by Associate Clinician Alicia Leonhardt

In a past blog post, I wrote about how to know which produce to buy organic versus conventional. Knowing what produce to buy is the first step, but what happens when you stock your kitchen with healthy fruits and veggies, only to find them all rotting and molding before you can eat them up? It turns out that knowing how to store your produce can be just as important as knowing what to buy if you are interested in saving money and time!

There are certain produce items that should not be stored together, some items are best stored in the fridge, and other fruits and vegetables survive best on the counter top. Proper storage of fruits and vegetables will extend their life expectancy, saving the cost and energy of replacing it all.

There are some pieces of produce that last longer when kept cold and some that are better stored at room temperature. When you put cold-sensitive items in the refrigerator, it causes those fruits or veggies to lose their flavor profile and their moisture content. Keep these items on the counter, and once they are fully ripe, you may store them for a few more days in the fridge.

In addition to considering what temperature to store your produce at, keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables are incompatible for another reason. Certain fruits release a gas called ethylene, which is a natural plant hormone. This gas causes the cells of neighboring ethylene-sensitive produce to degrade and, in turn, these items will become softer quickly and their buds or seeds will begin to sprout.

The fruits shown below are ones that produce the ethylene gas, and should be kept away from produce sensitive to it. Note also which items store best in cool temperatures.

Ethylene Producers

  • Refrigerated
    • Apples
    • Apricots
    • Figs
    • Grapes
  • Room Temperature
    • Avocados
    • Bananas, unripe
    • Kiwis
    • Melons
    • Nectarines
    • Peaches
    • Pears
    • Plums
    • Tomatoes

These next items are sensitive to the ethylene gas and must be stored away from the gas producing ones, whether in the fridge or at room temperature.

Ethylene-Sensitive Produce

  • Refrigerated
    • Broccoli
    • Brussels Sprouts
    • Carrots
    • Cauliflower
    • Cucumber
    • Lettuce/greens
    • Snap Peas
  • Room Temperature
    • Cabbage
    • Eggplant
    • Green Beans
    • Peppers
    • Squash
    • Sweet Potatoes
    • Watermelon
    • Bananas, ripe

There are also a few items that should be kept in a cool dark place, but should not be stored in close proximity with one another: garlic, onions, and potatoes. These root vegetables release moisture, which can cause them to ripen too quickly and begin sprouting. Potatoes are also sensitive to ethylene gas, so you don’t want to store them near the gas releasers out at room temperature either!

Most tropical and citrus fruits are fine left out at room temperature for at least one week. They also may go in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life. If you notice a weak or soft spot on any of the fruit, you want to make sure you get rid of it before you store them. When one piece of produce has a bad spot on it, it has the tendency to grow on the other pieces nearby. The quicker you remove it, the quicker you will stop it from spreading.

One final note is to recognize that the ethylene gas can be used effectively to help ripen or mature fruits and veggies more quickly if you are in a hurry to use them. If you place the produce that you would like to ripen quickly in a brown paper bag, along with an ethylene gas producing item, it will allow the fruit to ripen faster. This can be helpful when you need something for a specific recipe!

Use this as a guide when you come home from the grocery store or farmers market with all of your fresh produce to know where to store it best so that it will last longer in your home. At first, it may take some extra time to put your groceries away, but it’s worth it to save their quality of life. Hopefully you will find that you are avoiding the many unwanted science projects!

Alicia Leonhardt, NTP
Alicia Leonhardt is an Associate Clinician at the Well of Life Center for Natural Health. The Well of Life Center is a holistic wellness center that specializes in nutrition, chiropractic, massage services, and more. Celebrating their 11th year in business, the Well of Life Center has locations in Doylestown and Bethlehem, as well as a Spa & Fitness center in Ottsville, PA. For more information, please visit welloflifecenter.com.