Updated: May 25, 2022
To refrigerate or not to refrigerate? By Audrey Bruno
It would be nice if each and every fruit or vegetable you bought came with an instruction manual on how to properly store it. Since they don’t, you kind of have to figure out how to preserve your produce all by yourself. Sometimes it seems obvious where something belongs; because of course you’re going to put delicate fresh berries and herbs in the fridge. But other times, it’s not so clear, and occasionally it’s even a point of contention (people who put tomatoes in the fridge, I’m looking at you). Instead of throwing everything in the fridge and hoping for the best, I’ve assembled all you need to know about storing every different kind of common produce. Some things will probably make you say duh, but others may surprise you—like, did you know you shouldn’t wash Brussels sprouts until you’re ready to use them? With these tips, you’ll never make a mistake like that again.
Apples: According to Travis Nordgren, a global senior produce buyer at Whole Foods Market, you should generally avoid storing apples with anything else, because they emit a lot of ethylene, which is the gas that speeds up the ripening and decaying process. He says it’s especially important to keep them separate from bananas and citrus, which also create an abundance of ethylene. You can keep them at room temperature, but Extra Crispy reports that they’ll have a much longer lifespan (up to a month!) if you keep them in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Asparagus: You’ll have the best luck with your asparagus if you trim the ends before you put them away, and then store them upright in a glass of water, covered with a plastic bag. They recommend changing the water in the glass if you notice it start to become cloudy.
Avocados: it’s best to keep avocados at room temperature, at least until they’ve ripened. Apparently, refrigerating them before that point can slow or completely halt the ripening process, in turn ruining the fruit. After it’s fully ripe, you can store it in the fridge. If it’s cut, sprinkle it with a little lemon juice and store it with the pit to prevent oxidation and keep it fresher for longer.
Bananas: In my opinion, you should never refrigerate bananas, but the consensus across the web is that you can, but only after they’ve fully ripened. Like with avocados, prematurely refrigerating bananas can disrupt the ripening process. Keep it at room temperature until it begins to get brown speckles, and then transfer it to the fridge to give it a longer lifespan.
Beets: Right when you get home from the store, the first thing you should do to your beets is remove the leaves, if they were sold with any. You’ll help prevent moisture loss from the roots, which will keep them fresher longer. Keep them in the crisper drawer and don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them.
Bell Peppers: The best way to store bell peppers is in the fridge, unwashed. Residual moisture can cause them to rot prematurely, which is why you’re better off washing them right before you’re to use them.
Berries: You should always try to keep berries as cold as possible, so they definitely have to be refrigerated. “Hold off on rinsing your berries until right before eating to preserve their full flavor,” . And if they come with green caps or stems (like strawberries might), he recommends leaving them on until you’re ready to eat to preserve their freshness.
Broccoli: Since broccoli is a winter vegetable, it’s built to withstand colder temperatures, and warmer temperatures can lead to its untimely demise. The farmers at Sweetwater Organic recommend covering your broccoli head with a moist paper towel in the crisper drawer of your fridge to keep it cool, crisp, and fresh.
Brussels sprouts: For best results, keep unwashed Brussels sprouts in a plastic bag in your fridge. That way, Bon Appétit says they should last you for up to a week—maybe even longer.
Cabbage: The best stored in the crisper drawer and should not be cut until ready for use. “If storing cut cabbage, its best to tightly wrap or bag.”
Cauliflower: The best way to store cauliflower might come as a surprise. Even though it looks like broccoli with less color, the storing methods are quite different. What you’ll want to do with it, according to Sweetwater Organic, is wrap it in plastic or leave it in the plastic it was sold in, and store it in your crisper drawer stem side up so the head doesn’t collect moisture. Keep the head whole until you’re ready to use it, because pre-cut cauliflower doesn’t have the same staying power.
Carrots: This type of root vegetable, are sturdy and built to last. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry environment like your fridge, though they’ll last for a while at room temperature too.
Celery: The best stored wrapped in aluminum foil in the crisper drawer keeping it in plastic wrap with trap ethylene gases—the same gases apples, bananas, and citrus excrete—which can accelerate the breakdown process.
Cherries and Plums: These two stone fruits will last longest if you keep them as cold as possible. Experts commend eating the cherries as soon as you can, because they gradually lose their sweetness as they get older.
Citrus: Much like with melons, citrus doesn’t continue to ripen after it’s picked. Always look for the most fragrant fruit you can smell out. When you get home, he recommends storing them at room temperature and away from direct sunlight, though he says you can also refrigerate them if you prefer. They’ll last for a few days to a week at room temp and up to several weeks in the fridge.
Corn: Epicurious reports that the secret to keeping a cob of corn fresh is to not let it get dry. Don’t remove the husks until you’re ready to get cooking, and store the cobs wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer in your fridge.
Cucumbers: are sensitive to the cold, and exposure to temperatures below 50 degrees can damage their flavor and texture. This veggie is one of the few on the list that will actually last longer if you keep it at room temperature.
Garlic: Whatever you do, don’t put garlic in the fridge! In my experience, refrigeration changes the texture of the garlic for the worse. You should try to keep it in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. I like to keep mine in a basket in a cool corner in my kitchen.
Grapes: Unwashed grapes will last in your fridge for up to a week. Like other produce on this list, washing them before you store them can lead to premature rotting. Give them a rinse just before you’re ready to eat.
Herbs: Fresh herbs can be stored in the refrigerator, kept dry and bagged, or stored in a jar or glass of water. If you do decided to store them in a glass of water, make sure to trim the ends before you do.
Kiwis: Like bananas and avocados, you can refrigerate kiwis, but you should wait until they’ve completely ripened. If you do keep them in the fridge, they’ll stay good for up to a month, and only a few days if you don’t.
Leafy Greens: The trick to keeping leafy greens like lettuce and spinach fresh in your fridge is making sure they’re far from any moisture, safe in the confines of your crisper drawer. You’ll have the best luck if you wash and dry them fully, then store them in a plastic bag with a paper towel.
Mangoes: Mangoes should also be left at room temperature until they’re ripe, but can be moved to the fridge afterward. To speed up the ripening process, store them in a paper bag. This will trap the ripening ethylene gases and expedite the process.
Melons: Whole, un-cut melons should always be stored at room temperature. After you cut the melon, it’s important to refrigerate it (preferably in an airtight storage unit) to inhibit bacterial growth.
Nectarines, Peaches, and Apricots: These three are some of the few fruits you should definitely not refrigerate. The refrigerator acts as a dehydrator zapping moisture from these fruits. Instead, keep them in a cool spot in your kitchen.
Onions: Like garlic, keeping onions in a cool, dark place, but not in the fridge because that’ll mess with their texture.
Parsnips: As with carrots, parsnips are a root vegetable designed to withstand cold, dry winters. So yes, they’ll last for some time in the tundra known as your crisper drawer. Keeping them wrapped in plastic to extend their life.
Pears: You can store pears in either the fridge or at room temperature. They’ll last longer in the fridge, but you should avoid putting them in there until they’ve fully ripened, otherwise they may not. To preserve cut pears, sprinkle their flesh with lemon juice to prevent oxidation and keep them from browning.
Pineapple: Keep pineapple in the fridge, but only after it’s had a chance to fully ripen at room temperature. If uncut, wrap it in plastic before you store it in the fridge, and if cut, keep it in an airtight container.
Pomegranate: You can keep pomegranates at room temperature or refrigerated if they’re not seeded, though the fridge will double their lifespan from one week to two, according to Bon Appetit. Keep pomegranate seeds in an airtight container and they’ll last for several days.
Potatoes: Like onions and garlic, keeping potatoes stored in a cool, dark place that isn’t the fridge. However, he says that you shouldn’t store them with onions, because the gasses from onions can cause the potatoes to sprout.
Summer Squash: It’s best to keep summer squash like zucchini in a plastic bag, stored in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Tomatoes: I die a little inside every time I see a tomato in someone’s fridge. Tomatoes should never go in the fridge, because refrigeration makes them soft and mushy—it’s true. Keep them at room temp out of direct sunlight.
Winter Squash: Winter squash like butternut and acorn can last uncut at room temperature for many weeks to months—I once had a pumpkin that lasted the whole winter, no joke. After you cut it, to store it in an airtight container in the fridge and it’ll last for a few days.