Food storage: Fruits and vegetables

Here's what to do to keep your fruits and veggies fresh.

Onions and garlic bring a pungent odour to recipes and to your kitchen. Store them in a way that maintains their flavour.

  • Onions should be kept away from light and allowed room to ventilate. For this reason, store onions in a wire-mesh hanging basket or in a sieve-like bowl.
  • Store onions separate from potatoes, as the gases both emit can lead to spoilage.
  • Scallions should be refrigerated in a plastic bag, where they will keep for about one week.
  • Cut or cooked onions can be wrapped up tightly or sealed in a container to keep for up to 10 days.
  • Garlic should be kept uncovered in a cool, dark spot, where it should stay fresh for 3 to 6 months if it remains whole and unpeeled. Kept in the fridge or freezer, garlic may lose some of its zing.

Tomatoes can be delicate and bruise easily. Handle with care.

  • Unripe tomatoes should be left out at room temperature for up to a week. Keep them away from direct sunlight.
  • Once tomatoes are ripe, store them in a warmer spot in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce keep well in the freezer. Tomatoes can keep for up to 2 months in the freezer.

Eggplants look tough, but they are actually quite delicate.

  • Do not store eggplants in plastic bags. They may go bad more quickly this way. Keep them in a vented bowl, away from sunlight, at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.
  • Eggplants cannot handle too much heat or too much cold. Stowing them in the fridge can prolong their shelf life, where they will keep fresh for about 5 to 7 days.

Carrots and celery often go together. But should they be stored side-by-side?

  • Celery should be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator, either wrapped in a plastic bag or in a damp cloth. Freezing will wilt celery.
  • Carrots are very hardy, but they can dry up if not stored properly. Lop off carrot tops, since they suck moisture away from the more appetizing orange roots. Wrap carrots in paper towels and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, where they will keep for about 2 weeks.

Greens and lettuce do not tend to stay fresh for long. Only buy as much as you think you will eat in a few days' time.

  • Cabbage can be the one exception to the short shelf life rule. If kept in the crisper, stowed in a plastic bag, a head of cabbage can keep for 4 to 5 weeks. Savoy cabbage is more delicate and lasts only one week. Once a head of cabbage has been cut into, it should be wrapped up tightly and used within a couple of days.
  • Collard and mustard greens, spinach, kale, and chard should be stored unwashed. Wrap them in damp paper towels and stash them in plastic bags in the fridge crisper. There, the greens should keep for about 5 days, depending on the variety.
  • Romaine and arugula should be washed and dried before storage. Wrap the leaves in damp cloth and stow them in plastic bags in the crisper. Romaine may last up to a week, while Boston and leaf lettuce only keep for 3 to 5 days. More perishable arugula and watercress should ideally be eaten on the same day of purchase.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower seem robust but are both quite perishable, keeping fresh for only one week. Store broccoli or cauliflower unwashed in plastic bags placed in the crisper. You can also blanch and freeze broccoli. In the freezer, broccoli can keep for up to 8 months. Cooked broccoli should be stored in a tightly covered container and eaten within a few days.

Mushrooms come in many varieties. Here's how to store 2 of the more common types.

  • Shiitake mushrooms should be stored loose inside of a closed paper bag stashed in the refrigerator. They will keep for about one week. If dried, the mushrooms can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for 6 months up to one year.
  • Cremini mushrooms should also be stored loose inside of a paper bag in the refrigerator. To maintain mushrooms' moisture, either wrap them in damp cloth or lay them out in a glass dish covered with a moist cloth.

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes look a lot alike and share some similar storage solutions.

  • Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Kept at room temperature, regular potatoes may sprout or become dehydrated. Kept in the sunshine, potatoes may become dangerous to eat, due to toxin growth that may be triggered by sun exposure (look for green colour). On the other hand, if kept refrigerated, the flavours of yams and potatoes may change.
  • A cellar, basement, or ventilated cupboard makes a good potato and yam storage spot. If possible, keep potatoes inside of a burlap sack or paper bag.
  • Keep potatoes away from onions. One can spoil the other.

Fruit storage and shelf life differ depending on the item.

  • Apples should ripen at room temperature. Once they are ripe, put them in the refrigerator, where the crisp fruit will keep for about a month.
  • Ripen bananas at room temperature or, to get them ready-to-eat more quickly, put bananas in a paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, bananas can be preserved for a few extra days if refrigerated.
  • Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges should be stored at room temperature but away from sunlight. Stored this way, citrus fruits will keep fresh for about 2 to 3 weeks. The freshly squeezed juice of any of these fruits can also be frozen in ice cube trays and stowed in plastic bags in the freezer for future use.
  • Berries should be stored unwashed in a covered container for 1 to 3 days' worth of freshness. Keep an eye out for mouldy berries, which can spoil the rest of the bunch. Berries can also be frozen and stored in plastic bags to keep for 6 to 8 months.
  • Whole, intact cantaloupe should be kept at room temperature until ripe. Once cantaloupe is ripe, stow it in the refrigerator. If it is cut, wrap the slices tightly and store them in the fridge. Cantaloupe kept at room temperature for 2 hours or more may be vulnerable to foodborne bacteria and should be tossed out.
  • Watermelon can be left out at room temperature until cut. When you cut it, cut it into large pieces and cover them with plastic wrap to maintain moisture and keep out other foods' odours.
  • Grapes should be kept in the refrigerator. Store grapes unwashed and loosely wrapped in a paper towel that is placed inside of a plastic bag. This way, grapes stay fresh for a few days. Grapes also make a fun, bite-sized icy treat when frozen.

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