Optimal Storage for Fruits, Vegetables

by Catherine Haug

As our gardens provide summer bounty, we like to keep these fresh goodies as long as possible. Mint Life had an interesting article by ‘Frugal Foodie’ from earlier this month, with tips to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables (Pantry, Counter, Fridge; Where to Store Produce for Maximum Shelf Life (1).

Frugal Foodie often suggests storing fresh (or dehydrated) foods in plastic bags, but I shy from these because they:

  • Are made from precious petroleum and are thus not sustainable;
  • Can out-gass or leach toxins into the stored food;
  • Don’t allow the food to breathe;
  • Are not biodegradable; and
  • Escape in the environment to find their way to oceans and marshes where they can trap and kill animals.

Instead, I prefer to use lightly moistened bags I make from muslin or cotton dishtowels, or glass containers covered with lightly dampened cloth.

Winter Storage

Check out the following EssentiaList articles and handouts:

Read on for short and long-term storage tips from A (for Apple) to Z (for Zucchini), including dehydrating and freezing.

Fruit & Veggie Storage, from A to Z


Keep on the counter up to 7 days; after that, refrigerate. However, do not store near other produce as it can ruin them (make them bitter), or in the case of most other fruits such as plums and pears, apples can cause them to ripen quickly. This is because they give off ethylene gas. (1)

I prefer to keep apples in my cool root cellar. I wrap each in newspaper (black ink only), then place them in a box in layers, separating each layer with a sheet of cardboard or some straw. I prop my box up off the concrete floor so moisture won’t be pulled into the box, and so that air can circulate.

Not all apples are good for winter-long storage, however. MacIntosh will keep about 6 – 8 weeks. Honey Crisps are my favorite for long term storage as they will keep for 3 – 4 months.

For long term storage, apples can also be dehydrated, then stored in glass jars in a cool place for up to a year. Or  frozen in sweet syrup; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Apples for instructions


Refrigerate whole for up to 2 weeks. (1)


Store upright (tips up) in a wide mouth jar, with either an inch of water in the bottom, or a damp towel wrapped around the base of the spears. Will keep for 3 – 4 days. (1)


Ripen on the counter. Once ripe, store in fridge 3 – 4 days.


Store on counter or in a cool place (1). They are best eaten when there is very little green color left in the peel, but before the peel starts to turn black. Once ripe, they can be kept in the fridge for about 2 days; however, the peel will turn black.

Bananas can also be frozen, but note that the peels will blacken even tho the fruit does not continue to ripen in the freezer.

Beets and Chard

Remove green tops an inch or so above the crown of the beetroot, and refrigerate separately from the root. (1). Beetroot can be kept a long time in the veggie crisper of your refrigerator; if you don’t have a crisper, store them in a plastic bag to avoid moisture loss. However, I like to keep my use of plastics to a bare minimum.

Beetroot can also be stored in a root cellar, packed in sand or straw.  Refer to EssentiaList Handout: Storage of Produce (5) for storage details. or they can be frozen; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Beets (7) for instructions.

Store beet greens and chard the same as you would store spinach or lettuce.


Many berries are fragile and are best stored in the picking container unwashed. Then rinse just before eating. Blueberries and strawberries will keep 5 – 7 days; raspberries and blackberries up to 2 days. (1)

For long term storage, berries can also be dehydrated then stored in glass jars in a cool place for up to a year, or frozen. For freezing instructions, see Pick Your Own: Freezing Berries (7).


Refrigerate in veggie crisper 3 – 5 days (1).

It can also be frozen for long-term storage. After cutting into florets, brine in salt water for 30 minutes to kill insects, then blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, or in steam for 5 minutes, then plunge into ice water for same length of time they were blanched. (From Pick Your Own: Freezing Broccoli (7))


Refrigerate in veggie crisper up to 3 weeks (1). If they get limp, soak them in a bath of cold water to crispen.

They can also be stored in a root cellar for most of the winter. Store packed in sand or straw. See EssentiaList Handout: Storage of Produce (5) for storage details.

Carrots can be frozen. Peel, trim ends, and cut, dice or julienne as desired. Blanch in boiling water 5 minutes for whole, small carrots; 2 minutes for diced, sliced or julienne. Then plunge into ice bath for same length of time as they were blanched (From Pick Your Own: Freezing Carrots (7)).


Like its cousin broccoli, refrigerate flower head  (stem down) in veggie crisper 3 – 5 days. (1)

See Broccoli, above, for instructions on freezing cauliflower.


Refrigerate 1 – 2 weeks in veggie crisper. Best stored near the front so it’s less apt to freeze. (1) If it gets limp, soak stalks in a bath of cold water to crispen.

Citrus fruits

Store oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits on the counter up to 2 weeks. (1)


Refrigerate while still in the husk, up to 2 days.(1)

Corn can also be frozen; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Corn from the Cob (7) for instructions.


Refrigerate in the crisper for 4 – 5 days.

I’m told that cucs can also be dehydrated to make chips.


Store away from heat & light, such as in a pantry or cupboard; will last up to 4 months. (1)

I keep mine after summer harvest in my root cellar, and it keeps well for about 6 months, but in the spring, no matter what I do, it starts to sprout a new green shoot. During warm weather, I store store-bought garlic in a low kitchen cupboard.

Green beans

Refrigerate in veggie crisper of refrigerator for 3 -4 days.

They can be frozen. Trim ends and cut into 1 – 2″ lengths, or French them lengthwise. Then blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and immerse in ice water for 3 minute, then package for freezing. (From Pick Your Own: Freezing Green Beans (7)).

Green onions (scallions)

Refrigerate in crisper for 3 – 4 days.


Fresh herbs can last 8 – 10 days in the refrigerator. (1) I make small muslin bags and lightly dampen them to store herbs.

Herbs can also be dried for long term storage. Some can be infused in olive oil or apple cider vinegar.

Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Collards, etc.)

See also Beets & Chard, above.

Refrigerate heads or individual leaves without washing first – wash them just before using. Whole heads will last 5 – 7 days this way; individual leaves not quite that long. (1) Store in dampened but not wet bags made from muslin or cotton dishtowels.

Greens can be frozen for long-term storage. Wash leaves, then cut off any woody stems or damaged pieces. Blanch in boiling water: collards for 3 minutes, all others for 2 minutes. Remove promptly and immerse in ice water for same length of time as they were blanched. Then package for freezing. (From Pick Your Own: Greens (7)).


Like other greens, they are best stored as the whole head, and don’t wash them before storing. However, if the leaves are damp from the store, pat them dry with paper towel or cotton dish towel before storing. Wrap in paper towel or store in a cotton bag in the veggie crisper. Give it lots of breathing room in the drawer. (From Stella’s Kitchen: How to Keep Lettuce Fresh (8)).

NOTE: pre-washed lettuce in sealed nitrogen-filled plastic boxes keep the leaves fresh-looking while in a warehouse or being trucked across country. However, once you break the seal and let the nitrogen out, they will quickly age and get slimy. Also it’s best not to trust the “pre-washed” label – you don’t know the quality of the water used for the bath, especially for foreign-grown produce.


Remove from package and place in brown paper bag. Or place in a tray and cover with damp but not wet cloth. Store in refrigerator for 2 – 3 days.

Some mushrooms can be dehydrated and stored in glass jars for long term storage. They can also be frozen either with, or without pre-steaming/cooking.See Mom’s Budget: Freezing Mushrooms and Yahoo Answers: Freezing Mushrooms (9).


Like garlic (see above), store in pantry or cupboard away from heat and light, for 3 – 4 weeks. (1)

When I harvest my onions in the fall, I dry them well on a screen for good air circulation. Then cut off the stock and much of the root, then store them in net bag hung from the wall of my basement (not my root cellar, which is too cool).

They can also be frozen. See Univ. of Nebraska Extension: Freezing onions (10).

Peaches, Plums & Nectarines.

To ripen, place in paper bag punched with holes, away from sunlight, and keep on counter until ripe. Then refrigerate for another 3 – 4 days.

Ripen on the counter in a paper bag punched with holes, away from sunlight. Keep peaches (as well as plums and nectarines) on the counter until ripe, and then refrigerate. They’ll last another three to four days.

They can also be frozen for long term storage in sweet syrup: see Pick Your Own: Peaches, Plums, Nectarines, Figs & Cherries (7); or without syrup, see ehow: Freezing Peaches or How to Do Things: Freezing Peaches (11) .


Store on counter to ripen (Frugal Foodie suggests storing with bananas and apples if they are not very ripe, to speed up the ripening). Then refrigerate after ripening for 3 – 4 days.

Pears can also be dehydrated and stored in glass jars for long term storage (my fav dried fruit). Or they can be frozen in a sweet syrup; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Pears (7).

Peas & Edible Pod Peas

Store peas in the fridge in a glass container covered with a damp cloth for 3 – 5 days.

For longer term storage they are excellent frozen. Edible pod peas: wash then trim pods; shell peas: remove from shells and rinse. Then blanch pods in boiling water for 3 minutes or shelled peas for 2 minutes. Immediately immerse in ice water bath for same length of time as they were blanched. Drain and package for freezing. (From Pick Your Own: Freezing Peas (7)).


Peppers will last in fridge 4 – 5 days.

After summer harvest they can also be stored in a cool, moist spot of your basement.

Many can be dehydrated and stored in glass jars, or frozen for long term storage. See Pick Your Own: Freezing Peppers (7) for instructions.


Store in pantry or or cupboard, away from heat and sunlight, for 2 – 3 months. or hang them in burlap bags from wall in root cellar for 4 – 6 months. Note, some varieties are longer-keepers than others.


Refrigerate in crisper for 10 – 14 days. if they get soft, they can sometimes be crisped by soaking in ice-water bath.


Spread them out on the counter, out of direct sinlight to ripen, then store stem-side down in refrigerator for 2 – 3 days.

For longer-term storage, they can be sundried, then packed in oil, though we probably don’t always have enough late summer sun for this. They can also be dehydrated. Or frozen; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Tomatoes (7) for instructions.

Tropical fruit (Mangos, Papayas, Pineapple and Kiwi)

Ripen on counter; placing in a paper bag helps ripening of mangos. They are very fragrant when ripe. Refrigerate 2- 5 days after ripe.

How to Peel & Cut a Mango

Separating the mango from it’s large pit can be daunting unless you know how. First, it’s best to cut the fruit from the pit and then peel. Cut from stem end to pointed end about 1/2 inch from the center and parallel to the ridge along one side. Then cut the same way on the other side of the stem. Now cut the fruit away from the sides of the pit, like two crescent moons. Peel and cut sections into bite-size pieces. Or, to prepare thin slices or dice, see excellent video: You Tube: How to Cut a Mango or Start Cooking.com: How to Peel a Mango (12).

How to Peel & Cut a Pineapple

And for an excellent video about pineapples: hot to spot a ripe one, peel it and cut it: Metacafe: How to cut a pineapple (13).

Mangos can be frozen in a sweet syrup for long-term storage; see Pick Your Own: Freezing Mangos. I also freeze peeled bite-size pieces directly for up to one month.

Turnips, Rutabagas and Parsnips

Rutabagas are great keepers in the refrigerator or root cellar; turnips are also good keepers, but not as good as rutabagas.

To store, cut off greens and store separately from the root. The greens will keep 3 – 5 days in a moistened cotton bag. The turnip or rutabaga root can be stored in the crisper or root cellar for 3 – 5 months. Parsnips keep 1 – 2.  All can also be dehydrated. See Univ. of Missouri Extension: Turnips, Rutabagas & Parsnips – Oh My! for more (14),

They can also be frozen. See Pick Your Own: Freezing Turnips & Parsnips (7) for instructions.


Keep on the counter at room temperature for up to two weeks. (1) If you like it best chilled, refrigerate a few hours before eating.

Winter squash & pumpkins

These can be stored on he counter for up to two weeks (1), or in a cupboard or pantry away from direct exposure to light for longer period (up to 6 months, depending upon variety).

Cut squash should be kept in covered container in the fridge, for 1 – 2 days. (15)

For longer term storage, keep in basement, but not in cold root cellar. Either hang in nets, or store on a shelf and turn/rotate occasionally, for air circulation.

Raw or cooked squash can be frozen. See Pick Your Own: Freezing Cooked Winter Squash (7) for instructions on cooked squash, or WH Foods: Selecting and Storing Winter Squash for instructions on raw squash and more into (15).

Zucchini & Other Summer squash (Yellow squash, crookneck, straightneck, pattypan, etc.

Refrigerate in crisper or cotton bag, 4 – 5 days. (1)

Summer squash can also be frozen for longer term storage. See Pick Your Own: Freezing Summer Squash (7) for instructions.


  1. http://www.mint.com/blog/saving/storing-produce-07072010/
  2. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/07/29/where-do-you-store-produce-in-your-fridge-for-maximum-shelf-life.aspx
  3. essentialstuff.org/index.php/2009/11/09/Cat/root-cellar-ideas
  4. essentialstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/ESL_RC-temp-humid-chart.pdf
  5. essentialstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/EsL_WinterStorage-2.pdf
  6. essentialstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/RC-garden-sldshw_062409_cprs.pdf
  7. Pick Your Own Index to Freezing Guides:  www.pickyourown.org/allaboutcanning.htm#freezing
  8. www.stellaskitchen.com/howtokeeplettucefresh.html
  9. www.momsbudget.com/freezercooking/freezemushrooms.html and ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061019222659AAOVOTa
  10. lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciq-onions.shtml
  11. www.ehow.com/how_2063490_freeze-peaches.html and www.howtodothings.com/food-and-drink/a2246-how-to-freeze-peaches.html
  12. www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvLdPjpELyU and startcooking.com/blog/217/How-to-Peel-a-Mango
  13. www.metacafe.com/watch/410687/how_to_cut_a_pineapple/
  14. extension.missouri.edu/stcharles/qfk/Sep05/parsnip.html
  15. www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=63#purchasequalities

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