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Fruits and vegetables in a grocery store

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — With current prices higher than normal, making your grocery store purchases last longer–especially fresh produce– is the name of the game. The key to long-lasting, store-bought vegetables is knowing which ones should be stored at room temperature and which ones fair better in the refrigerator.

Bridgette Brannon, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety and quality regional agent, said a sweet potato is just one example of a vegetable that people need to know how to store.

“Sweet potatoes take on off-flavors and the core becomes hard when cooked after refrigeration,” Brannon said. “In addition, green tomatoes won’t turn red in the fridge, while red tomatoes lose their flavor when refrigerated.”

The Alabama Extension publication Buying, Storing & Preparing Fresh Vegetables provides in-depth information on how and where vegetables should be stored.

Washing Store-Bought Produce

Before storing fresh produce, people should wash it to remove any harmful bacteria.

“The best way to wash fresh produce is under cold running tap water to remove the dirt,” Brannon said. “This reduces bacteria that may be present. If there is a firm surface–such as on apples or potatoes–the surface can be scrubbed with a brush.”

Brannon said consumers should never wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap, as these products are not approved or labeled by FDA for use on foods. There is a risk of ingesting soap and detergent residues that may be absorbed by the produce surface.


Brannon said some fruits and vegetables put off a gas called ethylene.

“This gas makes ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables ripen faster and spoil more quickly,” she said. “Storing these foods away from each other can make them last longer.”

A list of vegetables and fruits that should be stored in the refrigerator and give off ethylene is available in Safely Storing Fruits and Vegetables.

When refrigerating fruits and vegetables, the best storage option is air-tight wraps or containers. While mason jars are a good option, Brannon said any air-tight container will work.

Refrigerator Tips

Refrigeration will help slow the growth of bacteria on food. Brannon said there are a few simple things to keep in mind when storing fresh produce in the refrigerator.

  • Set the refrigerator to 40°F or below.
  • Avoid overloading the refrigerator.
  • Clean out the refrigerator once per week to get rid of bad or expired food.

“Store vegetables in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer to maintain quality and safety,” Brannon said. “Vegetables require higher humidity conditions than fruits do. Some crispers come with controls to allow you to customize each drawer’s humidity level.”

More Information

More information about proper food storage and other food safety information is available at www.aces.edu. Contact the local Extension office to find out about food safety workshops near you.

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