Counter or Fridge? How to Keep your Produce Fresh

Americans throw away an average of about $400 worth of spoiled produce a year. Following a few tips will ensure more fruits and vegetables go into you and your family than into the yard waste container. What a great way to save you money and improve your family's health.

Where you store fruits and veggies affects how long they keep.

Some produce lasts longer and better in the refrigerator, which slows down the conversion of sugars to starches, delaying spoilage. Snap and sugar peas, new potatoes and corn all do well in the fridge. Russet potatoes, though, belong in a cool, dark place, where their starch can develop to make a flaky baked potato.

May 1998 --- Red Carnations in the Kitchen --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Other foods—especially those you want to ripen, like apples, strawberries, avocado, mangos and tomatoes—do better on the kitchen counter initially before going into the fridge once ripe.
Some produce hates the cold climate of the icebox. Anyone who has made the mistake of putting bananas or basil in the refrigerator knows not to do that again.

Pears ripen nicely when they sit next to a banana or an apple on the counter. Those fruits give off ethylene gas, which helps ripen pears.

Many fruits and vegetables like brown bags, which are the best container for mushrooms in your fridge and the best way to ripen stone fruits like peaches and nectarines on the kitchen counter.

If storing all this produce on your counter means your kitchen is overwhelmed with the bane of fruit flies, put some cider vinegar and a few drops of dish soap in a shallow cup or bowl. Put a plastic bag over the top, held tight by a rubber band, and punch fine holes in it. The fruit flies will crawl through the holes and land on the vinegar. Because the soap has decreased the surface tension, they will drown.

If you have too much produce to keep up with, try freezing it. Most vegetables need just a quick dip in boiling water to be blanched, which kills the enzymes that will spoil them, before freezing. Or, consider canning your produce, which saves valuable freezer space for other foods.

Tape the following list on the outside of your refrigerator to help you keep the inside better organized. You’ll save money, eat healthier, and save time.

Click on the image above to open a printable handout.

Author Katy Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See her recipes at