How to Make Fresh Produce Last Longer

Follow this simple produce guide for what to buy, how to store, and when to use fresh fruits and vegetables to make the most of your grocery budget and reduce food waste.

Fresh Foods Long Shelf Life such as sweet potato, leek, chard, citrus, fennel and cabbage.
Elise Bauer

The produce section of the supermarket is vibrant, bursting with color and filled with healthy options all year long.

While it’s wise to have non-perishables on hand, you might be surprised to know that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are built to last, too. When stored properly, your fresh produce favorites can keep for months. Knowing how to make the most of what you buy helps to stretch your dollar and keep your kitchen filled with healthy, wholesome options.

Here are some pointers to guide your way. Many of the fruits or vegetables listed in this article are linked and if clicked will take you to a page with recipes specifically using that fruit or vegetable. Hopefully, this will serve as resource for what to buy and how best to use it once you bring it home.

Vary the Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

Make room in your shopping cart for more perishable produce, just be sure to use it first. Delicate lettuces, zucchini, asparagus, bananas, berries, and mushrooms spoil more quickly than hearty produce, so enjoy them in the near term. After that, dip into your stash of sturdier fruits and vegetables.

Produce With a Long Shelf Life

There’s no shortage of fruits and vegetables with a good, long shelf life. Most of the ones listed below do well for a few weeks, others for several months.

Fennel bulb to make the most of your produce.
Elise Bauer

How to Properly Store Fruits and Vegetables

Proper storage is essential for giving fruits and vegetables a long life.

  • Keep lettuces and leafy greens nice and dry. Store in plastic bags with a paper towel in the refrigerator produce drawer.
  • Stash most root vegetables in the produce drawer.
  • Keep onions and garlic in a cool, dark spot of the kitchen (or in the cellar or basement).
  • Store potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash in a cool, dark place.
  • Store bananas at room temperature and away from other produce.
  • For the longest shelf life, store apples, citrus fruits, and pears in the fridge. If space is limited, store them in a cool, dark place. Apples are best stored on their own.
  • Transfer berries from their packaging to a roomy paper towel-lined container and keep in the produce drawer of the fridge. Wash just before eating.

Keep Them Separate

Many fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas, while others are sensitive to it. The gas causes fruits to ripen, and the more mature the fruit the more gas it typically releases. Some fruits and veggies are bigger culprits than others.

  • Potatoes and onions: It’s best not to store onions and potatoes together. Gas released by the onions can hasten sprouting and spoilage in potatoes. Potatoes that have sprouted slightly are still OK to eat, but you need to cut out the actual sprout (the sprouts are considered toxic).
  • Apples: Apples release a fair amount of ethylene gas, which can cause other fruits and vegetables to ripen more quickly. It’s best to store apples in their own crisper drawer in the fridge or in a cool space in your basement or cellar. Separating the apples will help other fruits and veggies last longer.
A bowl of apples are fresh foods with a long shelf life.
Elise Bauer

When to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables can be washed and stored as soon as you return from the market, with the exception of berries. They’re tender and porous, so exposing them to water before you’re ready to eat them can hasten spoilage.

How to Use up Fruits and Vegetables

When fruits and vegetables look like they’re coming to the end of the road, find creative ways to use them. Turn spotted bananas into banana bread. Add shredded zucchini to fritters and sliced mushrooms to chili or toast. Toss limp, leafy greens into smoothies or scrambled eggs or add to any of these recipes. Slice apples and pears and cook them on the stove with a splash of water and maple syrup until tender. Mash into a tasty sauce.

Freeze Produce Before It Goes Bad

The freezer is your friend when it comes to preserving produce. Pretty much any fruit or vegetable you see in the frozen food section of the supermarket can be frozen at home, too. If you have produce about to go south, here’s what to do:

  • Vegetables: To freeze vegetables, cook them first. Bring a generous pot of water to a boil and add your vegetable of choice, peeled if necessary, and cut into bite-size pieces. Boil or blanch until just barely tender, drain, and immediately immerse in a big bowl of ice water. Dry well and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze and then transfer to a freezer bag.
  • Fruit: Fruit doesn’t need to be cooked before freezing. Just spread freshly washed berries and cut up mango, pineapple, peaches, and other tender fruits on a baking sheet. Freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag. To freeze bananas, peel and store them whole in a freezer bag.

Channel Your Inner Homesteader

There are countless possibilities for preserving fruits and vegetables beyond the freezer. Here are recipes to get you started: