Should You Take Your Produce Out of Its Original Packaging Before Storing?
Carrots in a plastic bag, loose apples, berries in a plastic box: In a perfect, easy world, we could return from a trip to the farmers' market, the supermarket, or picking up our CSA box and pop all the fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator without a second thought. Do that, though, and you'll likely be tossing mushy tomatoes or wilted leafy greens into the trash within a few days.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that about 30-40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, contributing to the climate crisis and costing a family of four as much as $1,500 per year. Maddening, right? With a little preparation, you can reduce your food waste and ensure when you reach into the fridge for that head of lettuce it will still be fresh. We consulted with Katy Green, global produce field inspector at Whole Foods Market, the USDA and SavetheFood.com, to get the lowdown on which fruits and vegetables you should take out of their plastic or cardboard container before storing in the fridge to maximize the lifespan and freshness of produce. Ahead, her suggestions. When in doubt, though, leave unwashed produce requiring refrigeration in its original packaging.
When to Remove the Packaging and Keep Produce Out of the Fridge
All of the fruits and vegetables you store at room temperature (think avocados, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, some citrus, eggplant, and onions) should be remove from any packaging. You want to store them loosely in a cool, dry place with lots of ventilation. Potatoes like dark environments, and remember that bananas should not be stored near tomatoes and avocados unless you're trying to ripen them.
Store These Fruits and Vegetables in Their Original Packaging in the Fridge
Apples should be stored in the crisper drawer in the fridge. "I also like to place them in a plastic bag with a few holes poked through—this helps to trap humidity while also releasing ethylene gas that apples emit when they ripen," says Green. Other foods that should be stored in the crisper drawer include broccoli and cauliflower (both of which should left unwashed and in their original packaging until ready to use), peppers (uncut bell peppers or chile peppers should be kept in the crisper drawer until ready to wash and use), and green beans, snap peas, and fresh peas (these should be stored in the high-humidity drawer in the packaging they came in; use quickly as these tend to spoil faster).
Plenty of other fruits and vegetables should be stored in the fridge, but don't necessarily need space in a crisper drawer. Store fresh berries in the refrigerator, but don't rinse them until you're ready to use them. The same goes for carrots. If you buy your carrots in a plastic bag without the greens, leave them in the packaging until ready to use. If the carrots came with their green tops, remove the tops before storing. Unwashed grapes should be kept on their stems until ready to use. You can leave them in the vented plastic bag if they came in that, or a breathable container. Lastly, store cucumbers in the warmest part of your fridge, such as along the door, says Green, and try to eat them within a few days of purchasing.
These Fruits and Vegetables Need Some Extra Preparation Before Being Stored
Asparagus spears should be stored in the fridge in a glass with about an inch of water. Celery should also be stored in the refrigerator, but Green recommends trimming the bottom of the celery stalks, wrapping them in a damp paper towel, then wrap the celery again in aluminum foil before storing them in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Treat fresh herbs like a bouquet of fresh flowers, says Green. Cut about half an inch off the bottom and place in a cup of water. Store in the fridge away from the coldest area, changing out the water daily. Basil and mint should be stored in a glass of water on the countertop. Store unwashed in the fridge in an open plastic bag and add a few paper towels to soak up loose water. Have leftover washed and chopped lettuce? Store it in a mostly closed top container with a damp paper towel.