Dietitians Explain How to Store Produce so It Stays Fresh Longer

Photo: Getty Images / RichLegg
Generally speaking, you know what to expect when you buy produce. In one week, those green bananas may end up brown and mushy, while your grapes may barely change. However, the way your produce ripens can change depending on which items you store together. Certain fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas, which helps them ripen. And when you store ethylene-producing produce with ethylene-sensitive produce, it can lead to faster over-ripening.

Ethylene is a natural phytohormone associated with the ripening process. "It causes quicker ripening for some produce and spoilage for others," says chef and registered dietitian Abbie Gellman, RD.

According to the UC San Diego School of Medicine, common ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables include apples, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, green onions, kiwi, pears, potatoes, and tomatoes. Ethylene-sensitive counterparts include apples, asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, collard greens, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, honeydew, kiwi, lemons, lettuce, limes, mangoes, onions, peaches, pears, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.

You may notice some overlap between those lists. "Produce can be both a producer and sensitive to ethylene gas," says Michelle Zive, PhD, RD, a registered dietitian and co-author of course materials for NASM-CNC. "That is why often this produce can be stored on the counter instead of refrigerated. In fact, produce like avocados are ripened out on the counter and when they get ripe and you are not using, you need to put them in the refrigerator."

You'll want to store ethylene-producing produce separately.

"Most ethylene-producing produce should always be left out on the counter and not stored in the refrigerator," says Gellman. "This may help keep them separated from those items that are sensitive to ethylene." Leaving these items on the counter not only keeps them from spoiling other produce, but can also prevent food waste, because then you can better see what you have.

You know the trick to place a banana or an avocado in a paper bag to help it ripen faster? That works because bags trap the ethylene gas, so you'll want to avoid using bags for long-term storage.

If you love storing a big bowl of different fruits and veggies on the counter, there are a few fruits and veggies that aren't sensitive to ethylene, like blueberries, cherries, snap beans, garlic, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, and yucca.

One you know how to store produce properly, it'll keep you from sabotaging your precious fruits and vegetables, especially now when we're visiting stores less frequently and don't always have access to fresh produce. However, if your produce does happen to get overripe, don't toss it just yet. There are plenty of things you can do with overripe (read: soft not moldy) produce.

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