A Crash Course in How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

By Mary Hunt

October 22, 2019 5 min read

Could you use an extra $300? You might want to take a look in your garbage. A survey conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that global food waste per year is roughly 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables! Mind-boggling, right?

Here's a fun crash course in the how, where and why of fresh fruits and vegetables. Start following these insanely simple tips, and you'll be amazed to see far fewer of your food dollars (hopefully, none) end up in the garbage in the form of stinky, rotten produce.

At a conservative estimate of $2 a pound, each household is losing about $300 by tossing out produce that's become more suitable for a biology project than human consumption.

Many people also have concerns about pesticides on the surface of fruits and vegetables. However, according to studies reported by Penn State Extension, pesticide residues are generally well within limits set by the federal government, which means they are not present at levels that could harm individuals. Contamination with harmful bacteria and viruses due to improper care and storage at home is a far greater threat to health.

Simple steps can ensure the fruits and vegetables you eat are safe. To reduce your risk of exposure to microbial and chemical contaminants — and to save money — follow these guidelines:


Select only high-quality produce. Bruised, shriveled, slimy or overripe produce can harbor harmful bacteria.

Add fresh produce to your cart near the end of your shopping trip, not the beginning, so it stays cool.

Keep meats, fish and poultry in plastic bags in the shopping cart to prevent juices from dripping onto fruits and vegetables. Make sure you pack these items in separate bags at checkout.


During warm months especially, plan your trips so grocery shopping is your last stop of the day.

Load fresh foods into the car, not the hot trunk, to keep these items as cool as possible until you can get them to the kitchen.


Immediately refrigerate perishable fruits and vegetables, ideally in the refrigerator's crisper drawer to maintain quality and safety — and their usable life.

Some items like potatoes and tomatoes should be kept in a clean, dry place


Almost all fruits and vegetables can be stored in your freezer. Just be aware that while freezing generally preserves their taste, nutrients and health benefits, it can change the texture of produce. It's a great way to store seasonal fruits or vegetables for use later in the year, especially if you're planning to eat them cooked or blended into smoothies.

It's best to freeze fruits and vegetables in airtight containers. You want to avoid freezing produce that isn't ripe yet because it may not ripen correctly once thawed.

Leafy greens that you plan to eat raw, such as lettuce, should never be frozen.


Separate fruits and vegetables for storage. Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (the ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil surrounding vegetables. The old adage about one bad apple is true.

For vegetables, remove ties and rubber bands. Trim away leafy ends, but leave about an inch to keep vegetables from drying out before they can be consumed. Punch some holes in the bags you may be storing the vegetables in to let air circulate. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator. The closer they are, the quicker they will rot.

Fruits are pickier. Most stone fruits, avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, melons, apples and pears will continue to ripen if left sitting out on a countertop. Items like bell peppers, grapes, citrus fruits and berries will not continue to ripen, but begin to deteriorate on the counter and should be refrigerated.

Generally, you want to store produce in the same manner you found it in the grocery store. Tomatoes and bananas, for example, are never refrigerated, while leafy greens are refrigerated and, in some stores, get a fine mist of water at regular intervals.

Most fruits will ripen at room temperature. However, once ripe, they should be refrigerated.

With few exceptions, do not wash fruits or vegetables before storing because washing hastens spoilage. Wash just before eating.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: tookapic at Pixabay

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