What is good for one is not necessarily good for all.

By Patricia S York
June 02, 2021
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It is easy to assume that storing any food item in the refrigerator will ensure, for a limited time, the life and quality of that item. While this is true for cooked foods, not every fresh vegetable or fruit takes kindly to being stored in the crisper and you may realize you are throwing out more food than you consume. Besides buying less and being more conscious of the produce you have on hand, one of the best ways to avoid food waste comes in knowing how to properly store your fruits and vegetables. Avoid these mistakes when storing your farmers' market finds, your U-Pick harvests, and your grocery store purchases.

Tomatoes: Don't Refrigerate Fresh

Chilling your tomatoes can cause loss of sweetness and texture but is an option if the tomatoes are overripe (and always refrigerate a tomato that has been cut). Do not wash tomatoes until ready to use. Store fresh tomatoes on the counter away from direct sunlight, with the stem ends down. Storing them on their sides will cause bruising. Cover tomatoes with a towel for protection from fruit flies.

Fresh tomatoes
Credit: Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

Corn on the Cob: Don't Keep at Room Temperature

You may have purchased your fresh corn in an open-air market but be sure and chill it as soon as you get it home. The sugars in sweet corn turn to starch rapidly and refrigeration helps to slow this process. For optimal flavor, eat the corn as soon as possible. You may choose to shuck, cut, and freeze the corn. For short-term storage, however, store corn with husks in a warmer section (middle or upper shelf) of the refrigerator or, if husks are removed, wrap the ears of corn in damp cloths, place in an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  

Cucumbers: Don't Get Them Too Cold

We've all used the phrase "cool as a cucumber," and we love how adding a crisp cucumber to a salad brings instant refreshment. Allow a cucumber to get too cool, though, and it will turn to mush. The ideal temperature for storing cucumbers is somewhere between room temperature and refrigeration, so cucumbers can be stored in a cool place on your counter or wrapped in a damp cloth, placed in a breathable food storage bag, and kept in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Cucumbers are best if used within a few days, as more time at low temperatures can damage them.

Squash and Zucchini: Don't Wash Until Ready to Use

Go ahead and refrigerate summer squash as soon as you pick it from your garden or get it home from the market. You don't need to wash it until you are ready to cook it up in a cheesy squash casserole or one of the many endless ways we love to use summer squash. Wrap cut ends of squash and zucchini with a damp cloth and store in a breathable bag (plastic or paper bag with one end open to encourage air circulation) in the high-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Handle carefully, as bruising can reduce vitamin content.

Berries: Don't Wash Until Ready to Use

Go ahead and refrigerate berries as soon as you get them home or you can freeze berries for future use. Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries stay their freshest for 2 to 3 days, while blueberries can hold on for 10 days. That gives you plenty of time to use these summer gems in berry cobblers, refreshing smoothies, and sweet rolls. Do not wash berries until ready to use - the moisture decreases their shelf life. Refrigerate blueberries in their original container or in a covered bowl or container. For raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, place in a single layer in an aerated container on a tray lined with cloth, and then cover loosely with another cloth. If space is constrained, add second and third layers with cloths between them.

WATCH: Serve Up a Delicious Patchwork Cobbler

Stone Fruits: Don't Refrigerate Until Ripe

Do not wash stone fruit until you are ready to use in homemade cobblers, no-cook ice cream, or main dish summer salads, and do not refrigerate them until ripe. Most cherries are sold already ripe, so you may want to refrigerate them immediately. Other stone fruits, such as peaches and nectarines, are usually purchased unripe. In that case, store at room temperature out of sunlight until your fruit is ripened. Place in a closed paper bag to hasten ripening. Once ripe, refrigerate loose in the low-humidity drawer or in an open paper bag with nothing stacked on top. Peaches, nectarines, and apricots will become mealy if left in the refrigerator too long so, once ripe, use within 3-7 days.