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What's the best way to store fruits and vegetables?

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As we strive to incorporate fruits and vegetables into our diets, it is important to recognize that different types of produce have varied storage and preparation requirements. Proper handling will ensure maximum nutritional value and the best value for our food dollars. Consider these answers to often-asked fruit and vegetable storage questions.

What makes my bananas go brown so quickly? The browning process is called oxidation. Fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that, when exposed to air, cause the fruit to turn brown. Though not pleasing to the eye, it is not harmful. The process occurs in produce items such as bananas, apples, potatoes, avocados and pears. To avoid browning, lower the pH on the surface of the item by coating it with citrus juice. Another method is to immerse the produce in water to prevent its access to oxygen. Or, use a combination method by immersing the produce in acidulated water — one-fourth cup citrus juice to one quart water. Do not immerse apples longer than 15 minutes or bananas longer than three to five minutes to keep crisp.

· Where is the best place to store my fruits and vegetables?

All produce items have individual characteristics that affect how they should be stored. Use the following guide.

- Apples – store short-term in a ventilated plastic bag in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, wrap each in newspaper and place folded side down in a single layer. Keep in a cool, dry, dark place.

- Bananas - never store in the refrigerator. The skin will darken and other items stored with them will smell like banana.

- Cherries - will keep for a few days in the refrigerator unwashed. Wash just before serving.

- Grapes - store in a bowl in a cool, dry place. They will keep for up to a week depending on room temperature and even longer if kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

- Lemons, limes and tangerines - can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

- Melons - will ripen at room temperature. Ripe melons are best kept in a cool, airy place. If kept in the refrigerator, wrap with plastic wrap.

- Oranges - can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

- Pineapple - use as soon as possible after purchase. Do not store a whole pineapple in the refrigerator. Once cut and peeled, it can be chilled for up to three days.

- Asparagus - stand in a jug of cold water in the refrigerator or untie and store in the salad drawer.

- Avocado - keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.

- Broccoli - stores in refrigerator for two to three days.

- Carrots - will keep for several days in a cool, airy place or the refrigerator salad drawer. - Celery - will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Corn - for best results, use it the same day. - Garlic – store in a cool, dry place. If the air is damp, garlic tends to sprout.

- Green beans - for best results, use them the same day.

- Onions – store in a cool, dry place. They will become soft if stored in the refrigerator.

- Peppers - can be stored for a few days.

- Potatoes - store in a dark, cool, dry place. If exposed to light, green patches develop, which can be poisonous. If kept in a damp environment, they will become moldy. Buy potatoes in paper sacks rather than bags. They can keep for months in the right conditions, but will lose nutrients.

- Spinach - stores well for one to two days.

- Spaghetti squash - stores well for several months.

Tomatoes - Will redden if kept in a paper bag or the salad drawer.

· How do I store food items so they don’t absorb other odors?

Some food items absorb smells and others just smell. In her book Foodservice Organizations, Marian C. Spears explains what is okay to store together and what should be stored separately to avoid mixed flavors.

Apples and cheese give off odors and absorb odors. Butter, cornmeal, eggs, flour and nonfat dry milk do not give off an odor, but absorb odors. Cabbage, onions, potatoes and peaches give off odors and do not absorb odors.

· Can I store apples and oranges together?

It is okay to store most fruits together. However, one piece of bad fruit will cause the others to go bad sooner.

· Can I store peeled/sliced fruits and vegetables so they'll keep for a day or two?

Yes. Fruits and vegetables on the go are a great way to get five to nine servings a day, and will usually stay fresh for about three days. Fruits and vegetables should not be cut or washed until right before they are used in order to preserve maximum integrity. Many vegetables can be placed in a Ziploc bag or in a container of water. Water will cause some wilting vegetables to perk up. Also, consider marinating them to change the flavor profile using vinegar or jalapeno juice.

Posted on 13 Mar 2006

Meagan Wade

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