Storing Produce at Home without Plastic

by david soutee on January 19, 2021
Feel free to scroll to the bottom of this page for an A to Z list with specific instructions for (nearly) every fruit and vegetable you could buy.

You've just shopped for produce at your favorite market, while managing to avoid all the plastic bags and packaging. Congratulations! This is no easy task! Now that you're back at home, you need to use the best plastic-free storage methods for all your yummy foods to keep them tasting fresh. We have been working on perfecting this for years, and we'd like to share what works best for us. We'll start by explaining something that simply helps us remember the basic rules of produce storage.

Most foods you buy in the produce section LOVE to breathe. This means cotton mesh produce bags will extend the storage life of many, but not all, types of produce.  For example, all fruits love a little fresh air. And when we say “all fruits” we mean ALL fruits, even the ones that are often mistakenly called vegetables. For some reason (and there are many theories on this) we call a lot of our fruits “vegetables” now. This little disagreement even made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1893! Okay, we've gotten a bit off track here. Back to fruits…

A way to keep this simple and easy is to just remember any piece of produce that has its own skin would like to breathe. Peppers, Cucumbers and Tomatoes, just to name a few (fruits!), don’t need an extra layer of plastic protection, because mother nature already has them covered. The scientific reason for this is as soon as they are picked, they begin releasing ethylene gas which causes them to ripen. If they are sealed up in an airtight container or plastic bag, the gas cannot escape and causes them to ripen and spoil much faster.

You may have noticed your refrigerator is designed to help with this problem. If you move the little slider on the storage drawer to “Fruit” it opens up the vent, and moving the slider to “Vegetable” seals it closed. (If you haven’t noticed this, stop reading and go to your kitchen right now. It’s been there this whole time!) This “fruit vs. vegetable” slider rule is a handy one to remember when deciding how to store your produce in the refrigerator.

There are also many (actual) vegetables that like to breathe, and we’ve noticed something they all have in common: rather than being in the fridge, these “breathing vegetables” prefer to be stored in a dark, dry place. All kinds of potatoes, onions and garlic do well when they’re bagged in breathable cotton mesh and stored in a cabinet.

The vegetables that require refrigeration are a trickier bunch, and so they aren’t so easy to explain in broad terms. This is where the list at the end of this article can really come in handy. Some, like broccoli and cauliflower do fine in mesh produce bags as long as you keep them in a crisper drawer with the slider set to vegetable/closed. Other veggies, like carrots, need a little more TLC.

And now for the toughest challengers of the vegetable storage world: leafy greens and lettuce. It’s okay to use reusable mesh produce bags to purchase your leafy greens and lettuce, but do not ever use them for storage. Even in a crisper drawer, these veggies will begin to wilt within a day or two. Our favorite method begins with soaking them in water as soon as we bring them home. This not only gets them clean, it also rehydrates them so they stay crisp longer. Then we rinse them and place them directly into one of our cotton muslin bags. This makes the bag very damp, which is intentional. It keeps the greens stored at a good humidity level, and they can last up to one week stored like this. Another method we’ve used is storing the greens in air-tight glass containers, which allows for a similar lifespan. Having said all that, there are some exceptions such as arugula which prefers to stay dry.

If you are ever unsure, you can refer to the very helpful information given below. This extensive list from the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California is something we’ve been using and recommending for years… even if we happen to technically disagree with them on what should be considered “fruits” or “vegetables.” ;)

Apples‐ store on a cool counter or shelf for up to two weeks. For longer storage in a cardboard box in the fridge.

Apricots‐ on a cool counter to room temperature or fridge if fully ripe

Berries- Don’t forget, they’re fragile. When storing be careful not to stack too many high, a single layer if possible. A paper bag works well, only wash before you plan on eating them.

Cherries‐ store in an airtight container. Don’t wash cherries until ready to eat, any added moisture encourages mold.

Citrus‐ store in a cool place, with good airflow, never in an air‐tight container.

Dates (Medjool) need a bit of refrigeration if they’re going to be stored over a week, either in cloth or a paper bag‐ as long as it’s porous to keeping the moisture away from the skin of the dates.

Figs‐ Don’t like humidity, so, no closed containers. A paper bag works to absorb excess moisture, but a plate works best in the fridge up to a week un‐stacked.

Melons‐ uncut in a cool dry place, out of the sun up to a couple weeks. Cut melons should be in the fridge, an open container is fine.

Nectarines‐ (similar to apricots) store in the fridge is okay if ripe, but best taken out a day or two before you plan on eating them so they soften to room temperature.

Peaches (and most stone fruit)‐ refrigerate only when fully ripe. More firm fruit will ripen on the counter.

Pears‐ will keep for a few weeks on a cool counter, but fine in a paper bag. To hasten the ripening put an apple in with them.

Persimmon‐Fuyu‐(shorter/pumpkin shaped): store at room temperature.

Pomegranates‐ keep up to a month stored on a cool counter.

Strawberries‐ Don’t like to be wet. Do best in a paper bag in the fridge for up to a week. Check the bag for moisture every other day.

Artichokes‐ place in an airtight container sealed, with light moisture.

Asparagus‐ place them loosely in a glass or bowl upright with water at room temperature. (will keep for a week outside the fridge)

Avocados‐ place in a paper bag at room temp. To speed up their ripening‐ place an apple in the bag with them.

Arugula‐ should not stay wet! Dunk in cold water and spin or lay flat to dry. Place dry arugula in an open container, wrapped with a dry towel to absorb any extra moisture.

Basil‐ is difficult to store well. Basil does not like the cold, or to be wet for that matter. The best method here is an airtight container/jar loosely packed with a small damp piece of paper inside‐left out on a cool counter.

Beets‐ cut the tops off to keep beets firm, (be sure to keep the greens!)by leaving any top on root vegetables draws moisture from the root, making them loose flavor and firmness.
Beets should be washed and kept in and open container with a wet towel on top.

Beet greens‐ place in an airtight container with a little moisture.

Broccoli‐ place in an open container in the fridge or wrap in a damp towel before placing in the fridge.

Broccoli Rabe‐ left in an open container in the crisper, but best used as soon as possible.

Brussels Sprouts‐ If bought on the stalk leave them on that stalk. Put the stalk in the fridge or leave it on a cold place. If they’re bought loose store them in an open container with a damp towel on top.

Cabbage‐ left out on a cool counter is fine up to a week, in the crisper otherwise. Peel off outer leaves if they start to wilt. Cabbage might begin to lose its moisture after a week, so, best used as soon as possible.

Carrots‐ cut the tops off to keep them fresh longer. Place them in closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days if they’re stored that long.

Cauliflower‐ will last a while in a closed container in the fridge, but they say cauliflower has the best flavor the day it’s bought.

Celery‐ does best when simply places in a cup or bowl of shallow water on the counter.

Celery root/Celeriac‐ wrap the root in a damp towel and place in the crisper.

Corn‐ leave unhusked in an open container if you must, but corn really is best the day it’s picked.

Cucumber‐ wrapped in a moist towel in the fridge. If you’re planning on eating them within a day or two after buying them they should be fine left out in a cool room.

Eggplant‐ does fine left out in a cool room. Don’t wash it, eggplant doesn’t like any extra moisture around its leaves. For longer storage‐ place loose, in the crisper.

Fava beans‐ place in an air tight container.

Fennel‐ if used within a couple days after it’s bought fennel can be left out on the counter, upright in a cup or bowl of water (like celery). If wanting to keep longer than a few days place in the fridge in a closed container with a little water.

Garlic‐ store in a cool, dark, place.

Greens‐ remove any bands, twist ties, etc. most greens must be kept in an air‐tight container with a damp cloth‐ to keep them from drying out. Kale, collards, and chard even do well in a cup of water on the counter or fridge.

Green beans‐ they like humidity, but not wetness. A damp cloth draped over an open or loosely closed container.

Green onions‐ Remove any band or tie and place in the crisper.Green

Tomatoes‐ store in a cool room away from the sun to keep them green and use quickly or they will begin to color. 

Herbs- closed container in the fridge to kept up to a week. Any longer might encourage mold.

Lettuce‐ keep damp in an airtight container in the fridge.

Leeks‐leave in an open container in the crisper wrapped in a damp cloth or in a shallow cup of water on the counter (just so the very bottom of the stem has water).

Okra‐ doesn’t like humidity. So a dry towel in an airtight container. Doesn’t store that well, best eaten quickly after purchase

Onion‐ store in a cool, dark and dry, place‐ good air circulation is best, so don’t stack them.

Parsnips‐an open container in the crisper, or, like a carrot, wrapped in a damp cloth in the fridge.

Potatoes‐ (like garlic and onions) store in cool, dark and dry place, such as, a box in a dark corner of the pantry; a paper bag also works well.

Radicchio‐ place in the fridge in an open container with a damp cloth on top.

Radishes‐ remove the greens (store separately) so they don’t draw out excess moisture from the roots and place them in a open container in the fridge with a wet towel placed on top.

Rhubarb‐wrap in a damp towel and place in an open container in the refrigerator.

Rutabagas‐ in an ideal situation a cool, dark, humid root cellar or a closed container in the crisper to keep their moisture in.

Snap peas‐ refrigerate in an open container

Spinach‐ store loose in an open container in the crisper, cool as soon as possible. Spinach loves to stay cold.

Summer Squash‐ does fine for a few days if left out on a cool counter, even after cut.

Sweet peppers‐ Only wash them right before you plan on eating them as wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool room to use in a couple a days, place in the crisper if longer storage needed.

Sweet Potatoes‐ Store in a cool, dark, well‐ventilated place. Never refrigerate‐‐sweet potatoes don’t like the cold.

Tomatoes‐ Never refrigerate. Depending on ripeness, tomatoes can stay for up to two weeks on the counter. To hasten ripeness place in a paper bag with an apple.

Turnips‐ remove the greens (store separately) same as radishes and beets, store them in an open container with a moist cloth.

Winter squash‐store in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Many growers say winter squashes get sweeter if they’re stored for a week or so before eaten.

Zucchini‐ does fine for a few days if left out on a cool counter, even after cut. Wrap in a cloth and refrigerate for longer storage.

You are welcome to send us a message to let us know how you do things at your home! This is a very broad subject, and there are so many different ways to do these things. We always love to hear from from the good people who use our bags!