Preventing Produce Spoilage

Make this summer’s harvest last longer with these helpful tips.

Make this summer’s harvest last longer with these helpful tips.

A new survey released by the Centers for Disease Control reported that only 1 in 10 Americans eats enough fruits and vegetables. Even California, the state with the best intake, was lagging. Only about 18 percent of Californians ate enough fruit every day and 13 percent ate enough vegetables.

The daily recommendation is 1-1/2 to 2 cups for fruits and 2-3 cups for vegetables. How do you rate? If you’re not close to the recommendations, what are the barriers or challenges? Many people comment that storage and waste are an issue. You can use these storage tips to help prevent spoilage.

Separate Incompatible Produce

Some fruits and vegetables produce high levels of ethylene gas which is a ripening agent. These include:

  • ripe bananas
  • apples
  • cantaloupe and honeydew melons
  • mangoes
  • pears
  • ripe kiwis
  • stone fruits (except cherries)
  • tomatoes
  • onions and leeks

Store ethylene-producing produce away from fruits and veggies that are ethylene sensitive. These include:

  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • leafy greens
  • peas
  • peppers
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • strawberries
  • watermelon

You may have noticed your crisper drawers have humidity controls. They are there for a reason! Keep the ethylene producers in the drawer with a low humidity setting. This allows the gas to escape without building up in the drawer, preventing premature ripening of the produce.

The ethylene sensitive produce should go in the drawer with a high humidity setting. Trapping the air inside lowers the moisture loss and prevents the gas from entering the drawer which would prematurely spoil the contents.

Over-filling your crisper drawers also speeds up rotting, so don’t cram the produce inside; only pack them about two-thirds full.

Don’t Chill These!

Some produce does not do well in the refrigerator so store these at room temperature in a cool spot away from direct sunlight. Pretty much everything else should go in the fridge.

  • potatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • winter squash
  • tomatoes (store on counter stem side down)
  • bananas

Let These Ripen or Soften at Room Temperature, Then Chill:

  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • plums
  • avocado
  • mango
  • melons
  • pears
  • kiwi
  • citrus

Should You Wash Produce Before Storing?

Most produce does better if you wait to wash it before use. This prevents premature molding and rot. Some exceptions include salad greens and fresh herbs. I like to wash these in cool water, place in a salad spinner and spin dry, lay out on a towel for a few minutes, roll up in the towel, and place the towel in a plastic bag. I find greens and herbs stored in the fridge this way last nicely for up to a week.

Ready, Set, Go!

Okay, you’ve got these great tips for optimal storage. Now head out to your farmer’s market, grocers, or garden and take advantage of the great summer bounty!

Sharon Lehrman, MPH, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a private practice and corporate wellness business in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read health-related articles, subscribe to her free monthly nutrition newsletter, or contact her at

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