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Handling and Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Guidelines for Proper Storage to Maintain Quality

If you want to get the maximum storage life out of your fresh fruits and vegetables, then you need to know what the storage conditions are for each specific fruit or vegetable. This page provides that information

Handling and Storing Fruits and Vegetables: General Advice

Long storage life also depends on careful handling. Most fruits and vegetables are easily bruised if not handled carefully. When harvesting, treat produce gently. Most produce should be washed after harvest and before storage, but there are some exceptions. Delicate berries should be rinsed in cold water just before consuming. Washing berries before storage will hasten the decay process. While potatoes store better with a fine layer of soil left on the skin, avoid leaving clumps of soil on potatoes as this will only encourage spoilage.

Several vegetables benefit from post-harvest curing. Curing heals injures from harvesting operations. It thickens the skin, reducing moisture loss and affording better protection against insect and microbial invasion. Curing is usually accomplished at an elevated storage temperature and high humidity. An enclosed home storage area with a space heater can provide the conditions effective for curing some crops.

Root crops such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips can be left in the ground into late fall and early winter. A heavy mulch of straw will prevent the ground from freezing so the roots can be dug when needed. Many people prefer the taste of these crops after they have been frosted because their flavors become sweeter and milder. But make sure to finish harvesting these crops before the ground freezes solid, or you’ll have to wait until spring to dig them out.

Recommendations for Handling Some Specific Fruits and Vegetables:

Potatoes: Late crop potatoes are best for long-term storage. After harvest, cure late potatoes by holding them in moist air for 1 to 2 weeks at 60 to 75°F. Lightly cover during curing to help retain moisture. After curing, lower the storage temperature to about 40 to 45°F, ideally in a cool, dark basement or cellar. Do not wash potatoes before they are put into storage and avoid chilling below 40°F. Store potatoes in the dark to prevent greening.

Onions: Harvest onions when the tops have fallen over and begun to dry. Cure onions after harvesting by spreading them in a single layer on screens in the shade or in a wellventilated garage or shed for 1 to 2 weeks or until the tops are completely dry and shriveled. Trim tops back to 1 inch and store onions in shallow boxes, mesh bags or hang in old nylons in a cold, dry well-ventilated room.

 

 

Garlic: Harvest garlic in mid-summer when the plant still retains 5 green leaves. Cure garlic in a warm, dry place with good air circulation for 1 month before cutting the tops and roots back. Hardneck garlic will store between 3-9 months while softneck garlic will store for 6-12 months or more.

Sweet and hot peppers: Mature, green bell peppers can be kept for 2 to 3 weeks if handled properly. Firm, dark green peppers free of blemishes and injury are best for storage. Harvest before frost to avoid damage to the fruit. Hot peppers are easiest to store after they are dry. Peppers can be dried by either pulling the plants together and hanging them upside down or by picking the peppers from the plants and stringing them together. 

 

Tomatoes: With care, mature green tomatoes will keep and ripen for about 4 to 6 weeks in the fall. Don't wrap them in newspaper; just spread them out, so they aren't touching each other, in an unheated basement or root cellar (50 F to 60 F). Harvest tomatoes from vigorous vines, tomatoes from nearly spent vines are more subject to decay. Harvest fruit just before the first killing frost. To store, pick tomatoes and remove the stems. Reduce rot by disinfecting fruit by washing in water with 1-1/2 teaspoon bleach per gallon of water. Dry thoroughly with a soft cloth and pack fruit 1 or 2 layers deep in shallow boxes. Remove fruits as they ripen. Never tore tomatoes in a refrigerator or similarly cold temperatures (below 50 F) - that destroys the sweetness!

Pumpkins and winter squash: Harvest mature fruit with hard rinds (ones that resist fingernail pressure) just before frost. Leave the stem on when cutting from the plants to prevent decay. Cure for 10 days at 80 to 85°F. The one exception is acorn squash: store at 45°F after harvest. (Curing acorn squash will lead to stringiness.)

 

Apples: Late maturing apples are best suited for storage. Store in baskets or boxes lined with plastic or foil to help retain moisture. Always sort apples carefully and avoid bruising them. Store apples as close to 32°F as possible, a temperature of 30 to 32°F is ideal. Because apples give off a gas, ethylene, that will hasten the ripening of other fruit, store apples separately from other crops if possible. Boxed apples need to be kept in a cool, dark spot where they won’t freeze. Freezing ruptures all of an apple’s cells, turning it into one large bruise overnight. The usual solution is to store apples in a root cellar. But root cellars often have potatoes in them, and experts say that apples and potatoes should never be stored in the same room. This may seem incongruous, but there is a reason. As they age, potatoes release an otherwise harmless gas that makes apples spoil faster. If you can keep the gas away from your apples, they will keep just fine. Just don’t store them right next to potatoes.
Prevent contact between apples stored for the winter by wrapping them individually in sheets of newspaper. The easiest way to do this is to unfold a section of newspaper all the way and tear it into quarters. Then stack the quarters. Avoid sections printed with colored ink, which contains poisonous heavy metals

Pears: For good flavor and texture, ripen pears after harvest. Pick pears when they are fully mature, firm in texture and light green in color. Ripen pears by placing them in a room at 60 to 65°F for 1 to 3 weeks. Once pears ripe, the fruit is soft and a yellow-green color, transfer to the refrigerator and store at 29 to 32°F and 90% humidity.

 

Optimal Storage Conditions

Many crops lend themselves to long term storage. The following storage conditions are recommended for extended shelf life and maximum eating quality of various produce:

Storage Temperature, Humidity & Storage Life of Selected Fruits and Vegetables1
Commodity   Temperature (°F)   Relative Humidity (%)    Storage Life
Apples, late season    30-38    95    2-6 months
Beet, bunched    32    98-100    10-14 days
Beet, topped    32    98-100    4-6 months
Broccoli    32    95-100    10-14 days
Brussels Sprouts    32    95-100    3-5 weeks
Cabbage    32    98-100    3-6 weeks
Carrot, bunched    32    95-100    2 weeks
Carrot, mature    32    98-100    7-9 months
Cauliflower    32    95-98    3-4 weeks
Celeriac    32    97-99    6-8 months
Celery    32    98-100    2-3 months
Garlic    32    65-70    6-7 months
Horseradish    30-32    98-100    10-12 months
Kale    32    95-100    2-3 weeks
Kohlrabi    32    98-100    2-3 months
Onion, dry    32    65-70    1-8 months
Parsnip    32    98-100    4-6 months
Pears    34-36    95    2-4 months
Pepper, sweet    45-55    90-95    2-3 weeks
Potato, late    50-60    90-95    5-10 months
Radish, winter    32    95-100    2-4 months
Rutabaga    32    98-100    4-6 months
Squash, winter    50    50-70    Variable
Tomato, ripe    46-50    90-95    4-7 days
Turnip    32    95    4-5 months

1From Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers 


Picking Tips

[General picking tips and a guide to each fruit and vegetable] [How much do I need to pick? (Yields - how much raw makes how much cooked or frozen)] [Selecting the right varieties to pick] [All about apple varieties - which to pick and why!]  [Picking tips for Vegetables] [ Strawberry picking tips] [ Blueberries picking tips]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrated Canning, Freezing, Jam Instructions and Recipes

All About Home Canning, Freezing and Making Jams, Pickles, Sauces, etc. ] [FAQs - Answers to common questions and problems] [Recommended books about home canning, jam making, drying and preserving!] [Free canning publications to download and print]