- If freshly bought bananas, melons, or greens rot quickly in your kitchen, you’re probably storing your produce incorrectly.
- Some fruits (and a few vegetables) emit a gas called ethylene, which breaks down chlorophyll, the chemical that keeps plants green and helps them make energy.
- Some fruits and vegetables make lots of ethylene, some wither in its presence, and some are unaffected.
- Here’s where to store produce to prevent rot and decay.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you’ve ever bought bananas, avocados, apples, or greens only to find them rotting the next day, take note: You could be storing the wrong fruits and veggies together.
Many fruits produce a barely detectable chemical called ethylene as they ripen. Too much ethylene can lead to a loss of chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plants (and their bounty) green and allows them to convert light into energy. When chlorophyll breaks down, leafy greens turn yellow or brown.
The more ripe an ethylene-producing fruit or vegetable is, the more gas it produces. If certain produce items are nearby, the gas will lead them to ripen more quickly as well. (Even some fruits and veggies that don’t naturally produce ethylene may have been sprayed with the chemical to make them ripen faster.)
To help you figure out which fruits and veggies to keep apart, we’ve compiled a list of produce items that you should store on their own, foods to keep away from other fast-ripening produce, and fruits and veggies that you can store virtually anywhere.
Store ethylene producers alone
These fruits and vegetables give off a lot of ethylene gas and are also pretty susceptible to it. They should all be stored separately:
- Bananas (If you want to slow the ripening process down,place plastic wrap over the stems. This should keep the ethylene from getting released.)
- Melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew
Other items produce lots of ethylene but aren’t very sensitive to it. These can be stored all together, but should be kept away from other ethylene-sensitive produce:
- Bruised or damaged potatoes
However, if your bananas, avocados, or other ethylene-sensitive items aren’t quite ripe enough, feel free to snuggle them up together. If one piece of fruit is going bad, though, consider moving it away so that it doesn’t speed up decay for the others.
Store ethylene-sensitive fruits and veggies away from ethylene producers
These fruits and veggies don’t make a lot of their own ethylene, but are sensitive to it:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Leafy greens, like spinach or kale
- Sweet potatoes
These fruits and veggies don’t emit or react much to ethylene gas, so you can store them anywhere:
- Bell peppers
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)
- Citrus fruits, like lemons, limes, and oranges
- Undamaged potatoes
If you’re looking for a quick way to remember these rules, it’s mostly fruits that produce lots of ethylene, while vegetables are more likely to wither in their presence.
To refrigerate, or not to refrigerate
Refrigeration can be a controversial, since unlike rot, it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. There are some good rules of thumb, though.
The following foods should not be stored in the fridge:
- Cucumbers (unlike most veggies, they will actually rot faster in the fridge)
- Melons (when whole and uncut)
If you’re not going to use them within a day or two, the following foods will last longer in the fridge:
- Apples (but remember to store them separately from other produce – they’re big ethylene emitters)
- Leafy greens, like spinach or kale
- Melons (when cut – they can grow bacteria if unrefrigerated)
Most vegetables should be stored in a crisper drawer to avoid moisture that could cause rot or wilting.
In general, all fruits and vegetables need to breathe. Don’t squish them too close together, and if you put them in plastic bags, make sure there are air holes.
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