How to Keep Produce Fresh
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12 Easy Storage Tips to Keep Produce Fresh Longer

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How to Keep Produce Fresh
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Minimize Food Waste

Frugal and health-conscious consumers know the disappointment of reaching into the fridge to pull out fresh produce, only to find that it's already gone bad. More than a third of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing the average American family about $1,500. With a few small adjustments in food storage, though, you can increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. These tips can save you money and keep fresh produce consistently at hand, helping your family eat a healthy diet.

Keep Fruits and Vegetables Whole
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Keep Fruits and Vegetables Whole

One of the most basic ways to ensure that produce stays fresh is to keep the food whole until you're ready to eat it. The flesh of a sliced apple or pear will turn brown, of course, but this rule also applies to other fruits and vegetables. When you buy vine tomatoes, for instance, don't tear away the stems until you're ready to use the tomatoes. Detaching stems can cause damage and lead to bacteria growth.

Don't Refrigerate Certain Fruits
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Don't Refrigerate Certain Fruits

It is easy to assume that all produce should be refrigerated. The cold air should help the food last longer, right? Actually, not all produce responds to cold air the same way. Tropical and warm-weather fruits such as bananas, avocados, nectarines, peaches, plums, and tomatoes ripen more slowly and lose flavor when refrigerated.

Isolate Fruits That Produce Ethylene Gas
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Isolate Fruits That Produce Ethylene Gas

Another reason to keep the fruits previously mentioned out of the refrigerator is they release ethylene gas as they ripen, which speeds the decay of ethylene-sensitive produce stored nearby. Some fruits that produce ethylene gas do require refrigeration, so take care to store them apart from other fruits and vegetables. A few notable examples are apricots, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon.

Take Extra Care With Ethylene-Sensitive Produce
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Take Extra Care With Ethylene-Sensitive Produce

Some fruits and vegetables will spoil quickly if they are stored alongside gas-emitting produce. These ethylene-sensitive items include broccoli, cucumbers, eggplant, leafy greens, and watermelon. Store them in a separate bin in the refrigerator to keep them from ending up in the trash. (They can safely be stored together, because none of them produce gas.)

Allow Vegetables to 'Breathe'
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Allow Vegetables to 'Breathe'

Before placing vegetables in the refrigerator, remove any rubber bands or ties holding the produce together. These put extra pressure on the food, which can lead to bruising and rotting. Ideally, do not store items on top of each other and leave space for them to "breathe." Generally avoid leaving produce in plastic bags, too, as the bags trap any gasses produced and lead to faster spoilage.

Treat Herbs Like Flowers
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Treat Herbs Like Flowers

Herbs are the most finicky of produce and require extra attention to maintain freshness and flavor. Best practice for storing herbs is to wash them, dry them well, and cut off the ends. Then place the herbs in a small jar with a small amount of water, as you would display a bouquet of flowers. You can also store washed and dried herbs in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel to create a humid environment.

Put More Perishable Ingredients in Easy Reach
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Put More Perishable Ingredients in Easy Reach

Even with optimal storage, all fresh fruits and vegetables have limited shelf lives. Make sure you reach for the ones that spoil more quickly first and save the longer-lasting produce for later. For instance, sprouts tend to go bad after two to four days, so don't bury them at the bottom of the crisper. Keep them on top of things like cabbage, which lasts two to three weeks, so you'll see them right away.

Know How Long Produce Can Be Left Out
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Know How Long Produce Can Be Left Out

Sometimes you may not be able to rush your fresh veggies and fruit back from the market, or you simply don't have room in the refrigerator. It's helpful to know how long produce that needs refrigeration can stay on the counter before it goes bad. While greens have just hours before wilting, mushrooms can last a day, and peppers are fine for up to two days. 

Keep Potatoes and Onions Apart
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Keep Potatoes and Onions Apart

While potatoes and onions can last a long while (two weeks and two months, respectively) and both do best in a cool, dry environment, they shouldn't be stored together. In close proximity, they make each other spoil faster.

Clear Out the Fridge
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Clean Your Fridge

Old gunk and bacteria left behind by other foods in your fridge can make new occupants go bad more quickly. Grab some cleaning supplies and wipe out your fridge at least once a month with warm water and vinegar. 

Move Older Produce Forward
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Move Older Produce Forward

If you've stuffed a bunch of produce in the fridge after grocery shopping, make sure the items already in there don't get pushed to the back and forgotten. Otherwise, there's a good chance they'll spoil before you find them again.

Try an Ethylene Gas Absorber
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Try an Ethylene Gas Absorber

One easy way to keep fruit in your fridge from making other produce go bad is by putting ethylene gas absorbers ($14 for two on Amazon) in your produce drawers. They last for about three months.