By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 18 October 2008)
Proper storage and food safety procedures maintain the freshness and flavour of produce and reduce the risk of food poisoning.
General Produce Storage Guidelines
Different fruits and vegetables require different storage methods:
- Squash, onions, and potatoes should be taken out of their plastic bags and stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
- Root vegetables such as carrots, leafy green vegetables, and most others should be left in their bags and stored in the fridge.
- Fruits that have been cut should be covered with plastic wrap or a plate and refrigerated immediately.
- Most uncut fruits don’t need to be refrigerated, particularly under-ripe fruit. However, in hot weather, unless the house can be kept cool, fruit should be kept in the fridge or it will spoil rapidly. Also, very ripe fruit should be refrigerated to prolong its life.
How Long Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Keep
The length of time that fruits and vegetables will keep in the fridge varies based on a number of factors, including freshness and ripeness at time of purchase. The following storage times are approximations, and under-ripe produce often keeps longer:
- Mushrooms, okra, guavas, papayas – 1-2 days
- Cilantro, parsley, asparagus, pineapples, berries, cherries, tangerines – 2-3 days
- Plums, avocados, kiwis, green onions, collards, kale, mustard greens, spinach, swiss chard, beans, broccoli, peas – 3-5 days
- Melons, cauliflower, celery, cabbage, green beans, chillies, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce – 1 week
- Beets, radishes, carrots – 2 weeks
- Cranberries, citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits – more than 2 weeks
- Apples – 1 month
- Fruit juice – 3 weeks unopened, 7-10 days opened (8-12 months unopened in the freezer)
Storage of Canned Produce
Never consume food from a can that is rusted, bulging, leaking, or giving off a bad odour, as these are signs of spoilage. Unopened cans of produce stored in a dry place can be expected to last for the following times:
- Canned or bottled olives – 1 year
- Pickles – 12-18 months
- Canned fruit (including tomatoes) – 12-18 months (2-3 days after opening)
- Canned vegetables – 2-5 years for low-acid vegetables; 12-18 months for anything containing sauerkraut or vinegar
Once a can is opened, the metal may begin to rust, and this can cause serious illness. After using a portion produce from a can, transfer the rest to a Tupperware container or Ziploc bag before refrigerating.
Some Foods Shouldn’t Be Stored Together
Certain foods will affect the flavour or longevity of other foods if stored in proximity to one another. For example, storing carrots next to apples turns the carrots bitter because of the ethylene gas that apples give off. Also, potatoes stored with onions may spoil more quickly.
Bacteria that cause food poisoning may be transferred to produce when cooks use the same utensils to cut raw meat and vegetables, or place vegetables on a cutting board or plate after using it for raw meat. Sometimes a fresh food will be infected with bacteria from a tea towel, dish cloth, or sponge as well. The cook may touch a bacteria-infested dish cloth and then transfer that bacteria to the produce. Cloths and sponges used in the kitchen should be washed regularly with soap and hot water, and after using them to wipe up spills, they should be hung up to dry right away, as bacteria favour moist environments. Washing hands before cooking also prevents the transfer of bacteria to food and reduces the risk of food poisoning.
For more food and drink articles, see the main Nutrition and Food page.
- Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center. (n.d.). “Food Storage: Refrigerator and Freezer.” Clemson.edu.
- Food Marketing Institute. (2001). “Food Storage Information.” FMI.org.
- Sidney South West Area Health Service. (n.d.). “If I buy it, how long will it last?” CS.NSW.gov.au.
- USDA. (2005). “Freezing and Food Safety.” FSIS.USDA.gov.