Everyone knows that five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is an important part a healthy diet. What many people don’t realize is that, like meat and dairy, fresh produce can carry some health risks if handled improperly. Knowing how to best clean and store produce makes it easier to stay healthy and eat those fruits and veggies.
Most produce travels long distances before ending up on the shelves of your local grocery store. During transport, fruits and veggies may be exposed to conditions that can contain harmful contaminants. Even if a food is organic and does not contain pesticide, transportation and packaging can add contaminants to the food along the way. Prior to eating produce, be sure to wash it thoroughly with water. If you are eating fruits or vegetables that are covered in a waxy coating, such as apples, make sure to rub off the coating with a paper towel or cloth after washing. While it is important to wash vegetables before eating, it is best to store vegetables unwashed. Too much moisture can cause vegetables to go bad quickly. For best results, wash fruits and vegetables just before you eat them.
Different fruits and vegetables should be stored in different ways. Typically, a refrigerator should be kept at around 34 degrees. Vegetables are best stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator. This is the drawer or drawers located at the bottom of most refrigerators. Most of the time, crispers have their own dedicated humidity controls. Vegetables such as lettuce, cucumber, and celery do best when stored at a higher humidity. Dry vegetables such as garlic or onions should be kept in low humidity, either in another part of the refrigerator or in a separate crisper set to a lower humidity level. The crisper allows you to keep humidity consistent—either higher or lower depending on the vegetable—thereby prolonging the freshness and life of refrigerated vegetables. When refrigerating fruits or vegetables that have already been cut up, it is best store them in a plastic bag to preserve freshness and limit contact to the air. Make sure to separate vegetables from meat and dairy products to avoid possible contamination by bacteria.
Almost all fruits and vegetables can also be stored in the freezer without reducing their health benefits or vitamin content. The freezer is a great way to store seasonal fruits or vegetables for later in the year. When freezing fruits or vegetables, store them in their own airtight containers. Generally, avoid freezing a fruit or vegetable that is unripe, as it may not ripen correctly when it comes out of the freezer. Also, leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach should not be frozen.
What Not to Refrigerate
There are some vegetables that should not be refrigerated at all. These include tomatoes, which lose flavor and nutrients if refrigerated and develop an undesirable texture. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash should also be kept out of the fridge. Refrigeration arrests the ripening process so only refrigerate fruits that you want to keep fresh for longer periods of time. If you want to keep a fruit or berry from ripening, freezing or refrigerating is a good option. Fruit, when stored out of the refrigerator in a fruit bowl tends to ripen much faster when left in close proximity of other fruit. Tropical fruit in general should not be stored in the refrigerator as it is easily damaged by cold temperatures. Apples, pears, and berries, on the other hand, do well when stored in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator. Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges are also best kept out of the refrigerator and keep well when stored in a cool dry place. If stored in the fridge they may absorb unwanted odors and flavors from other foods.