Food
Storage
Directory

This directory is filled with specific info about your favorite foods. You’ll learn how to store them, freeze them, and keep them at their best longer. You’ll also find helpful tips about safety and ways to revive food. As you read, please keep a few things in mind. First up, the time frames are only estimates (If you can’t use a food in that time frame, you can probably freeze it). Second, the best way to store food depends on how quickly you’ll use it. Finally, always trust your judgment. Knowing how long food lasts is an imperfect science, though we’ve pulled information from the best resources. Of course, buying less food more frequently is the best way to keep your food fresh and nutritious. Let’s do this.

fruits

bananas

REFRIGERATE IT: Optional after ripe

AT FRESHEST: Less ripe, 5 to 7 days; ripe, 1 to 2 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Remove any plastic wrapping. Store on the counter at room temperature, away from other fruit (unless you’re trying to ripen those fruit). Once ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator. The skin may darken, but the banana will be just right for several days.

FREEZING: Bananas can be frozen with or without the peel, but the peel can be difficult to remove when frozen. It’s best to peel them and store in an airtight container. If leaving the peel on, place loose in the freezer and, when ready to use, cut off both ends and slide a knife under the peel to loosen.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Browning or spotted bananas are perfectly fine to eat. Bruised parts of bananas may be easily cut away or used. Very brown or nearly black bananas and frozen bananas are great for baking quick breads, muffins, or cakes.

apples

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator, longer in a root cellar environment

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a breathable bag in the low-humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Handle carefully to prevent bruising, and separate any with bruises from other apples (or they will cause others to brown). Apples ripen 6 to 10 times faster at room temperature. For large quantities, store in a cardboard box covered with a damp towel in a root cellar or other cool place. Ideally, you would wrap each apple individually in newspaper to reduce their influence on each other. Many heirloom varieties are not suited for long-term storage, so try to eat them right away.

FREEZING: Can be frozen raw or cooked, with or without sugar. Raw—Wash, peel (if desired), core, and slice. To prevent browning, either blanch for 1½ to 2 minutes or sprinkle with lemon juice. Then choose between (1) packing dry with ½ cup/100 g sugar per 1 qt/1 kg of apples; (2) packing in 40 percent syrup; or (3) placing directly on a baking sheet and freezing, then transferring to an airtight container. Cooked—Cook, cool, and pack in an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: To prevent apple slices from browning, toss them with one part citrus juice and three parts water. Mealy or wrinkled—Cook! Even shriveled apples can be cooked into applesauce, apple pies, apple crisps, etc. A few bruises are fine and can be cut out; if the whole fruit is soft or mushy, however, discard. Use apple peels to make a tea, flavor fresh water, make a jelly or syrup, or in smoothies.

avocados

REFRIGERATE IT: After ripe

AT FRESHEST: Whole, after ripe, 2 to 5 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store on the counter until ripe, then refrigerate loose. Place in a closed paper bag to accelerate ripening (adding an apple or banana will make them ripen even faster). Do not refrigerate before ripe, or they will never ripen.

Store avocado-based products such as guacamole with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the food to avoid browning.

FREEZING: Peel, purée, mix in 1 Tbsp lemon juice per avocado, and pack into an airtight container, leaving ½ in/12 mm at the top for expansion.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If you find that an avocado is not ripe enough after you’ve cut it open, sprinkle the surface with lemon or lime juice, close it back up around the pit, wrap tightly, and place in the refrigerator. Check periodically to see if it has ripened enough to eat.

To prevent browning once cut, close the avocado back up around the pit or sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

If your avocado or guacamole has turned brown, skim off the brown (oxidized) parts. Parts that are green are still edible (so are the brown parts, but they may not taste as good).

berries

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, 2 to 3 days; blueberries, 10 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Blueberries—Store either in their original container or in a covered bowl or container.

Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries— Store on a shelf in the refrigerator in a single layer in an aerated container on a tray lined with cloth, and then cover loosely with another cloth. If space is constrained, add second and third layers with cloths between them. For strawberries, leave the green caps on until ready to eat. (The green caps are edible, but not that tasty. It’s no problem to leave them on when making smoothies.)

FREEZING: Blueberries— Rinse, dry, and pack loosely into rigid airtight containers.

Raspberries and blackberries— Rinse, dry, place separated on a baking sheet, and freeze, then transfer to airtight containers.

Strawberries— Rinse, dry, remove stems, place uncovered with cut side down on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container.

Many recipes don’t require thawing the berries; if a recipe does require thawing the berries, let them sit at room temperature for an hour or so. If necessary, transfer to a colander to drain. You can capture the juice and use it to flavor drinks or for other recipes.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If a small amount of berries in a container show mold, do not discard the entire container. Pick through the container and throw away those that are obviously bad. Do this as soon as possible to prevent mold from spreading.

To bring out the flavor of lackluster berries, put them in a bowl (hull and slice strawberries first), sprinkle with a little sugar, and let sit for 15 minutes. The sugar will draw the moisture from the berries to make a sweet natural syrup.

citrus

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: Counter, 4 to 5 days; refrigerator, 3 to 8 weeks

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Store loose in the low-humidity crisper drawer. Do not put in a plastic bag or airtight container. Peeled or cut oranges should be refrigerated in an airtight container or bag. If you have a citrus tree, the best way to store is to leave the fruit on the tree until you are ready to use. Citrus can stay good for months on the tree.

FREEZING: Rinse, peel, divide into sections, and remove seeds and membranes. Slice if desired. Then pack in 40 percent syrup. Citrus can be frozen in water or juice without the sugar, but may have a less desirable texture and color and will take longer to thaw. Navel oranges can become quite bitter when frozen.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Citrus can be ripe even if the rind is still green in places.

The inside of citrus may be good even if the peel shows signs of damage. Open and investigate before tossing.

Fruit that has slight discoloration, normally a small amount of brown around the seeds, is usually acceptable to eat.

Peels/rinds— Often called “zest,” the outer portion of citrus peels can be used to flavor soups, stews, or pasta sauces. Use a vegetable peeler to pull strips of zest (the thin, colored outer portion of the peel) off the fruit, arrange on a plate, and let dry (in non humid weather, this should take 1 to 2 days). Then store in a jar in the pantry. The strips can also be candied and, in China’s Sichuan province, are pickled.

Citrus peels have numerous uses around the house, such as to make cleaning supplies.

figs

REFRDGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 2 to 3 days

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Arrange in a single layer in a cloth-lined, aerated or uncovered container.

FREEZING: Wash and place separated on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Figs that have gotten too soft for your liking (but are not showing signs of decay) can be stewed or boiled and made into sauces and marinades.

grapes

REFRIGERATE IT: Yes

AT FRESHEST: 2 weeks

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Keep unwashed bunches (grapes still on their stems) in a paper or breathable bag on a shelf in the refrigerator.

FREEZING: Wash, dry, place separated on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer into an airtight container. A single grape cluster can also be frozen whole.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If a small amount of grapes in a container show mold or are wrinkled, do not discard the entire container. Pick through and throw away those that are obviously bad. Do this as soon as possible to prevent mold from spreading.

The powdery white coating on grapes is called bloom and is a naturally occurring substance that protects grapes from moisture loss and decay.

Frozen grapes are their own mini-sorbet bites. This is a fantastic thing to do with grapes that you might not get around to eating in time.

melons

REFRIGERATE IT: After ripe

AT FRESHEST: Whole, 5 to 15 days, depending on ripeness; cut, 3 to 5 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: If unripe, store whole in a cool, dry place out of sunlight. Once ripe, store on a shelf in the refrigerator. Refrigerate cut melon, regardless of ripeness, wrapped or in airtight container. If possible, do not remove the seeds from the remaining sections of cut melon, as they keep the flesh from drying out. For watermelons, avoid storing them near apples, bananas, peaches, and avocados unless trying to ripen quickly.

FREEZING: Remove the rind and cube the flesh. Place separate on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container. Frozen melons are best used straight from the freezer in smoothies, margaritas, or other blended drinks.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Melons often have discoloration or deformed husks/rinds. This is no reason to discard them—check the inside before throwing a melon away. Melons that have spoiled often have an unpleasant odor and are overly soft.

The white part of watermelon rind can be pickled—an old favorite in the Southern United States.

Watermelon seeds, even the black ones, are edible and can be toasted as you would pumpkin seeds for a nutritious snack.

Melons should be washed before eating, even though the rind is not eaten.

pears

REFRIGERATE IT: After ripe

AT FRESHEST: After ripe, 5 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. Leave firm, unripe pears at room temperature to ripen. Place in a closed paper bag to hasten ripening, with apples or bananas to hasten them even more. Not all pears change color when they ripen, but they will give to gentle pressure at the stem when they are ripe. Once ripe, refrigerate loose in the low-humidity drawer. Bring back to room temperature before eating for best flavor.

FREEZING: Uncooked pears do not freeze well. They freeze best when cooked in sugar syrup. Wash, peel, core, and boil in a 40 percent syrup for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, cool, and place, covered with syrup, in an airtight container. Leave ½-in/12-mm headspace. A small piece of crumpled water-resistant paper on top will help hold the fruit down.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Brown spots on peels are natural for some varieties and can be eaten.

Browning flesh after a pear is cut is simply oxidation and will not affect taste or quality. To keep pears from browning, dip them in a solution that is half water, half lemon juice.

Some pear varieties, such as Bosc and d’Anjou, remain firm and are better for cooking. Asian pears are particularly susceptible to bruising and are thus often sold in protective sleeves.

Pears that are overripe or damaged can still be used in baked goods and sauces. Pears can be substituted for apples in most recipes.

stone fruits

REFRIGERATE IT: After ripe

AT FRESHEST: After ripe, 3 to 7 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: Do not wash until ready to use. If unripe, store at room temperature out of sunlight. Place in a closed paper bag to hasten ripening. Once ripe, refrigerate loose in the low-humidity drawer or in an open paper bag with nothing stacked on top. Peaches, nectarines, and apricots will become mealy if left in the refrigerator too long. Most cherries are sold already ripe, so you may want to refrigerate immediately.

FREEZING: You have your choice with stone fruit. You can freeze them raw (whole, in halves, or in slices) or cooked. In most cases, you’ll want to remove the pits. Blanch to remove the skins and dip in a lemon juice solution (1 Tbsp lemon juice in ¼ cup/60 ml water; optional) to prevent darkening. Then either (1) place directly on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to airtight container; (2) place in airtight container, cover with juice or 30 to 40 percent syrup, then seal, leaving ½- to 1½-in/12-mm to 4-cm headspace, depending on the container; or (3) pack into containers, layering with sugar and leaving ½- to 1½-in/12-mm to 4-cm headspace.

To freeze cherries, wash, pit, dry, place separated on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container.

To defrost whole fruit, place in cold water until the skins slide off. Then slice and serve. Cherries frozen whole can be soaked in a bowl of cold water. Defrost cooked preparations in the refrigerator or microwave.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: Remove bruises; the rest of the fruit can be used.

To prevent browning in stone fruits, toss with some lemon juice after slicing.

The outer shell of the pits can be used to infuse just about any liquid—water (for tea or sorbet), dairy (for cakes or ice cream), or liquor—with a mild fruit flavor. To make a simple syrup, bring 2 cups/240 ml water to a boil with 2 cups/200 g sugar and 1 cup/100 g pits. Let cool and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Enjoy in cocktails or sauces.

Inside the pits, there is a kernel that looks like an almond. This “noyau,” as it’s called by the French, contains the dangerous chemical hydrogen cyanide, but can be roasted and then used to impart a bitter almond (marzipan) flavor. It is used in Europe in small amounts to flavor marzipan and amaretto dishes and also to make crème de noyaux liqueur. If you want to use this part of the fruit, be sure to check a recipe from a verified source to be sure you are doing so safely. (Some of the apricots grown in the Himalayas have kernels that can be eaten raw, just like almonds, but most cannot.)

tropical fruits

REFRIGERATE IT: After ripe

AT FRESHEST: Whole, 2 to 3 days past ripe on counter; 5 to 7 days in refrigerator

OPTIMAL STORAGE: If unripe, store whole on the counter at room temperature. Once ripe, store loose on a refrigerator shelf or in the low-humidity drawer. If cut, place in an airtight container. Mangoes and papayas are often already ripe when sold, in which case refrigerate immediately. Pineapples will turn gold and then almost brown, but their sugars do not increase or ripen further.

FREEZING: Peel and cut into chunks. Place separated on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to an airtight container.

USE IT UP/REVIVAL: If a fruit is bruised or damaged, refrigerate it rather than leaving it at room temperature.

Papaya seeds can be dried and used as a mildly mustardy seasoning.

Green papaya and green mango can be used in salads, eaten fresh, or pickled. Overripe mango can still be used in chutney.

Brown or black areas inside a pineapple are caused by over chilling—cut them out and enjoy the rest.

Use the scooped-out shell of pineapple as a serving bowl for fruit salads or pineapple fried rice.