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By: Rebecca Miller, The Villages Grown | Apr 19, 2024

Proper Produce Storage

Freshly harvested fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are crucial for optimal health.  Whether you’ve just loaded up on veggies from your nearby farmers market or farm stand, or plucked some fresh veggies out of your garden, you want to ensure that you keep the nutrients intact.  The improper storage can lead to the diminished nutrients and the crispiness of these foods.  To get the most out of your produce, it’s important to understand the best practices for storage.  There are a few key elements including temperature, humidity, packaging and where you place the item that all play a factor in keeping your fresh fruits and vegetables full of nutrients.   

Proper storage is crucial, but it’s important to understand why it matters in the first place.  Fruits and Vegetables are living organisms and once they are harvests they continue to respire.  Respiration involves the intake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide, moisture and heat.  This process can accelerate the ripening and decay if not controlled.  If the storage conditions are optimized, then you can slow down the respiration rate and extend the shelf life.   Further this will preserve the nutritional content.  

Temperature and humidity are instrumental in bountiful crops on a farm, and they also play a pivotal role of maintaining the quality and nutrients on a farm.  After fruits, vegetables and herbs are harvested on a farm, they typically benefit from being cooled down in high humidity environments.  This of course can vary depending on type. There are three groups that fruits and vegetables can be categorized into based on their ideal storage conditions:  

The first is refrigeration.  Many fruits and vegetables thrive in a cold and humid environment and should be stored in the refrigerator.  Microgreens, lettuce, kale, berries, carrots, bell peppers and broccoli should be stored at colder temperatures.  

The second group falls into ambient, or room temperature storage.  Items like potatoes, onions, citrus and winter squashes.  They should be kept in cool, well-ventilated areas away from direct sunlight to prevent spoilage and sprouting.   

The last group falls into items that are considered ethylene sensitive.  Ethylene is a natural plant hormone that promotes ripening. Items like bananas, apples, avocados, cantaloupe and tomatoes should be stored in ambient temperatures as they ripen.  Once they are ripened, they can be stored in refrigeration to prolong the shelf life.  However, they should be kept completely away from ethylene sensitive items like broccoli, lettuce and cucumbers as they will degrade these items very quickly.  Once a tomato is refrigerated it is best to leave it out on the counter for at least 30 minutes for the flavor to return.   

Packaging also plays a big role in the shelf life and retaining nutrients of your produce. Some fruits and vegetables enjoy benefits from being stored in open containers while others will benefit from a protective package to prevent dehydration.   

The first type of packaging includes perforated plastic bags or a produce-specific store bag.  This type of packaging allows for the retention of moisture and airflow.  Bags are beneficial for leafy greens, herbs, and berries.  The second type of packaging includes produce bins, which are a breathable bin designed to regulate humidity and to prevent condensation from building up. Bins are ideal for storing a variety of fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator.  The final packaging type are reusable containers or glass jars.  These containers are perfect for chopped fruits and vegetables.  Be sure to seal them to prevent air exposure.  

Always be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables before cooking them or consuming them raw.  This step will remove dirt, bacteria and pesticide residue.  Avoid washing any of your produce before you store as the additional moisture can promote spoilage and could potentially lend to an environment where bacteria can thrive and shorten the life of your produce.  Should you find any damaged or bruised areas on your fruits and vegetables be sure to remove them before storage to prevent additional decay.  

The proper storage of fruits and vegetables is key to preserving flavor, nutrition, and freshness.  Storing at the correct temperature and humidity is paramount, followed by packaging, handling, and preparation.  Whether you are stocking up on your seasonal favorites at a nearby farmers markets or meal prepping for your week, implementing these storage techniques will help maintain the life of your fruits and vegetables.