Kitchen Hint: Storing Produce to Last

by Catherine Haug, March 28, 2013

Soon we will be planting our gardens and before you know it, we’ll be harvesting our bounty, or receiving our live CSA dividends. But then what do you do with all that produce? How do you store it for use in the near future, or to last through the winter?

Experts say the average American wastes $2000 worth of food during the year, simply by not storing it properly or not using it before it needs to be added to compost.

Short-Term Storage

Below are a 27 tips to beat those odds from Dr. Mercola (1). Many of these suggestions involve the use of synthetic containers, either new or repurposed.  These include synthetics that release toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or estrogen-mimics (like BPA, BPS) that could pose health hazards over the long term. Some products claim to be “BPA Free” but contain a related compound such as BPS, that is just as toxic as BPA. My advice: avoid all plastics.

My comments are in blue. I note synthetics with the abbreviation “SYN>>“, and give an alternative in most cases. The main culprits are as follows:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic wrap; it is far better to use natural waxed paper, waxed with beeswax as opposed to petroleum-based wax.
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic storage containers


  1. Store onions in old pantyhose to keep them fresh for up to eight months (tie a knot in between each one to keep them separate). [SYN>> Pantyhose; better to use fine cotton or silk netting].
  2. Chop dry green onions and store them in an empty plastic water bottle. Put the bottle in the freezer and sprinkle out what you need when you’re cooking. [SYN>> Plastic water bottles; better to repurpose a glass bottle or jar that is freezer-safe].
  3. When storing potatoes, keep them away from onions (this will make them spoil faster). Storing them with apples will help keep the potatoes from sprouting.
  4. Asparagus should be stored in your fridge upright in a glass of water (like cut flowers, cut the asparagus bottoms off first), and covered with a plastic bag. [Be sure to use a glass made of glass rather than plastic or aluminum, to avoid toxins.]
  5. Store salad greens in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and add a paper towel to help absorb moisture. A salad spinner will also help remove excess moisture — a key culprit in wilting leaves — from your greens. [SYN>> plastic wrap; better to use beeswaxed paper. And instead of using throw-away paper towel, cut up a clean cotton dish towel to use rather than paper towel to reduce your contribution to trash. My personal solution is to make bags out of old cotton dish towels – fold in half crosswise and sew up two sides, leaving one end open. Store your greens in the bag.]
  6. Mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag in a cool dry place, or in the fridge. Avoid storing mushrooms in plastic, as any trapped moisture will cause them to spoil. [Excellent suggestion, and environmentally sound too, especially if you reuse a paper bag for this purpose. Take a paper bag to the store when you plan to buy mushrooms, and request that your store provide small paper bags near the mushrooms for this purpose.]


  1. Swirl berries in a mixture of one part vinegar (white or apple cider) to 10 parts water. You won’t taste the vinegar but the solution will help keep your berries from getting moldy and soft. [See also ESP Kitchen hint: Prevent fresh berries from molding.]
  2. When storing chopped avocado or guacamole, leave the pit in, spritz it with some lemon juice or olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. This will help keep it from turning brown. [SYN>> plastic wrap; better to use beeswaxed paper. For a spritzer, be sure to use a glass bottle.]
  3. If you spot a rotten apple, remove it right away, as one rotten apple really can spoil the whole bunch. [When storing apples, wrap each in old newspaper; this helps isolate each apple. But still check each one regularly for rot.]
  4. Put plastic wrap around the crown of a bunch of bananas to keep them fresh for days longer (and be sure to store them away from other fruits, as they emit a lot of ethylene gas which accelerates ripening).  [SYN>> plastic wrap; better to use beeswaxed paper.]
  5. Store tomatoes at room temperature away from sunlight, in a single layer with the stem side up (don’t put them in plastic bags, which will cause them to spoil faster).


  1. Store delicate herbs like parsley, basil, cilantro and chives upright in a glass of water (like you would arrange cut flowers) in your fridge. Put a plastic bag over the top and secure it around the glass with a rubber band for optimal freshness. [SYN>> plastic wrap; better to use beeswaxed paper.]
  2. Bunch oily herbs like thyme loosely together, secure them with a string around the base and hang them in your kitchen for storage.
  3. Fill an ice cube tray with olive oil, then add chopped herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme or oregano) to each cube. Pop one out when you’re cooking for instant herb-infused oil. [SYN>> Most ice cube trays are plastic, and likely contain BPA or other toxic substances. Look for a stainless steel ice cube tray, or use half-cup canning jars.]
  4. Store fresh ginger root in the freezer. You can grate it frozen (peel and all) when cooking.

Dairy and Nuts

  1. Rub the cut side of a block of cheese with butter to keep it from drying out.
  2. Cheese should be wrapped in cheese paper or wax paper, not plastic wrap, then put in a plastic baggie. [Be sure to select beeswaxed paper. Also, if you want to wax the cheese, use beeswax instead of paraffin or cheese wax. See Cheese Making: Waxing the Round for more.]
  3. Store cheese in the warmest part of your fridge, such as the vegetable or cheese drawer.
  4. Nuts can be stored in the freezer to keep them fresh longer. Ideally put them in Mason jars that have the air vacuumed out with a Food Saver and attachment.
  5. Cat’s hint: If your milk does not come in a glass container, pour it into a glass bottle or jar when you get home to minimize milk’s exposure to toxins in the container. The whey in milk slowly works its way into/through the synthetic container, allowing toxic substances to dissolve in the milk.

Organization, Gadgets and Other Tips

  1. Keep milk and other highly perishable items on the middle shelf in your fridge, NOT in the door where temperatures fluctuate.
  2. Avoid mixing produce and meats in the same drawer, as cross contamination can lead to food waste.
  3. Avoid over-stocking your fridge, as a crowded fridge will keep air from circulating properly leading to warm spots that can cause spoilage.
  4. Avoid chopping up your fruits, veggies and meats before storage, as this will make them spoil faster. [On a related note, it is far better to buy whole, fresh fruits and cut them up yourself for a fruit tray, than to buy a pre-prepared fruit tray. The latter will have lost most of the antioxidants and phytonutrients by the time you are ready to eat the fruit.]
  5. Glass mason jars make a great food-storage option, and you can seal them with an automatic vacuum sealer like Food Saver for even more freshness. [Glass is far preferable to plastic, as it can be used over and over, whereas plastic degrades continually, emitting toxic substances in the process.]
  6. Remove spoiled food from your fridge promptly to keep mold from transferring to fresh food. [If you find a new spot of mold on unpeeled produce, wipe the spot with a solution of vinegar and water, to remove and discourage the mold.]
  7. Get an ethylene gas absorber for your fridge; they’re available online and can keep your produce fresh up to three times longer than normal. There are many types of bags that can do this. They are typically called “green bags.” One example would be Debbie Meyer Green Bags. [Note, these green bags are plastic…]
  8. A gadget called the Herb Savor, which has a well for water and a plastic cover to keep herbs fresh, claims to make herbs last for up to three weeks. [SYN>> Plastic; again, it’s best to avoid plastic for food storage…]

Long Term Storage

  • Many foods can be stored through the winter in a cool, moist root cellar: garlic, potatoes, apples, late cabbage, and root vegetables.
  • Other foods need a drier and/or warmer storage environment: onions, winter squash, pumpkin.
  • Fresh berries can be kept in a freezer. Fresh peas, beans and other legumes can also be frozen after parboiling.
  • Most fruits and veggies can be canned. However, metal lids are coated with BPA or related substances and plastic lids contain BPA or related substances.
  • Almost any fruit or veggie can be dehydrated.

See articles on our website for more about long-term food storage:


  1. Mercola: Food Storage Tips
  2. National Resources Defense Council, “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” August 2012

Comments are closed.