When to Refrigerate Fruits and Vegetables

There has been a war raging in my apartment between my refrigerator and me for quite some time. Every week, I arrive home from the grocery store with bags brimming with brightly colored, yummy-looking produce and put it in the fridge. Yet when I pluck my treasures from their chilly cave, some don't taste as good as they looked at the store. After months of this charade, I finally realized that I suffer from bad refrigerator habits and decided to figure out what I was doing wrong.

According to the USDA, refrigeration first came about in prehistoric times when the cave people realized their game kept longer if stored in a cool cave or in snow. Today, the fridge plays a vital part in food storage not only due to its ability to slow bacterial growth, but also in its ability to preserve food at its optimal freshness and taste. However, refrigeration must be treated with respect, especially in regards to fruits and veggies, or we'll be doomed to consume lackluster produce forever.

Vegetables, in large part, are good friends with the refrigerator. To leafy greens, peppers, carrots and broccoli, the fridge is friendly; however, to tomatoes, pumpkin and squash, it is flavor- and texture-killing. Other veggies best stored elsewhere are potatoes and onions. Though potatoes prefer cool, dark places, the extreme cold of the fridge can turn starch into sugar, giving them an uncharacteristically sweet flavor. Similarly, onions also like cool, dark places that do not include the fridge. But wherever you store them, just make sure it's not together -- according to Discovery Health, onions and potatoes stored together will engage in gaseous fight to the death. Actually, the onion just spoils faster, but the former sounds cooler.

Fruit is slightly more complicated. In The Man Who Ate Everything, food critic Jeffrey Steingarten divides fruit into five different categories. In terms of refrigeration this seems like overkill, so I condensed these into two: fruit that needs to be refrigerated immediately and fruit that need to ripen first. The first group includes fruit that does not ripen after harvesting such as blackberries, cherries, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, strawberries, raspberries, oranges and pineapples. These should be stored in plastic bags immediately to reduce water loss and refrigerated to slow respiration.

The second group includes fruit that ripens in either sweetness and flavor or texture and color after harvesting, fruit that ripens both ways after harvesting, and fruit that ripens only after harvesting. All of these should be allowed to sit out at room temperature until ripe and then can be refrigerated afterward to lengthen shelf life. These include apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches and plums, which ripen in appearance and texture; apples, kiwis, mangoes, pears and papayas, which ripen in sweetness; and avocados, which ripen only after picked. Bananas alone can ripen in every way after harvest and can be refrigerated after ripe as long as you don't mind the creepy black skin.

Since adopting these guidelines, my relationship with my fridge has become much more -- wait for it -- fruitful. Now, if only I could stop refrigerating the sandwich bread. What's the strangest thing you refrigerate?

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Kristen Majewski
Contact: Kristen Majewski