Turn back the clock one hundred years, and you’d soon find yourself reading about the many ways to stock up on salt and pickling juices. But, thankfully for everyone, it’s now possible to save pennies, save the planet, and give food waste the chop without an eye-watering smell of vinegar in the air.
So let’s explore the best ways to store vegetables and prolong their shelf life.
What Affects Food’s Shelf Life?
Transportation, time and temperature all affect food shelf life. These are the three biggies. Or as we like to call them, ‘The Three T’s’. A little different to our other favourite, ‘Three T’s’ – toast, tea and This Morning. Although, all of them are exceptionally good ways to improve quality of life in one way or another.
To stay perfectly preserved, veg needs a smooth ride from field to fork at a comfortable temperature. Basically, nothing less than five-star Ubers every time. Roughage by name but not by nature for our vegetable pals.
Does Packaging Affect Veggie’s Shelf Life?
You might think that keeping veggies au-naturale and plastic free would leave them open to the elements. And you’d be right. But Mother Nature has done a lot of the hard work for us here, creating outer veggie skins to protect all that goodness inside. Isn’t she clever!
The plastic stuff often encourages excess water, and if you want to keep your veggies fresher for longer, that’s a big no-no. Yet another reason why plastic can pack itself off and out of here for good. Recyclable paper bags, just like we package our veg, provide the right amount of protection, absorbing the pesky condensation that can sometimes wilt our watercress.
How to Store Vegetables
Not all veggies are created equal, and that means, for all you veg-storing newbies, the fallback of ‘bang it in the fridge’ isn’t always the best way to keep your veggies fresher for longer. So again, we find ourselves turning to another ‘big three’ – the fridge, the freezer, and the mysterious cool dark place. It’s this powerful trio that can help us reduce the 4.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetable waste the UK throws away every year. Three really is the magic number today, isn’t it? So, let’s meet the contestants and find out a bit more about them.
In the Fridge
To fridge or not to fridge, that is the question. For some vegetables, it’s a clean-cut decision. Because, of course, those delicate leafy greens are going to thrive in the cool corners of the fridge. Other times, it’s not so obvious, and fridge-freezer etiquette can burst into quite the debate. We’re looking at you here, bread-in-the-fridge people. But before, we fire up that conversation, we should probably try to understand our midnight-snack-storing appliance better.
Firstly, ever heard of the crisper drawer? You might have guessed already, but it’s the tray on the lowest shelf in the fridge. It’s also our lovely crispy friend when it comes to keeping veg fighting fresh. It’s the best place to pop your parsnips, peppers, and courgettes. Oh, and not forgetting the cucumbers for your at-home spa days. Or is that just us?
Usually, the temperature of your fridge, and especially the crisper drawer, should be in the sweet spot, between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius. If you’ve been asking yourself how to keep your veggies fresher for longer, not only does a cool environment like this prolong shelf life, but it also makes sure everything stays safe and sound to eat. It’s always a good idea to fridge or freeze veg that has been pre-washed or sliced too. Just seal it in a container so all that full-bodied freshness can’t escape.
And here’s an extra slice of advice that will take you back to those food technology lessons at school – always store fruit and vegetables away from raw meat and dairy products to avoid contamination. You’ll probably remember that nugget of information from those classes too. That and how to cook cornflakes cakes over a twenty-year-old stove. Good times.
Now, let’s get back to the big question – which vegetables belong on the countertop and which ones are happiest in the bottom crisper? And yes, we did just say ‘bottom crisper’.
Which Veggies Shouldn’t be Refrigerated?
Tomatoes will stay juicier, tastier, and fresher for longer, sunning themselves on the countertop. Or just being themselves on the countertop if it’s one of those wet and windy days. Cooler conditions can play havoc with fresh toms, changing their shape and texture. They can even lose some of their sweet, delicious, tangy flavours too. So, if you prefer your caprese salads firm and fleshy, avoid the cold storage, and you’ll be taken to the Tuscan hills with every bite.
With such strong flavours and smells, it makes sense that onions need space to breathe. Apart from the spring versions, these kitchen staples stay fresher for longer in cool, dark, and dry places, like cupboards. Trap them in the fridge, and you’ll soon know about it. They turn soft and soggy faster than a summer meringue in the Bake Off tent. They’ll also make everything else smell like onions too. And nobody wants that.
But What About Potatoes?
Well, potato pals. If you’ve always thought that spuds belong in a cool, dark place and not in the fridge, do we have news for you?
As of 2023, the Food Standards Agency decided to mash up their old advice about not keeping raw potatoes in the fridge. When cooked from the fridge, it was thought that sugars and amino acids produced harmful chemicals like acrylamide when heated. But a recent study showed “that home storage of potatoes in the fridge doesn’t materially increase acrylamide forming potential when compared to storage in a cool, dark place.”
Which means if you want to protect your taters from turning into wasters, you can increase their shelf life by popping them in the homely comforts of a cool, dark cupboard or the refreshing chills of a well-ventilated fridge. You’re the master of the mash on this one!
So, Which Other Vegetables Should be Refrigerated?
Love them or loath them, these leafy green balls always benefit from some TLC. If not exposed to moisture or the air, Brussel sprouts can last for a good week or longer in cold surroundings. Keep them airtight in the crisper drawer, and you’ll be able to dine out on Christmas dinners with all the trimmings for seven days straight. Too much? Thought so. But a sprout isn’t a sprout without a side of gravy, stuffing, and roast potatoes is it?
Our buddy the broccoli likes to sit on the fence when it comes to calling home in the fridge or on the work surface. A lot like the onion, broccoli needs space to breathe, and when kept on the counter, it can stay fresh for up to two days. But in the fridge, cooked or raw broccoli lasts about three to five. Raw broccoli that’s been chopped already will probably start to turn in about two days, though. So better get cracking on that broccoli egg fried rice recipe you’ve been meaning to try. Before it’s too late!
If you want your carrots to last beyond a couple of weeks, freezing is always a good go-to option. But for the most part, the fridge is the best place to help keep the colour in your carrots. When storing, keep them away from other vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, and bananas. Together, they can encourage each other to ripen a lot quicker than usual. And if you’re thinking of rinsing your carrots before your pop them away, slowly put them down in the fridge, and walk away. Giving them a wash pre-storage can cause nasty growth. The kind that no amount of carrot cake will be able to disguise.
Freezing Veg Also Works
Almost all fruits and vegetables can be stored in your freezer without losing any of their nutrients. Meaning all the health benefits brimming away in our vegetables stay where they’re supposed to be. In fact, when it comes to keeping your veggies fresher for longer, in most cooking cases, the freezer is king.
If you’re a produce pro already, you might be buying seasonal fruits and vegetables in bulk to be cost conscious. To squeeze out every drop of value, the freezer is a great place to store any excess bargains, especially if you’re planning to cook them or blend them into soups later in the year.
But avoid freezing produce before they’re ripe. There’s a chance they may not reach their full delicious potential when you’re ready to defrost them.
Or In a Cool, Dark Place.
Certain types of produce simply can’t stand the cold. Or the heat. Or the light. Or the moisture. Instead, they need to be huddled away in cool, dark, or dry places. Think kitchen cupboard rather than the back of the wardrobe, though. For most of the veggies that like to sit in the shadows, light can often confuse their crop clocks, and they’ll think they’re back outside. They’ll happily keep on growing and sprouting without a care in the world. Which sounds like a lovely way of life for the legumes. But, if you want to keep your veggies fresher for longer, it’s best to sneakily convince them that they’re in a nice cold, dark hibernation instead.
How to Avoid Waste When The Time Comes
All foods have a shelf life. And, with the best will in the world, it reaches a point when not even Alan Titchmarsh can keep your veggies fresher for longer. But before you banish them to the bin, a little culinary creativity could help to minimise the waste and maximise the flavour.
Old veggies can make the most delicious dishes. Don’t believe us? Why not soup, stew, and sauté your way to less food waste with these 17 leftover veg recipes? Or, whip up a batch of our comforting pumpkin soup for those cold, windy nights. You might be surprised at just how good those week-old onions can taste.