Stop! Don’t Put That Tomato In The Refrigerator

There’s an art to storing fresh vegetables and fruit so they last long enough for you to cook instead of compost.

You buy a bundle of fresh basil on Tuesday to make marinara on Wednesday. You put it in the fridge and within 24 hours it’s wilted and unusable. The shallots you bought a few days ago? They’re sprouting. So is the garlic. Holy rotten food, you think, I should’ve just grabbed a jar of Ragu and been done with it.

Take heart. You’re not destined to a lifetime of frozen vegetables. To refrigerate or not to refrigerate, that is the question. Here’s a quick guide to help you answer it:

Refrigerate these: 
  • Herbs: For fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro, trim the ends of their stems and place them in a glass of water, as you would fresh flowers. Cover lightly with a plastic bag. Basil is the exception (see below). 
  • Salad greens: Take rubber bands or ties off them and store in bags filled with a little air and sealed tightly. 
  • Carrots, broccoli: Place in separate plastic bags, seal with a twist tie and place in the crisper.
  • Celery: Wrap in foil and place in the crisper. Plastic wrap traps moisture and will make it wilt. 
  • Ripe fruit: Apples, bananas pears, plums, strawberries and peaches need cool temperatures to stop them from ripening. 

Leave these on the counter:
  • Tomatoes: Refrigerating a tomato is blasphemy. Cold destroys its taste and texture. It’s at its best ripe and at room temperature.
  • Onions: Keep them out of direct light to prevent them from sprouting. Once they’re cut, wrap the unused portion in plastic and refrigerate.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus hates cold. Trim the ends and stand the spears in a glass of water. Cover lightly with a plastic bag to keep the ends from drying out.
  • Basil: Basil hates cold, too. Trim its stems and place in a glass of water. Leave it on the counter till you’re ready to use it.
  • Cucumbers: These turn to mush if refrigerated. Place them flat on a counter so air can circulate around them.
  • Unripe fruit: Green bananas, rock-hard peaches and other not-ready-for-eating fruit will ripen if left out at room temperature. Once they are ripe, put them in the fridge.
Put these in the pantry:
  • Potatoes: Putting them in a dark and dry place will keep them from sprouting. Don’t store them with onions. Onions aren’t their friend because they will make potatoes sprout faster.
  • Garlic: Put the heads in a paper bag so they stay dry and don’t sprout.

Some other general rules of thumb for food storage:
  • Keep ‘em dry: Make sure fruits and veggies are completely dry before storing. Moisture is the enemy and will make them mildew and rot.
  • Don’t store fruits and veggies together: Fruit and veggies cannot be roommates in the drawers of your fridge. Fruit makes veggies go bad faster because fruit produces ethylene, a hormone that causes ripening. Use one drawer for fruit, another for veggies.
  • Learn to use those sliding thingies on the fridge drawers: You know that little knob you can slide along a slot labeled “High” on one end and “Low” on the other? It’s a humidity control. Fruits last longer when dry, so store them in a drawer with the sliding button set on low. Veggies like moisture, so put them in a drawer with the sliding button set on high.

There ya go. Follow these guidelines and you’ll rid your life of liquified bananas, wilted parsley and tasteless tomatoes.