Storing Fruits and Vegetables

fruit varietySummer is here and that means many fruits and vegetables are now in season. I have recently started growing my own fruits and vegetables to try and cut back on grocery costs and I am quickly learning that I will have more than I know what to do with! I will have an abundance of berries so Yogurt Parfaits will be a staple breakfast before work and Mini Berry Pies will be a wonderful treat for dessert. Summer Bounty Salad is a great recipe to use up any vegetables you may have on hand as any vegetable can go into this and it will taste great.

Now what to do with all the extras that I have on hand? There are many ways fruits and vegetables can be stored: on the counter, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer. Storing fruits and vegetables properly keeps them tasting better for longer. Adopt the “first in, first out” method -use the oldest fruits and vegetables first to prevent them from spoiling before they are used. When stored properly, most fruits and vegetables will keep for 3-5 days or longer after being purchased from the grocery store or picked from the garden. There are 3 different ways to store fresh fruits and vegetables:

  1. Refrigerate: store grapes, apples, berries, cherries, broccoli, carrots, celery, leafy greens, green beans, cauliflower, and asparagus in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower to keep them fresh. Anything that has been cut up also needs to be kept in the refrigerator to prevent foodborne illness.
  2. On the counter: melons, tomatoes, and squash should be kept on the counter away from direct light to keep fresh. Potatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes should also be kept out of the refrigerator but in a dark place such as a pantry or cupboard.
  3. Ripen on counter and then store in refrigerator: avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears, and plums should be kept on the counter until they are ripe and then moved to the refrigerator to prevent further ripening.

Many fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months if the freezer is kept at 0°F or colder. I love freezing excess fruit in individual containers to add to smoothies or as a quick topper to desserts.

I hope these tips will help you with storing your fruits and vegetables! For more information, watch  How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

Amber Morales
Dietetic Intern
Iowa State University

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Is it Still Good? Tossing Food that has Expired

On New Year’s Eve my husband and I invited some friends over to celebrate. My husband requested that I make chili and white chicken chili for the gathering and offered to help me in the kitchen! We made some other appetizers too, so needed some space in the refrigerator to store all the food. While trying to make space in the refrigerator, my husband started looking at the dates on various bottles and containers, such as a partially eaten bottle of barbeque sauce, and tossed out the old ones. Soon I started looking at dates on the spices I was using. I wasn’t concerned about the spices going bad but that over time their flavor would deteriorate. I decided it was time I get rid of some of the old ones (like the ground ginger I’m sure I moved with us to our current house almost four years ago!) and purchase new ones.

Deciding what needs to go and what is still okay to eat can be confusing when it comes to certain foods like spices and canned foods. And the different dates printed on food containers don’t help much. Some say “sell –by” others say “best if used by”. So if I buy or use the food after these dates, is it a food safety concern or will the food just not be as fresh? The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does a good job explaining the dating on food containers. Something I learned while reading thru this information is that, except for infant formula, product dating is not generally required by federal regulations. Some states have requirements, while others have none. However, even though it isn’t required everywhere, many food manufacturers do put dates on their products. Below is what some of the dates mean:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

These codes are used more for food quality, not food safety.  As far as safety is concerned, perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are the most vulnerable. We recommend you eat food by the “use-by date”. Before I taught my husband, he thought you could use the ‘smell test’ to tell if something was safe to eat. However, you can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.  If you aren’t going to be able to use a food before the “use-by” date, freeze it.

For eggs, always purchase them before the “sell-by” date on the carton. When you get home, refrigerate the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator (on a shelf towards the back), in the original container. Use the eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of when you purchased them.

So what about canned goods and other non-perishable items? High-acid foods such as tomatoes will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods such as meat, fish, or vegetables will retain the best quality if used within 2-5 years. This is if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the FIFO method to be sure to use up the oldest cans first. FIFO stands for first in, first out. So when putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. Home-canned foods should be used within one year for best quality.

As far as ground spices and herbs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they keep for about one year. One way to tell if they are fresh and will have good flavor is if when you open them you can smell their aroma. If you can’t, it’s time to replace (so it was time to get rid of my ground ginger!). Keep dried spices and herbs in a cool, dark, dry place.


Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Storing Fruits and Vegetables

Most of us are buying more fruits and vegetables. That is a good first step.  But should you wash them before you put them away or just before you serve them?  Should you store them in the refrigerator or on the counter?  Will they continue ripening at home?  The answer to these questions is…it depends!

Some fruits have better flavor if they are stored at room temperature. Tomatoes, unripe melons, and tree fruits (pears, peaches and nectarines) should be kept at room temperature so they can ripen and become sweeter.  After they are fully ripe, store them in the refrigerator until you are ready eat them.  Tomatoes will keep longer if stored with the stem side down.

Generally it is better to eat vegetables as soon as possible after picked. However, some vegetables like celery, cabbage, bell peppers and carrots will keep one to two weeks in the refrigerator.

When to wash fruits and vegetables also “depends”. If your produce has dirt on it, wash it before storing.  Otherwise you can probably wait to wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Neither the USDA nor FDA recommends washing fruits and vegetables in anything but cold, drinkable water.  Do not let produce soak in the sink.  You do not need to wash them with special products or dishwashing detergent.  Melons, cucumbers, winter squash, citrus fruit, and potatoes should be scrubbed with a brush. Bananas need to be rinsed off as well.  Imagine how many hands touch the fruit before it gets to your mouth.

The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension has a handy chart called Garden to Table: Storing Fresh Garden Produce.  I posted a copy on the side of my refrigerator for more specifics for each vegetable and fruit.

Winter squash or pumpkins in abundance?

My sisters, dad and I share a garden spot. We try to coordinate so that we all work in the garden at the same time because it is more fun that way, but with our schedules that doesn’t happen very often. This spring when we were planting, a couple of times someone planted over the top of something that was already in the ground (this is why we had peppers growing in the bean rows). I was determined to have some winter squash, so I planted a whole row of seeds about 3” apart and put milk cartons filled with water every foot to mark the row. To make a long story short, I didn’t thin the plants, so the squash took over a corner of the garden and now we have lots of acorn squash. If you have an abundance of winter squash or pumpkins, here are some helps:

-pointers by Peggy


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