Produce isn’t cheap, which makes it all the more painful when half of it goes bad before you ever get to eat it. What makes it more frustrating is that some fruits and vegetables seem to retain their freshness forever, while others wilt the second you get them home.
The key to understanding the life cycle of your weekly fresh produce haul is thinking about its moisture content. A berry is going to go bad much faster than an apple because berries are mostly water. Berries are also often packed tightly together, just begging mold to swoop in and make your delicious summer treat its new snack.
High moisture fruits and vegetables are going to go bad faster than their lower-moisture counterparts, which is why you’ve probably thrown a half-eaten bag of spinach away in the last month.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Knowing how quickly certain foods will go bad and how to store them will help you make a plan for your produce purchases, and, best of all, save you money.
Fresh for: 1 to 3 Days
If you’re a meal planner, try to incorporate asparagus into your prep between two to three days after purchase. Although fresh asparagus can keep up to five days in your fridge, the ends tend to dry out and the tops become soft and lose their color fairly quickly, which means you’ll be able to use less and less of the veg.
You can extend the life of your asparagus by cutting off the ends and storing the stalks upright in a jar with one to two inches of water. Place a plastic bag loosely over the top, and your asparagus could last for up to a week.
All you want is a handful of fresh berries, so you buy them and feast on half the container… and the next day, the rest are covered in mold. Unfortunately, once berries have gone bad, there isn’t much to be done, but better storage could extend the life of your summer treat.
Taking them out of their packaging and putting them in a paper towel lined container big enough to store the berries on the bottom without stacking will help. When berries get too crowded, moisture gets stuck between them, which is when mold can become an issue.
You should also keep your berry haul in the fridge, ideally without a lid. And if you’re serious about making your berries last longer, check out this article from the New York Times about how a hot water treatment could extend their freshness for days and potentially even reverse mold growth.
3. Fresh Leafy Greens
Fresh greens like spinach, lettuce and kale have a relatively short shelf life at three to five days, so if you’re planning to use them in a salad, do it fast. Otherwise, that satisfying crunch will turn wilted fast.
The plastic bags that spinach, kale and lettuce are often sold in are moisture traps. Kale tends to be the heartier of the three due to its low moisture content. Spinach and lettuce on the other hand have a high moisture content. They also lack any sort of a protective covering, like a peel. Combined with how they are typically processed and packaged, your favorite salad ingredient could pose greater instances of foodborne illnesses.
So, first things first, get them out of the packaging. Storing leafy greens in airtight containers with a layer of paper towels can keep your veggies fresh for up to a week. Keep an eye on it, though. If you see a couple leaves losing their freshness, take them out so the rest stay fresh.
Peaches are another sensitive fruit. They’re best stored in the refrigerator, but don’t often stay fresh for more than four days.
The key here is to keep them away from other fruits and ethylene-producing vegetables like green beans and broccoli. Ethylene is a chemical produced when fruits and certain vegetables start to go bad, and it actually speeds up the ripening process in nearby produce as well.
Did your peaches end up overripe anyway? Try one of these 15 recipes to make use of them.
Fresh for: 3 to 6 Days
Bet you didn’t expect to see avocados this far down the list. While it’s true avocados will go bad quickly if purchased when perfectly ripe, slightly unripe avocados can last on your counter for up to four days.
Once they hit peak ripeness, though, stick them in your fridge to keep them fresh enough to eat for another two to three days.
If you missed the brief window of peak ripeness, don’t worry! These 11 recipes will help you make use of those overripe avocados.
Bananas can last between three days to a week when stored on your counter. Make sure they’re in a cool, well-ventilated space. If they’re packaged in plastic, remove it.
As with most fruits, it’s also important to keep your bananas away from other fruits or even already unripe bananas.
Just like peaches, bananas produce and are sensitive to ethylene, so keeping them away from other fruits will help the bananas last longer and keep your other fruits from going bad faster. As a result, tossing your fresh fruit in a basket as soon as you get back from the store might not be your best bet.
Don’t toss your overripe bananas! These 15 recipes will turn them from mush into magic.
Broccoli is slightly heartier than leafy relatives like spinach and kale. However, just like spinach and kale, broccoli is susceptible to moisture. It usually keeps well in the fridge for three to five days, but could stay fresh for up to a week if stored with a paper towel in an airtight plastic bag.
Storing broccoli in a plastic bag has the added bonus of decreasing the likelihood it will be exposed to that pesky chemical ethylene, which will decrease broccoli’s shelf life.
8. Green Beans
Like broccoli, green beans are a veg that will hang in there longer than most greens. It’s got a shelf life of between three and five days, but make sure they are stored with a paper towel in an airtight bag. They could stay fresh up to a week if stored like this.
First things first: Get your tomatoes out of the fridge. Unless they are fully ripe, tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, not stacked on top of each other and out of direct sunlight. They will usually keep for a week this way.
As with avocados, you can stick them in the fridge once they’ve hit peak ripeness, but not for more than one or two days. Otherwise you’ll compromise their taste and texture.
Fresh for: A Week or Longer
Apples win the prize for the longest lasting fruit of those listed. Although apples can lose their freshness within a week if stored at room temperature, they’ll stay good for up to six weeks in your refrigerator’s produce box, especially if not crowded with other produce.
Another hearty addition to your grocery list, unpeeled fresh carrots and baby carrots can last up to a month. Carrots are among the vegetables that last the longest.
Watch for mold, but if kept in the crisper drawer in your fridge, carrots can pretty much take care of themselves.
This vegetable won’t quit. Because of its low moisture content, it can stay fresh in your fridge for up to two weeks. It’s best to remove the plastic if you see moisture collecting, especially near the stem.
Potatoes can last up to two months if stored in a cool place and away from sunlight. Your pantry is the perfect spot.
It depends on the squash, but most will last between one to three months. If they start to get mushy or show signs of mold, it’s time to throw them out. Squash also doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will last just as long stored in a clean, cool, dark place like a pantry.
Anna Brugmann is a contributor to Codetic.