Tips to maximize summer produce

Blueberries are on sale—2 pints for $2. You can’t resist such a bargain, but will you be able to eat all those berries before they go bad? Here, Russ Parsons, food writer for the Los Angeles Times and author of How to Read a French Fry (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), offers tips on how to keep your produce fresh.

Be choosy at the store. Be on the lookout for signs of improper storage. Avoid wilting greens, advises Parsons. Also, soft spots, nicks, or punctures on fruits are obvious flaws that will cause these items to rot sooner.

Store vegetables in an airtight container. Because vegetables continue to take in oxygen and give off moisture, keep them in an airtight container or plastic bag when refrigerated to preserve humidity around the produce (adding a paper towel to the container or bag helps absorb excess moisture). “There’s nothing magical about the crisper drawer,” explains Parsons. “It’s just a smaller, tightly sealed compartment.”

Don’t wash vegetables right away. Although you want to retain moisture in the air around the produce, moisture on the surface can lead to rot. “Washing puts more water on the surface,” says Parsons. “Water on the surface leads to cellular breakdown, which then leads to rapid spoilage.” Parsons advises against washing produce when you bring it home from the grocery store or chopping it up prior to storage.

“An intact skin is the best way to ward off spoilage of either fruits or vegetables,” says Parsons.

Know what fruits to refrigerate. Fruits are delicate and may suffer cold damage if stored in the fridge. The decision to refrigerate depends on the fruit. For example, Parsons advises against refrigerating tomatoes and bananas and recommends refrigerating peaches and nectarines only after they’ve ripened. (For more, see “Where to Store Produce,” below.)

Store some vegetables separately. Some fruits and vegetables are best kept on their own. Onions, for example, give off a gas that encourages potatoes to sprout roots. Instead, Parsons says, store potatoes at cool room temperature, away from onions, and stash away from light to avoid greening. Also, keep bananas and apples apart from other fruit because both produce a gas that promotes ripening.

—Ann Scanlan

Where to store produce

Refrigerate

Ripen, then refrigerate

Store only at room temperature

Fruits

Vegetables

Fruits

Vegetables

Fruits

Vegetables

apples (if more than 7 days)

artichokes

avocados

apples (if fewer than 7 days)

basil (in water)

apricots

asparagus

kiwifruit

bananas

cucumbers

blackberries

beets

nectarines

grapefruit

eggplant

blueberries

Belgian endive

peaches

lemons

garlic

cherries

broccoli

pears

limes

ginger

cut fruits

brussels sprouts

plums

Mandarins

jicama

figs

cabbage

plumcots

mangoes

onions (dry)

grapes

carrots

cantaloupes

peppers

nashi (Asian pears)

cauliflower

oranges

potatoes (away from light to avoid greening)

raspberries

celery

papayas

pumpkins

strawberries

cut vegetables

persimmons

winter squashes

green beans

pineapples

sweet potatoes

green onions

plantains

tomatoes

herbs (not basil)

pomegranates

leafy vegetables

watermelon

leeks

lettuce

mushrooms

peas

radishes

spinach

sprouts

summer squashes

sweet corn

Note: Cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for one to three days if they are used soon after removal from refrigerator.
Source: Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center, University of California, Davis (http://postharvest.ucdavis.edu)