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At a time when cereals and canned goods may be bountiful in our pantries, finding ways to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into our diet can seem tricky. Since many people are currently avoiding excess trips to the grocery store in an effort to practice social distancing, it's become important to know how to properly store fresh produce so that it lasts as long as possible.
To find out the best ways to keep produce fresh for long periods of time, we reached out to a few food safety and produce experts.
Store produce in vegetable bins or vented containers
Marion Nestle, professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told Shop TODAY that proper storage is all about maintaining moisture levels.
"Storage requires refrigeration and keeping moisture levels low," Nestle said. "Most refrigerators have vegetable bins for this purpose."
If the crisper drawer in your refrigerator has already been put to work, you may want to pick up some vented containers that will allow excess moisture to escape.
"You can store things like berries, cherries and strawberries in vented plastic containers," said Chris Gunter, extension vegetable production specialist in horticultural science at North Carolina State University. "The key is [to] keep moisture in, but too much moisture can lead to breakdown of the produce with storage rotting microorganisms. These are not usually harmful to people, but they breakdown the produce and make it inedible."
If you're looking for a popular container that allows excess moisture to escape, this three-pack by Rubbermaid has over 900 five-star reviews from verified Amazon customers.
Each container in the set features a vent that is designed to regulate airflow, which should help to create an ideal environment for produce. Though he has not used them himself, Gunter says the vent feature in the FreshWorks containers essentially makes them a version of your refrigerator's crisper drawer.
The FreshWorks containers feature a bottom elevated tray, which also helps control moisture levels. According to Craig Hedberg, a professor of environmental health at the University of Minnesota, the tray should help to ensure that "things don't dry out or stay too wet."
Do not wash or cut produce before storing
In order to yield the best results, it is important to note that produce should not be washed or cut before being placed in a vented container.
"If you look at the idea that [washing] removes a biofilm on a zucchini or a squash or a cucumber, that actually is removing a barrier — a shield, if you will — that would protect it," Dr. Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and a professor of food safety and policy at Northeastern University, told Shop TODAY. "I would recommend waiting until you wish to eat or cook produce to wash by hand."
Detwiler also notes that these types of containers can also protect against potential cross-contamination.
"Another benefit of these containers is that, with it being enclosed, you still have the ventilation, but it clears of the opportunity for undesirable juices from raw meat to drip down into it. You don't want to have that cross-contamination," Detwiler said.
Whether you decide to store your produce in the crisper drawer or a vented container, always use your best judgment when it comes to the freshness of fruits and vegetables.
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