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Proper Food Storage: The Ultimate Guide (Part I)

Proper Food Storage: The Ultimate Guide (Part I)

How many times have you bought fresh produce, only to have to toss it a few days later because it got mushy, the leaves blackened, or it grew mold? Well, sure, produce doesn’t last forever, but there is a right way and a wrong way to store your food. What’s more, storing fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs properly lengthens their shelf life and keeps their natural flavor and texture intact. Read through to check out the best ways to store your food; you may be surprised at what you find out!

Tune in next week for part II of the guide, where we’ll take a deeper look into the best ways to store grains, oils, condiments and vinegars, and dairy products.

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1. Vegetables

Greens Take off bands holding the greens together. Store in an airtight container with a damp cloth. Spinach should be stored in an open container in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper.

Onions, Garlic Shallots, Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes Store in a cool, dark & dry place, like a cabinet. Don’t stack onions — they like air circulation. Potatoes can be stored in a paper bag.

Beets, Radishes & Turnips Cut off any greens before storing (see above for how to store the greens). Keep them in an open container with a moist towel in the crisper.

Cucumber, Zucchini & Broccoli Wrap a moist towel around them and store in the crisper.

Asparagus No need to refrigerate if you’re using them within a week. Keep them upright in a glass filled with room temperature water.

Avocado Keep in a paper bag on the counter.

Carrots Keep in an airtight container wrapped in a damp towel.

Mushrooms Take off any plastic wrapping and transfer loose mushrooms to a paper bag. You can also wrap them in a damp towel and store in the fridge. And remember — never wash before storing!

Sweet Corn Don’t store it — sweet corn should be eaten as soon as possible.

Sweet Peppers If you’re using within a few days, keep them on the countertop. If not, keep them loose in the crisper.

Tomatoes Keep them on the counter. Nothing turns a terrific tomato into a terrible tomato quite like refrigeration.

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2. Fruits

Stone Fruits Keep on the counter until the fruit is fully ripe, at which point you should refrigerate to prolong their shelf life.

Citrus Fruits Citrus does best in the crisper, not in an air-tight container. Most citrus can be stored at room temperature for several days, however — with the exception of tangerines and mandarins, which should always be refrigerated.

Berries Store in a paper bag in the crisper. Keep an eye out for moisture — berries don’t take well to it. It’s also a good idea to not stack them too high.

Melons Uncut melon doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but should be kept out of the sun. Cut melon should be stored in an open container in the fridge.

Apples Apples don’t need to be refrigerated, but make sure the counter or shelf that you’re storing them on is cool.

Bananas Always keep at room temperature — bananas hate the cold!

Cherries Always refrigerate, ideally in an airtight container. It’s best to store cherries separately from other foods in the fridge, as they tend to absorb odors. Do not wash until use.

Grapes Most grapes come in ventilated plastic bags for a reason — it’s the ideal packing for keeping them fresh. Store in the fridge and wash when you use them.

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3. Herbs

Dried Herbs They may look pretty sitting out on your counter, but the best way to store dried herbs is in a cool, dark place — like inside a cabinet. They’ll retain their flavor much longer that way.

Basil To keep basil fresh as long as possible (warning: it can be difficult, no matter how hard you try!), store it loosely packed in an airtight container. Keep a small damp piece of paper inside the container. Basil doesn’t like to be cold, so store it on the counter.

Parsley & Cilantro Cut off the bottom tips of the stems and store in a jar of water, like you would with a bouquet of flowers. Keep the leaves dry. Change the water every few days, and use within two weeks.

Fresh Thyme, Rosemary & Chives Loosely wrap in plastic wrap. Store in a compartment on the refrigerator’s door.

Fennel No need to refrigerate if you plan on using within a few days. Instead, keep upright  in a cup of water.

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Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives in Oakland, California.


+ add your own
6:30AM PDT on Mar 9, 2015

thank you. I know a few of these but not all.

2:19AM PDT on Sep 30, 2012

Thanks, I don't buy that much and use the simple advice of storing it the way the store does.

9:41PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012


9:41PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012


8:12PM PDT on Aug 21, 2012

Knew these but thanks, our food lasts a decent amount of time usually

9:15AM PDT on Aug 13, 2012

I knew some of these but not all. I wish it had been on one page so I could have printed it out. Thanks.

8:23AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Great info!

8:19AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Thank you for the info!

2:18PM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

Common sense but it is useful information.

11:38AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

Marianne B: Just like Maureen C. said, it's the smell. Other food (like milk in an open container) tastes a bit like onions afterwards. Bananas "contaminate" other food too!

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