Like most people, you probably shop for several days' worth of groceries at a time, which means you face the issue of making sure your fresh vegetables stay fresh for as long as possible.
And not all vegetables are alike, which means there's no single best way to store them all. Fresh greens like lettuce can't be handled the same way as root vegetables like potatoes or carrots. Additionally, certain practices, like peeling or washing, can lengthen or shorten their life, depending on various factors. Storing certain vegetables together can also affect how long they last. Here's everything you need to know to store your vegetables for maximum freshness.
Cool, Dry, Dark Place
Some veggies stay fresh longest in a cool or room-temperature location, away from moisture, heat and light. In some cases this might be a kitchen cupboard (not situated directly next to your oven), or it might mean a dedicated pantry. The ideal temperature for your pantry is between 50 and 70 F (although 50 to 60 F is better).
By the way, the reason for keeping your pantry dark is that if these veggies are exposed to light, they think they're outside and will start to sprout.
Veggies to store in your pantry include:
- Hard squash like winter, acorn, spaghetti and butternut
- All types of potatoes (including yams and sweet potatoes)
These items will keep for at least a week in your pantry, and even longer, like a month or longer, if the temperature remains between 50 and 60 F.
And unless you practice meticulous climate control in your home all year long, that means veggies stored in your pantry will generally last longer in the cooler months than when it's hot.
Note that although you should store your onions and your potatoes in the pantry, don't store them next to each other. Potatoes sprout faster if they are stored near onions.
In the Fridge
Does your refrigerator have crisper drawers? Most do, and some of them even allow you to adjust the humidity, generally by opening (less humidity) and closing (more humidity) small air vents on the drawers. And while the low humidity setting is best for some fruits, when it comes to veggies you should opt for high humidity (in other words, close the vents). The temperature in your fridge should be between 33 and 40 F.
- Asparagus has a fairly short shelf life, even when refrigerated. You'll know when your asparagus is starting to go when the tips of the stalks start to look dry and withered. Asparagus will keep for 2 to 3 days in the crisper, but see below for a way to extend this significantly.
- Eggplant, celery, peppers, peas, artichokes, zucchini and cucumber will last up to a week in the fridge.
- Summer squash, yellow squash, and green beans 3 to 5 days.
- Broccoli will last between 3 to 5 days.
- Brussels sprouts will last between 3 to 5 days.
- Cauliflower will last 1 week.
- Carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes can be stored in a plastic produce bag and will last 2 weeks.
- The same goes for lettuce and other leafy greens, which will last from 3 days up to a week depending on how delicate the leaves are.
- Mushrooms will last 3 to 5 days and should be refrigerated in a paper bag.
- Ears of corn should be stored in their husks; they will last between 1 to 2 days.
On the Counter
While there are myriad fruits, such as stone fruits, citrus, and bananas that should be stored on the countertop, the only vegetable you should keep there are tomatoes.
What's that? You've heard that tomatoes are technically a fruit? Indeed they are. And, technically, so are peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, corn and eggplant. But since tomatoes are prepared and served like other vegetables, rather than the way we use fruits like apples, bananas and pears, we're including them here.
In any case, keep your tomatoes on the countertop, out of direct sunlight. The fridge will turn their texture grainy.
Keep Vegetables and Fruits Separate
If you've ever heard that you can ripen an avocado by storing it in a bag with an apple, it's true. The reason is that apples and pears, as well as many other fruits, produce a gas called ethylene, which accelerates the ripening process of other fruits and vegetables that happen to be nearby.
And while you might sometimes want your fruit to ripen faster, that isn't the case with vegetables. With veggies, ripening just means spoilage: spotting, wilting, yellowing, and generally breaking down.
That means making sure that you store your veggies away from your fruits. If you have two crisper drawers, you might reserve one for veggies and the other for fruits.
In addition to apples and pears, kiwi, nectarines, apricots, plums, and peaches are high producers of ethylene.
We discussed earlier how onions need to be kept away from potatoes, and that's not because of ethylene, but rather because the excess moisture onions emit can cause potatoes to sprout.
Anything whole will last longer than anything cut, and anything cut or peeled should be stored in the fridge.
Storing Tall Stalks
With asparagus, remove the rubber bands, trim an inch off the bottoms and stand them up in a glass jar. Don't crowd them, though. You might have to split a bunch across two jars. Fill halfway with water, then cover the stalks with a plastic produce bag and secure with a rubber band. Asparagus will stay fresh this way for at least a week.
You can use this technique with green onions as well, only don't trim the bottoms. If you're really lucky, those tiny white roots at the bottoms will begin to grow and you can plant the stalks in your garden where they'll provide free green onions for up to two years. Once they're planted, just snip off however much of the green shoots you want. (You won't get to use the white parts at the ends without digging them up.)
Lettuce: A Special Case
Like many vegetables, lettuce needs humidity (i.e. moisture) to remain fresh for as long as possible. But in addition to moisture, lettuce also benefits from air circulation. Which means that simply storing it in a plastic bag or in the crisper drawer will not maximize its life. Storing your lettuce there isn't necessarily bad for it, it just won't last as long there as it would if it has a moist environment with good air circulation.
The way to achieve that is to use the same technique restaurants use to keep their lettuce crisp and fresh, which is to wash it, spin it dry, and then store it in a perforated container (like a colander) in the refrigerator. You can read more about that technique.
Mushrooms: Another Special Case
We mentioned above that mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator rather than in a plastic bag. The reason for this is that mushrooms have a high water content, and as that water evaporates, it can become trapped in a plastic bag, causing them to turn slimy. A paper bag lets them breathe.
Beyond that, though, many cooks don't clean their mushrooms properly because they've been told that mushrooms shouldn't get wet. This turns out to be not true. Here's more about the best technique for cleaning your mushrooms before cooking them.