The storage of vegetables and fruits may seem like a fairly straightforward task, but keeping different types in the wrong place can result in them going off quickly. If you’re trying to eat more fruit and veg at work, this can mean having to throw away your carefully chosen healthy lunch, or even stinking out the office!
Different fruits and vegetables require different storage conditions to stay fresh, tasty and good to eat. Here is our guide on the best way to store vegetables and fruit.
Why do fruit and vegetables spoil?
All types of food will eventually spoil over time, but fruit and vegetables often have a shorter shelf life than many other types of produce. This is because veggies and fruits will ripen naturally thanks to a number of factors.
As many types of fruit and veg ripen, they release a plant hormone that occurs as a natural gas called ethylene. This gas helps to create enzymes, which breaks down the starch inside of fruits and veg, turning it into natural (and healthy) sugar. This is why unripened fruit and vegetables are usually hard and have less flavour. As the majority of fruits and vegetables ripen, they become softer, sweeter, and more aromatic.
Essentially, ethylene speeds up the ripening process, which you can use to your advantage. For example, if you put an avocado in a sealed paper bag, it will ripen more quickly because the ethylene will speed up the process of softening the fruit.
Of course, over-exposure to ethylene can cause fruit and veg to spoil quickly, particularly those that are sensitive to ethylene (we’ll get to this later).
While ethylene is important, it’s not the only cause of fruits and vegetables spoiling. The storage of these healthy foods has a big impact too - particularly the temperature, as well as how and where your produce as stored too.
Fruits and vegetables that should be stored at room temperature
Certain fruits and vegetables should be stored at room temperature to keep them fresh and tasty. This is because refrigeration can cause cold damage - where the low temperature leads to damaged tissues in the produce that negatively affects flavour and texture.
Refrigeration tends to slow down the ripening process, which helps prolong the life of fruit and vegetables. For many varieties of fresh produce, however, cold storage can prevent them from ripening to a good flavour or texture.
Below is a list of the fruits and vegetables that should be stored at room temperature.
- Apples (if they are consumed in fewer than 7 days)
- Citrus fruits
- Basil (in a glass of water like a bunch of flowers)
- Garlic (should be stored in a well ventilated area)
- Onions (should be stored in a well ventilated area)
- Potatoes (should be stored in a well ventilated area)
- Sweet potatoes (should be stored in a well ventilated area)
Fruits and vegetables that should be stored in the fridge
The correct storage of vegetables and fruits can differ hugely between varieties, and while room temperature suits the produce above, other fruits and vegetables will spoil quickly if left out.
This is due to certain fruits and vegetables being more sensitive to ethylene production. Storing these fruits in the fridge at much colder temperatures will minimise the detrimental effects of this natural gas, and help to keep the produce fresher for longer.
While fridge space is limited at work, the fruits and vegetables below should be kept in the fridge to avoid spoiling.
- Apples (if they are not going to be consumed within 7 days)
- Cut fruit
- Green beans
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cut vegetables
- Herbs (except for basil)
- Lettuce and salad leaves
- Spring onions
Fruits that should be ripened before being refrigerated
Finally, the right way to store fruits that need ripening but tend to spoil quickly, is to keep them at room temperature to begin with before moving to the fridge when ripe. This will ensure that ethylene will have enough time to take effect, without quickly spoiling the produce. Ripening certain types of fruit in this way will also help to prevent moisture loss.
To ripen fruit using this method, store the items separately in a paper bag or bowl away from direct sunlight. Once the fruit has ripened, move to the fridge and use within 2-3 days.
Here are the fruits that should be stored in this way to ensure freshness and longevity:
What fruits and vegetables should be stored away from each other?
The best way to store vegetables and fruits varies considerably between different varieties, and storing fruit incorrectly can lead to it either spoiling or failing to ripen properly. These different requirements also mean that certain types of fruit and veg should not be stored together too.
Certain types of fruits and vegetables are particularly susceptible to ethylene, and should be stored away from fruits that tend to produce a lot of it. Ripe bananas and apples are often kept together in fruit bowls, but this is not a good combination for either fruit.
Both bananas and apples produce a lot of ethylene and both are especially susceptible to the gas. When they are kept together, apples and bananas will ripen and spoil quickly, so try and keep them apart if possible.
Likewise, if you keep onions and potatoes together, you may notice that the tasty tuber starts to sprout. This is because onions produce plenty of ethylene - so try to keep them away from other vegetables.
Lettuce and salad leaves are also susceptible to the effects of ethylene too, so try and keep them separated in your salad drawer.
Storing fruits and vegetables properly will ensure that your lunch and snacks at work are fresh and full of flavour.