The best way to store produce depends on the type of produce being stored, as well as what types of fruits and vegetables are being stored together. It's also important to take into consideration which type of container to store produce in. For instance, some vegetables need to be stored in plastic bags, while others keep longer soaking in water. With the exception ofroot vegetables, it's generally fine to wash fruits and vegetables before storing them, as long a they're dry before they go into storage — excess moisture will speed up rot in most cases. When in doubt about the proper way to store produce, ask a professional grocer.
Most fruits, including apples, bananas, citrus fruits, peaches, and watermelons, should be left at room temperature for a few days to let them ripen, as long as their skins remain intact. After the fruit is ripe — or if it is cut — it should be stored in a refrigerator. Small pitted fruits should be put in a perforated plastic bag or in a cardboard box inside the refrigerator on a top shelf; the top shelves are slightly warmer than lower shelves, and usually closer to eye level so any rot can be seen right away. Most fruits can last for between four days and a week this way. Apples, bananas, nectarines, and melons should not be stored near other produce, since they release gases that can cause other fruits and vegetables to ripen too quickly.
Storing berries and mushrooms can be tricky, since they're both rather delicate and tend to rot easily. Generally speaking, it's best to store produce like berries and mushrooms in a single layer in paper bags or loosely packed in cardboard boxes covered with a paper towel. Strawberries and blueberries generally last for up to a week, while raspberries and blackberries tend to go bad after two or three days. Mushrooms also tend to last for only a few days, though it's sometimes possible to extend their shelf life by putting a slightly damp paper towel on top of them. Neither berries nor mushrooms should be washed before storage.
For instance stale bread, provided it isn’t moldy, may be safe to consume. If you’ve ever opened a package of graham crackers, you know that an open package means the crackers will be soft within a few hours. This doesn’t mean they’re unsafe, and you haven’t exceeded their shelf life by eating them. It just means they’ve quickly gone stale when exposed to air. You should take "use by" labels more seriously, since these mean the food may potentially be unsafe to eat after the date specified.
Some people are concerned when certain foods have a long “life” on the shelf, since this may indicate a high amount of preservatives in the food. Preservatives do tend to extend food’s ability to last, but some preservatives may be quite natural and safe to consume. Most people make jokes about the shelf life of foods like Twinkies®, but in actuality, these snack cakes won’t last forever on a shelf. Like all foods, they do go bad past a certain date.
Shelf life can also apply to medications, both over the counter and prescription, and you should definitely adhere to expiration dates on medications. Some drugs can actually become stronger over time, while others become inactive. This means using a medication past its shelf life hazards either the risk of the medication not working or being toxic. If you’re in doubt, you can ask your pharmacist if a medication you plan to use has just expired. Some medications will remain stable past their expiration date.
With both food and medication, expiration dates are important to note. You’ll find that products that are vacuum-sealed or are canned tend to have the longest shelf lives. Fresh products like breads, crackers, vegetables, dairy items, and raw meat usually last for the least amount of time. The old adage about food safety is a good one to adhere to: When in doubt, throw it out.
Storing Root Vegetables and Pumpkins
The best way to store produce like root vegetables and pumpkins is not to put them in the refrigerator at all. Root vegetables like potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, and taro should generally be stored at around room temperature — no cooler than 50°F (10°C) — and should not be washed until just before they're used or they may rot more quickly. Onions and shallots can last for about a month this way, while garlic and potatoes can last for several months if properly stored. Pumpkins and similar vegetables, including gourds and winter squash, can usually last at room temperature for about two weeks.
Starchy vegetables should not be stored in the refrigerator, since the cold can cause them to become flavorless. Any that are stored in the cold should be allowed to warm up to room temperature several hours before they are used. It's important to check root vegetables for signs of rotting and spoilage periodically, especially if they're being stored for a long time.
Storing Leafy Greens and Herbs
It's best to eat leafy greens soon after buying them, though they can last for up to a week in the refrigerator. Full heads of lettuce, kale, chard, and bok choy can be put in the crisper to separate them from other foods or just on a refrigerator shelf as-is, while loose greens and herbs should be stored in an air-tight container. These rot easily when wet, so it's often a good idea to put a paper towel in the container with them to absorb moisture, and you should check them periodically for signs of wilting. Never store produce like greens near most fruits, particularly apples and bananas, as this will make them go bad faster.
Storing Other Vegetables
Most other types of vegetables work fine stored in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper or on a refrigerator shelf. Celery, carrots, and asparagus tend to keep longer when stored in water or wrapped in a damp paper towel — asparagus will last for a few days this way; celery and carrots can last for a week or two. Anything with greens, like carrots or beets, should have the greens cut off before storage. Corn should be stored in the husk, where it can last for a few days.
Root vegetables” is a relatively generic description of veggies including starchy ones that grow underground. The plants that grow root vegetables may have other culinary uses. For instance, turnips, a classic root vegetable, are famous not only for their underground bulbous veggie but also for the greens. Turnip greens, the above ground part of the plant, are a popular food in the Southern United States.
To make matters confusing, root vegetables aren’t always roots. Some veggies we eat are actually bulbs instead. A few examples of bulbs we eat include onions, garlic and shallots.
Many people may differentiate onions and garlic as more spice than vegetable, but they are considered root vegetables.
Potatoes are usually labeled as tubers, and again, we may think of these as more of a starch than a vegetable. Despite that, they are a part of the category of root vegetables. Plenty of other veggies fall into this category too.
Among the varieties of these veggies you’ll find potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, parsnips, jicama, taro, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes, to name just a few.
Sometimes root vegetables form a major part of a culture’s diet. This is certainly true of roots like yams, taro, and potatoes in certain parts of the world.
Other times underground vegetables are important to a culture but are used to flavor main meals or as an important accessory to meals. For instance, carrots are excellent in the latter respect but wouldn’t likely be used as a main food. Ginger, on the other hand, which is a rhizome, is delicious when added as a spice and many cultures enjoy either fresh ginger, pickled thin slices of ginger, or dried powder ginger to flavor foods.
Due to the tremendous variety expressed by the term root vegetables, it may be difficult to know what the term refers to in most conversations. In classic American cooking, people may specifically mean things like carrots, leeks, potatoes, parsnips and onions, and certainly not things like peanuts, though these are sometimes called groundnuts. One thing that can be generalized about most “underground” foods is that they require especially good washing practices.
Since many of our foods are grown in manure, dirt and/or compost, you will really want to take your time cleaning root vegetables. Invest in a good scrubbing brush designed for veggies to thoroughly clean things like carrots, leeks, beets or potatoes. You may note small pebbles imbedded in larger root veggies, which you should cut or dig out when you’re cleaning them. Some people prefer to peel things like potatoes or carrots to avoid heavy cleaning of these vegetables, but others say it’s much more nutritious to leave the skin intact when you can.