Temperature (oF)  Relative Humidity (%)  Length of Storage 
Peppers, hot  50 60-65  6 months 
Pumpkins  50-55  70-75  2-3 months 
Squash, winter  50-55  50-60  2-6 months 
Sweet Potato  55-60  80-85  4-6 months 

Adapted from Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chemung County