The Ideal Approach to Storing Produce

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summer fruits

When you buy your fruits and vegetables at your local market stall, do you give much thought as to how you're going to store them? Maybe you throw everything in the icebox until it's time to cook. Maybe you have a pantry or a root cellar. But have you ever really considered what produce you should be refrigerating and what produce you should be storing on the countertop? It's time to set things straight with our guide to storing produce.

Of course, in order to know whether you should be refrigerating your produce or not, it might be a good idea to consider what your refrigerator actually does. Think about it: you put your meat and butter in it, but other than keeping things cold, do you know how your refrigerator works?

Harmful bacteria thrive at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so foods that are prone to attracting bacteria like these, such as meats, dairy and leftover cooked food, should be stored in a cold place until ready to use. But raw fruits and vegetables don't attract the same sorts of bacteria as meats and dairy -- so should they go in the fridge? The answer is complicated -- some should, and some shouldn't.

Which Fruits and Vegetables Should Go in the Fridge?

Citrus is perfectly fine on the counter, but it will last far longer in the fridge, the reason being that gashes and blemishes in the skin attract mold, and once one piece of citrus starts to mold, it spreads quickly to the rest of the bunch -- you can leave in the morning with a pile of perfectly healthy oranges and lemons and come home to a forest of green-blue fuzz. That being said, if your citrus isn't touching, it should be fine on the counter -- the one exception is once you've zested it and are waiting to use the flesh for something else.

Lychees have the same problem -- once one goes bad, they all go bad. Unlike other tropical fruits, lychees don't ripen after being picked, so there's no advantage to keeping them on the counter. Store them in the fridge to have them last longer and enjoy the refreshing flavor of their juice.

Berries are also just fine on the counter if you're planning on eating them the same day you buy them, though they do tend to attract fruit flies and ripen much more quickly than many other fruits. Putting them in the fridge slows their natural aging process, making it possible to enjoy them much longer.

Which Fruits and Vegetables Should Stay on the Counter?

The jury's still out as to whether storing tomatoes in the fridge is actually bad for their texture and flavor or not, but one thing's for sure -- tomatoes, as long as they aren't pierced, are perfectly fine out of the fridge and much more palatable when served at room temperature than cold. Save yourself the space and keep your tomatoes out of the fridge. And when your tomatoes do become overripe -- if you don't eat them all before then! -- cook them down to save all that tomato flavor.

Potatoes are starchy vegetables, and when the starches in potatoes get too cold, they actually transform into sugars. This can give the potato a strange flavor, so keep them in a root cellar or a makeshift one, like a paper bag in a cupboard. The same goes for onions and garlic, which not only start to soften in the humidity of the fridge but impart their flavors on other foods. That being said, be sure to separate onions and potatoes to keep the potatoes from sprouting and both from spoiling.

Apples do begin to lose flavor after being placed in the fridge and can also develop a mealier texture, so keep them on the counter. If you prefer to eat a cold, crisp apple, you can always put one in the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to eat it and enjoy the flavor and the texture!

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Image: Angelo Juan Ramos

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