It’s the time of year when folks swear off prepackaged snacks and start filling their grocery carts with fresh fruits and veggies. Sound familiar? If so, we applaud you for your efforts and want to help you make your new lifestyle stick. In that spirit, first things first: don’t let your fresh produce fall victim to mold and flavor loss. With the help of some trial and error, additional research and a few words of wisdom from StyleBlueprint’s own Linda Reeve, owner of Clover Bell Farm, we present to you our playbook for keeping your food fresher longer.
Putting fruits in the fridge can dull their taste. Increase their shelf life with these storage tips, and use the fridge as a last resort.
How to make them last: Apples can live on the counter, but never store them with any other fruits or vegetables. Not in a bowl, not in a bag, not in a refrigerator drawer. NEVER. Apples put off high amounts of ethylene gas, which acts as a ripening agent and will take out other unsuspecting produce without a second thought.
How to save leftovers: Soak sliced apples in a bowl of lemon water, drain the liquid and store them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge.
How to make them last: Leave unbagged avocados on the counter to ripen. To ripen them more quickly, place next to an apple.
When to refrigerate: Only refrigerate avocados once they are ripe. This will keep them fresh for about two weeks.
How to save leftovers: If you’ve already sliced into the avocado, replace the pit to prevent it from browning. The pit will only protect the parts that it is directly touching, so to ensure maximum freshness, squirt a little lemon juice on the avocado or store it in an airtight container with a piece of cut onion. The lemon juice and onion will slow the oxidation/browning process.
How to make them last: Wrap the stem in plastic wrap to slow the ripening process.
When to refrigerate: Once the banana has ripened to your liking, put it in a plastic bag and keep it in your refrigerator’s fruit bin. Don’t be alarmed when the peel turns black; the banana itself will stay fresh for a few days in the fridge.
How to save the leftovers: If you have leftover banana slices, squirt a little lemon juice on them to stop the browning. You just need a little, or you will end up with sour bananas! If the banana overripens, throw it in the freezer and save it for a smoothie or fresh banana bread.
How to make them last: While berries can be found in grocery stores year round, they are best when in season. Refrigerate your unwashed berries, loosely covered, in a single layer in the refrigerator. Never wash berries until you’re ready to eat them, because they easily absorb water, and the added moisture will shorten their shelf life.
When to refrigerate: Right away.
How to make it last: There is nothing worse than an orange peel that is rock hard, and the mesh bags they’re sold in don’t prevent them from hardening. They need to be stored in a Ziploc bag to stay fresh, especially during the dry months of winter.
Stone Fruit (peaches, plums, apricots)
How to make them last: Store stone fruits stem-side-down and not touching one another. They can live on the counter, but only in a place that is out of direct sunlight.
When to refrigerate: After plums and yellow peaches ripen, you can refrigerate them for three to five days. Nectarines and white peaches will only last about a day.
How to make them last: Store tomatoes at room temperature or in a cool place. Tomatoes are delicate, so store them in a single layer to prevent bruising.
When to refrigerate: Never, unless you want mealy tomatoes.
How to save the leftovers: Cut tomatoes can be placed facedown on a plate. But eat them up quickly!
When to refrigerate: Right away. Trim the ends, wash and dry the stalks, wrap in a dry paper towel and store in a plastic bag. Celery can also be stored in a glass of water. You decide which storage works best for your consumption needs.
When to refrigerate: As soon as possible. Leave the husk on, place the uncovered, full ear in the refrigerator and use within two to five days.
How to save the leftovers: Shuck the corn, remove the silks and wash thoroughly. Place the corn in boiling water (make sure the water is really boiling) for two minutes, then drop the corn in ice water. Nebraskans — and Linda — insist on putting a splash of milk in the boiling water, too. Once you have dried the corn and cut the kernels off the cob, put it in a freezer-safe container, and it can be stored for up to six months. If you have the freezer space, it’s easiest if you spread the shucked corn kernels out on a baking sheet, freeze, then pour into a bag.
Garlic, Onions and Shallots
How to make them last: Store these items separately in a paper bag with a hole punched through it. Seal the bags with a paper clip and store them in a cool, dry and dark place. If you opt out of the hole-punched brown paper bags, store garlic, onions and shallots in a mesh bag (humid locations are best).
How to save the leftovers: If parts of the onions, garlic or shallots go bad, cut them off so they don’t contaminate the rest.
When to refrigerate: Right away. Dampen a paper towel and squeeze out the excess water. Place it inside the bag of lettuce or other tender greens with the bag mouth open to keep it fresh. This works great for spinach, arugula and basil, too. If the lettuce bunch has roots, wrap them in a damp paper towel before bagging.
How to save the leftovers: If you have a salad that has been dressed, toss the leftovers into the trash. You’ll have soggy lettuce in the morning.
When to refrigerate: When you get home, you can put the unopened container of mushrooms directly in the fridge.
How to save the leftovers: If you’re going to leave the container of mushrooms in your fridge for longer than a few days, or if you have loose mushrooms, wrap them in a paper towel and place them in an open plastic bag or a paper bag. The less contact they have with each other, the better. When the paper towels get damp, replace them.
How to make them last: Store potatoes in a mesh bag in a cool, humid and dark place, and don’t wash them until you’re ready to get cooking. If there is any ”greening” on your potatoes, be sure to peel it off, as it can give some people — children especially — a bad stomachache (or so the farmer’s wives say).
How to save the leftovers: If you have cut, raw potatoes, store them in cold water, which will keep them fresh overnight, but not much longer. Baked or cooked potatoes can be stored in the fridge for up to seven days.
Treat herbs as you would fresh flowers: Cut the ends off most leafy fresh herbs (basil, mint, dill, cilantro, parsley, but not sage, rosemary or thyme), and try to remove most lower leaves. Place them in a glass of water and return to the refrigerator. These are tricks that also work great for asparagus and celery.
OTHER KITCHEN STAPLES
How to make it last: Store bread and tortillas in the original packaging, tightly closed, at room temperature.
When to refrigerate: Never. Refrigeration only leaves you with dry bread.
What to do with leftovers: If you need to make your bread last, or save it for a later date, throw it in the freezer.
If you want oatmeal or other cookies to stay moist (or at least not dry out) in the cookie jar, put a slice of apple in with them and close the top tightly.
How to make them last: Keep eggs in their original carton.
When to refrigerate: It depends. Linda says that her family, like most farmers and Brits, never refrigerate their farm eggs, but keep them on the counter out of direct sunlight and heat. They taste creamier and last just as long as refrigerated eggs. Ina Garten and other chefs specifically require a room-temperature egg for most recipes. If you want them refrigerated, store them in the body of the fridge, not the door.
How to save the leftovers: Raw egg whites and yolks should be stored in airtight containers and placed in the refrigerator. Yolks can be covered with a small amount of cold water to keep them from drying out.
SB BONUS: The best eggs are always made in butter. Remove from heat and cover for one minute to rest for the best eggs.
With the ongoing debate about the hazards of using plastic containers to store foods, people have become more conscious about which containers they are using and reusing. According to the Sierra Club and the Environmental Working Group, numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5 plastic containers are okay to reuse, but number 7 plastic may contain higher BPA, a chemical that can potentially have adverse effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. If you are looking for BPA-free containers, reuse your Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams containers, which are number 2 plastic, select other BPA-free containers or stick to glass.