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organic living journey how to properly store produce part 2

The following is part of an Organic Journey guest post series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

I got sucked into a great deal and blew $15 of my grocery on soda and chips.  Yeah, it’s a holiday, and I just wanted to have fun.  Amazing how even a good deal on the junk still eats away at my budget.  The funniest part is that while my husband and I were enjoying our high fructose laden beverages with a late dinner last night, I started reading the ingredients of my salad dressing.  And yeah, it had high fructose corn syrup in it too.  Just when you think you are making headway by eating salad….oh well!  We’ll keep taking baby steps.  Maybe I need to learn to make salad dressing next.  All in all, we kept it right at $80 this week, and that was with 3 dozen of my delicious fresh eggs (and four 12 pks of my delicious sodas!)  Just keepin’ it real folks lest you begin to think I am someone that I am not.
Last week, I learned about getting my fridge and produce ready to be stored.  I started the process with my vinegar citrus cleaner (it takes two weeks before it is ready!) Now, it is time to learn where does all this fresh produce go?

Step Four:  Put it in the Right Place

Here is where I think I make the most mistakes.  What are you supposed to leave out on the counter and what goes in the fridge?  What do you leave in the plastic produce bags and what comes out?  How do you store things once you have cut them open?  I thought it would be helpful to just run through the most commonly purchased fruits and veggies and see how to best store them.

Vegetables

Cucumbers
There is a good bit of diversity with the best way to store cucumbers.  The general consensus is that they don’t last long, 5-7 days at most.  According to a UC Davis study, cucumbers are actually damaged by temperatures less than 50º F (your fridge should be colder than 40º F).  The damage will show up 1-3 days after it has been exposed to the cold.  There is a fascinating photo showing the decay that happens at different temperatures.  The best place for the cucumbers is on the counter, which is news to me.  Also, cucumbers are negatively affected by the ethylene gas put off by melons, tomatoes and bananas.  So, keep them away from those.  One idea if you are low on counter space is to put the cucumbers in the door of your fridge which is actually the warmest part.

Potatoes
Last year, when I was making baby food in huge batches, I bought around 30 lbs of sweet potatoes when they hit rock bottom near Thanksgiving.  Naively, I left them in the plastic produce bags I put them in at the store.  When I went to make the baby food the next week, they were rotten.  All 30 lbs.  That was lesson number one in potato storage for me.  Potatoes need to breathe.  “Cooperative research by University of Idaho Extension scientists and College of Southern Idaho students has confirmed that the optimum sites for home-stored potatoes are cool, dark, and ventilated rooms, closets, cabinets, and garages.”  The study also revealed that under the sink and in the refrigerator are bad storage options.  I’m guessing in my laundry room isn’t the best place (seeing as it is the hottest room in my house!)  Time to relocate!

Onions
Did you know that there is a National Onion Association?  Well, according to them, it is best to store onions in a cool, dry, well ventilated place.  This makes it sound like it would be ideal to store with potatoes.  There is a good bit of buzz though that onions and potatoes both release gases that cause the other to deteriorate more rapidly.  So, in actuality, it is better not to store them together.  How far apart they need to be was info that I couldn’t find.  Does anybody know?  Once an onion is cut, store it in the fridge, where it will last up to a week.  One of my favorite things to do with onions is store the extra diced onion in the freezer, then it is ready for me whenever I need it.

Lettuce
Have you ever made it home from running errands on a hot day only to discover that your lettuce had wilted?  Here’s a fun tip!  You can actually rehydrate lettuce by soaking it cold water.  It is amazing to watch.  Now, slimy lettuce can’t be resuscitated and that’s what we are trying to avoid.  Lettuce needs to be stored in the fridge and it needs to be able to breathe.  I typically leave my lettuce in the produce bag with the bag opened so that it can breathe.  If you notice that water is pooling in the bottom of the bag, you need to drain it, or else, the slime will occur.  After I cut and wash it, I will leave the leftover lettuce in my salad spinner with a wet paper towel on the top of the lettuce.  This keeps the lettuce from drying out and still allows it to breathe and not get soggy.

Zucchini and other Summer Squash
The general consensus is to store summer squash in a plastic bag making sure that there is no water on the squash and as little air in the bag as possible.  Then, put the squash in the crisper drawer of your fridge.

Winter Squash
Winter squash is actually harvested in the fall, but it is called winter squash because it will last several months if properly stored.  Pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut squash fall into this category.  These need to be stored in a cool, dry place, and they don’t need to be put into the fridge per the LA Times.

Peppers
Did you know that green bell peppers actually last longer than the other colors?  I had a vague recollection of my husband telling me something about how they change colors when he planted them this spring, but here’s the scoop.  Bell peppers start out green, as they ripen, they turn yellow, orange or red.  So, that’s why I like the way that red bell peppers taste more; they are the ripe peppers!  It is best to store peppers in the fridge and to keep them dry.  They should last about a week.  Some people recommend putting them in plastic bags, but not all.

Tomatoes
Store them on the counter, not in the fridge!!  When you put tomatoes in the fridge, it greatly decreases the goodness of their flavor.  I typically leave my tomatoes on the counter until they peak at ripeness.  At that point, if I am not ready to use them, they go in the fridge.  I know I am compromising on taste and texture, but it is better than it sitting on the counter and beginning to spoil.

Celery
I love it when somebody explains why something does or doesn’t work.  Tipbusters did just that for celery storage.  Check out their whole post here, but the bottom line is that they recommend either wrapping it in a paper towel and putting it in a plastic bag or perforated plastic bag in the veggie drawer in your fridge.

Carrots
And who on earth knew that there is a World Carrot Museum!?  If anybody should know how to store carrots, surely they would!  They recommend cutting off the top 2 inches of green stubble to prevent the carrot from rotting, then store in the refrigerator.  Carrots last a long time and are one of the last veggies I use when going through my produce for the week.

Green Beans
One of my great failures in wasting less has been green beans.  Now I know why.  Green beans need to be stored in a plastic bag or container in the fridge, but they last only about five days.  I was storing them the right way, I just wasn’t using them fast enough.

Mushrooms
Apparently, mushrooms are super sensitive to too much moisture.  In light of that, it is best not to store it in your veggie drawer (because we are adding moisture there, right?)  If it comes in a styrofoam package with plastic wrap on it, it is perfectly good to store it in that container somewhere else in your fridge.

Asparagus
There is a great tutorial here on how to store asparagus.  To shuck it all down, you are going to put the ends in a glass jar and store it in your fridge.  Not everyone recommends putting the plastic bag over the top.  If only I liked asparagus, I might be willing to experiment with it.  :)

Avocados
Unripe avocados are like tomatoes.  Leave them on the counter until they are ripe.  After that, you can store them in the fridge, but only for 2-3 days.  Once you have cut the avocado, you want to limit the exposure to air.  So, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge.  It will only keep for a day once it has been cut opened.  For more tips, check out Hass’ site.

Corn
Corn doesn’t last long at all.  A day or two at most before the sugars, that make it oh so sweet and delicious, turn into starch.  For optimal goodness, plan on consuming your corn the day you purchase it.  If you need to store it, it will keep a day or two in the fridge uncovered.

Stay tuned next week when we learn more about fruit, now I’m off to find a new home for my potatoes and onions!

What works for you in storing your veggies?  Have you found a different method that works wonders for any of the veggies we talked about? Is there a favorite vegetable I didn’t mention that you want to know how to store?

    • Cheapergles

      Thanks Amy!  This is an awesome post.  

    • Lesley newbern

      This really was an awesome post, thank you again!!

    • mary

      what about broccoli?

      • amysanders

        i love that broccoli was why i was so compelled to figure this out and then i forget to figure out how to store it!  wow.  i’ll look it up now–because i want to know too!

      • Carol

        Broccoli needs to breathe. Store in open plastic bag in produce drawer.  Tupperware Fridgesmarts keep it over 2 weeks with no “gassy” odor.

      • amysanders

        looks like we should store broccoli in an open plastic bag…closed and the moisture causes quick decay.  anybody else have any tricks–because i really want to learn about this one!!

    • katkoupon

      Thank you so much for this! This is very helpful. I even printed out notes to keep in my recipe drawer for easy reference. I can’t believe how many I got “wrong”. I found myself “woo-hooing” towards the end when I started getting some right, lol. Does anyone know how to properly store eggplant? Thanks, Amy!

      • amysanders

        i felt the same way as i was researching!!  and yeah, we don’t eat eggplants so i didn’t research it for the post.  :)  but a quick google search seems like the best way to store it is in a perforated bag in the fridge (although it doesn’t seem to like to be colder than 50º-kind of like cucumbers)  i’m game to hear what people do that actually works though!

        • TheChapLeigh

          I just learned this about cukes this summer. Our garden cukes lasted 2 weeks on the counter, and only a few days in the fridge. When I’ve gotten eggplant on manager’s special at the grocery store, it’s been stored in plastic wrap on styrofoam plate. It kept well for a few more days in my fridge… and went down fast as eggplant parmesean!

    • Ani_md

      very helpful.  Thanks for sharing.

    • Kristie

      great post.  thanks!

    • Tonya

      Long ago I heard that it’s best to store celery wrapped in foil.  Keeps a long time when you do this.  When I get home from the store, I remove it from the bag it came in (do not wash), wrap tightly in foil, and keep in the fridge drawer.  Be sure to rewrap tightly after you remove some stalks to use.

    • Mavlapis

      Great job Amy!  Have you thought about using lemon juice and olive oil, or balsamic vinegar and olive oil as your salad dressing?  Both are very tasty, cheap, very healthy and does have all the staches, emulsifiers, preservatives, etc. Just a thought…

      • amysanders

        i have tried…but i must admit, i’m picky.  i need to find a good mixture of those that works for me.  thanks for the suggestion!

        • TheChapLeigh

          yeah, we’ve just made the switch from what I like best, to what I know is best for me. I really like ranch, and I need to find a good way to still be able to enjoy ranch on my salads :)

          • amysanders

            you could make your own.  everyone tells me that the pioneer woman’s recipe is amazing.  i just don’t like the idea of having to make small amounts of ranch for my 5 year old every other week.  :)

            • Jennifer

              I haven’t tried this recipe for Ranch dressing yet, but everything else I’ve tried on this site has been waaaaay better than the conventional versions that we were afraid to abandon. Here’s a Ranch recipe, and if you use organic sour cream that isn’t reduced fat, you should get an amazing rich flavor just from the sour cream alone (if you like sour cream, which we do!). You just mix a batch of the dry ingredients and mix a little bit into the sour cream when you are ready for some dressing. Might even be fun to let your daughter do this herself if she is old enough. Hope this helps!

            • Jennifer
            • amysanders

              jennifer, what is in the dry ingredient mix?

            • TheChapleigh

              I have her book–and I love what I have read so far, so I’ll try the recipe out! Thx for the inspiration! I do agree, though, that it all takes time in the kitchen, and somewhere along the way, you have to weigh the “time” vs “money spent/saved” and determine on WHAT you want to be doing in the kitchen. And I’ve only got so much energy & my kids really only allow me to spend so much time in their before I need to move onto other things. Anyone else have the same problem ??!!?? ;)

            • amysanders

              definitely!!  that is why i try to do things in bulk.  get twice (or more) of the rewards with less effort than doing it twice!  does that make any sense at all??

        • MomofKLA

          Here is a salad recipe that is so wonderful and I love the dressing.  Not sure how healthy it is with oil & sugar but better than store bought I’m sure.  It is called Summer Strawberry Salad (borrowed from a MOPS cookbook from Dallas, GA):
          1 head romaine lettuce
          1 head Boston leaf or red leaf lettuce
          1 8 oz pkg Monterey Jack cheese
          1 c toasted pecans
          1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
          Mix lettuces and strawberries together.  Add cheese and pecans.  Mix together this salad dressing and pour over salad right before serving.
          Dressing:
          1 c vegetable oil
          3/4 c sugar
          1/2 c red wine vinegar
          2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
          1/2 tsp salt
          1/2 tsp white pepper
          I mix it all together and heat it on the stove until the sugar dissolves (this was not called for in the recipe)

          I actually keep this dressing mixed up in the fridge.  It keeps well for a long time.  I use it on any kind of salad but definitely love it with the strawberries and pecans.  YUMilicious!

    • Cadgurl1

      So helpful!  Thank you!

    • Moy1938

      I have used the Tupperware Fridgesmarts containers and they definitely keep the fruits and veggies fresh.  

      • amysanders

        and they are having a huge sale on a set of them through friday!!  i just ordered my first set.  :)

        • Tuppergirl12

           you will LOVE them :) I have them and I sell them and it is so worth it and at the price you got it you can’t go wrong!! I hope you enjoy them :)

          • amysanders

            thanks!  i wound up having an eparty and was able to get the 6 piece set for $15!  BIG happy dance.  :)

      • Carol

        I use the Tupperware Fridgesmarts as well. I can provide info on them if anyone is interested. 

      • lj

        Yes! These are soooo worth the money you spend. And no more guessing how to store it. I love my lil square ones for part of a green pepper or a cucumber or baby carrots.

    • Pcrago

      My Dad taught me a great tip to keep bell peppers for a long time in the fridge. Rinse the peppers well, core and deseed, remove the raised inner membrane. Cut into quarters and keep in a zip lock bag in the fridge.

      • amysanders

        my mom and i were discussing this earlier tonight.  do you think that chopping them increases or decreases their longevity?

    • Mirandal_99

      My granny always put her onions in panty hose. You drop one in the toe of the stocking, the tie it, then put in another, the tie. Do that til you have them all stored. When you need one, just cut the hose and pull it out. She wouls also keep these in a little clothset. Just hanging on a nail or hook. I don’t usually have a problem with onions going bad cuz i love them and use them a lot, especially vidalia (I’m a Georgia girl).

      • TheChapLeigh

        No matter what we do, the onions from our garden seem to get mushy within weeks :( I’ve resorted to chopping/dicing and making dishes for them to go in, or freezing for easy & quick use. I’ve let them set out in the sun on screens after harvesting them, I’ve braided the ends, Ive separated them by newspapers in crates…. anyone got any good ideas on how to harvest them so that they will keep well?

        • Janice

           You might want to back up and study the growing process. It sound like they are getting a kind of rot. Maybe fungal or nutritional (missing a nutrient)?

          • TheChapLeigh

            I think you are right. We’ve planted then in sandier soil which seemed to do better than wetter soil. I’m sure we also needed to weed a bit better too. We are working on natural & organic soil ammendments, so this has been quite the process for us! Hubby has spent a good deal of time reading up; hopefully next year will prove better for us.

    • TheChapLeigh

      sigh… I’ve spent so much time in my kitchen these past few years trying to figure out how to quickly use or store in an alternate form all the produce that comes in MASS QUANTITIES from our garden. Seriously. I”ve done more google searches & made more creative meals, to freeze for later, just to avoid wasting all that has come from our hard work. So, thank you for making this so much easeir for so many people:)

      • amysanders

        have you considered buying a good dehydrator?

        • TheChapLeigh

          You know, I should look into that… I had tried dehydrating bananas once in my friend’s dehydrator, without success. But for red peppers, onions, and drying herbs, that may be a good idea:)

          • amysanders

            it is also a fun way to preserve tomatoes.  you can put them in a food processor to powder them once they are dried and make tomato paste, tomato sauce, etc. by just adding varying degrees of water to it!!

    • Both are very tasty, cheap, very healthy and does have all the staches, emulsifiers, preservatives, etc...Zap21.com

    • Tuppergirl12

      If anyone is interested I do sell the Tupperware Fridgesmarts and the sale on them is AMAZING! For the full set it is only $34 (usually$84) It ends today at midnight.  If interested please let me know or check out my.tupperware.com/chrissiegilson

      I have had my fridgesmarts for 10+ years and we have saved SO much money and produce!  I could never keep our produce and I was so frustrated! The info posted on each container shows you which fruits and veggies to store and how to store them!!

    • Melzuf

      What if you don’t use the entire cucumber at one time?

      • amysanders

        then you would have to refrigerate it.

    • Sharise Nobles

      Now I know y my potatoes and onions go so fast! I always store them on the counter in a basket with each other! thanks for the tip

    • katkoupon

      Okra?

      • TheChapleigh

        I have picked okra & stored it losely in an open plastic bag, wrapped with a damp paper towel. I have been able to keep it for four or five days until I’ve picked enough for a good batch of fried okra;) otherwise, I’ve sliced it & thrown it into freezer bags, to be used in the short-run. I’ve tried blanching it, then freezing, but it’s just too slimey & gross. I’ve also canned it up with tomatoes, but that’s just a lot of time & energy. :( I’d love to hear what has worked for others–additionally has anyone breaded it for say prep later? I’m not a fan of cornbreading–I like tempura batter better.

      • TheChapleigh

        I have picked okra & stored it losely in an open plastic bag, wrapped with a damp paper towel. I have been able to keep it for four or five days until I’ve picked enough for a good batch of fried okra;) otherwise, I’ve sliced it & thrown it into freezer bags, to be used in the short-run. I’ve tried blanching it, then freezing, but it’s just too slimey & gross. I’ve also canned it up with tomatoes, but that’s just a lot of time & energy. :( I’d love to hear what has worked for others–additionally has anyone breaded it for say prep later? I’m not a fan of cornbreading–I like tempura batter better.

    • Mduff

      This isn’t related to your produce post, but I’m really enjoying this “organic/ natural” eating series a lot. I am in the same boat, trying to provide nutritious, minimally processed foods for my family on a tight budget. Have you guys considered doing a weekly list of sales that compiles all of the natural/ organic sales from the different stores? It would be super convenient. I don’t typically shop at Bi-Lo, but a couple of weeks ago, I went in to buy a few things (having already bought my produce for the week) only to find that they a bunch of great deals on organic fruits & veggies that week! Who knew? I’m thinking a list kinda like the “need it now” list that Jenny does.

      • amysanders

        i’ll mention it to jenny.  :)

    • organicmama

      Broccoli????

      • amysanders

        store it in an open plastic bag.  funny that i was curious about broccoli which motivated this post, and then completely forget to research it!!