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.