Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

How to Store and Freeze Fresh Produce, Grains and More

January 5th, 2010 · 55 Comments · Avoiding Waste

If you’re going to meal plan well, one bonus is that you should only have to make the grocery store run once a week (or even once every two weeks).  Knowing how to keep your fresh produce is vital, then, for the system to be a success.

You know how I hate wasting food.  As part of our good stewardship of our time, money AND the earth, let’s commit to buying what we can use, preparing what we need, and consuming what we’ve prepared. This definitely takes planning, forethought, organization, and a little knowledge.  This is the knowledge post!

frozen pkin in frzr I am definitely not a food storage expert, but I’ve dabbled enough to know a thing or two.  I’m hoping this can be a dynamic post as people chime in to add to these lists or correct any errors I may make.  If you have something to contribute, please share!

Foods for the Countertop OR the Refrigerator
  • apples, oranges, grapefruit, other citrus (will last longer in cold storage)
  • room temp to ripen, cool temps after ripened
    • pears, avocado, kiwi, peaches, nectarines, plums, melons, pineapples
  • zucchini, peppers, grapes, blueberries, cherries (they last much longer in the fridge)
  • Butter
  • Onions (Some people say you don’t “cry” if the onion is cold.)
  • Hot peppers (will lose some heat/spicy-ness if kept cold)
  • Whole Grains (oatmeal, whole spelt, barley, etc, should be fine at room temp.  I do keep my brown rice in the fridge.)
Foods Only for Room Temperature
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas (UPDATE: frozen for smoothies and bread great too, see comments!)
  • Garlic (UPDATE: actually very best stored at 30-32 degrees F, but most refrigerators are too warm.  Keep in the coolest possible dry place otherwise, dark, well-ventilated like a mesh bag)
  • Tomatoes
Foods that Should be Stored Cold
  • Cucumbers – in or out of a bag
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce – with as little moisture as possible (put a paper towel, rag, or Skoy cloth in a bag with cut greens. (How to cut lettuce that will last a few days.)
  • Mushrooms – in a brown paper sack once opened
  • Celery – tightly wrapped is best strawberries
  • Cut fruit of any kind
  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus – stand up in a large glass with water in the bottom
  • Cauliflower and Broccoli
  • Leeks
  • Any Whole Grain flour (if the seed has been compromised, i.e. smashed to bits, nutrients begin to be lost.)  Freezing most of your whole grain flour except perhaps a small container that you use regularly in the fridge is recommended.
  • Crispy Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Flax meal or oil

Notes:

  1. Don’t wash fruit ahead of time if you can help it, especially berries.
  2. Cutting veggies ahead of time allows them to lose nutrients, but if it’s either that or not eating veggies, cut them ahead and toss them in a zippered plastic bag for convenience.
  3. Speed up ripening of peaches, pears, etc by placing them inside a brown paper bag on the counter.
  4. Many people like Mrs. Meyer’s Green Bags.  They say they’re non-toxic, but I haven’t looked into them very deeply.  They do seem to keep the produce fresher longer, as long as you keep most of the moisture out.
Weird Food Relationships

Don’t store together:

  • Potatoes and onions
  • Onions and apples
  • Bananas and pears, apples (the bananas make the other fruit brown faster)
  • Apples, pears with lettuce
Can I Freeze…?

Some foods can be frozen well without doing anything special, some need to be blanched (cooked briefly in boiling water or steamed, not to the point of cooking completely, then hit with cold water to stop the cooking process), and some cannot be frozen without disastrous consequences.  Most fruits can just be used raw, even eaten frozen, but vegetables always need to be cooked after they come out of the freezer.

You may also be interested in one of my favorite posts, 10 Easy Prep Foods I Always Have in my Freezer.

Food Freeze it? Blanch it?
Onions Y, diced N
Peppers Y, diced or sliced N
Celery Y, diced or in chunks N
Blueberries, Rasp-berries Y, don’t wash or dry thoroughly is best N
Strawberries, Cherries Y* N
Zucchini Y, shredded or diced N
Any fully cooked veggie Y
Carrots, Cauliflower Y Y
Cucumbers, Mushrooms N!
Tomatoes Only for cooking N
Lettuce, Greens For cooking, smoothies
Avocado possible, tightly sealed N
Apples Y, sliced for baking N
Peaches Y, sliced in juices N
Grapes, Melon Y N
Citrus N
Pumpkin Puree Y
Yogurt Y
Cooked Beans Y
Cheese Y

*Strawberries can be frozen 3 ways: (1) sliced and sweetened in their juices, (2)whole and frozen on a wax papered cookie sheet, and sliced and frozen on a flat surface.

I use my ice cube trays a LOT to keep things in small sections for easy thawing and so I can get just the amount I want.  Even for sliced peaches for yogurt, homemade pesto, and pumpkin puree, I use ice cube trays.  Now if I could only keep my freezer from vomiting ziploc bags at me every time I try to get in there for something, I would be feeling pretty savvy about all this!  ;)

What am I missing?  Where would perishables in your house go different than mine?

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55 Comments so far ↓

  • Paula

    I didn’t know garlic shouldn’t be stored in the fridge!

    My sister in law gave me some of those green bags for produce. I have to say, they work really well preserving lettuce. I typically wrap lettuce in a clean dishtowel and then store it in these bags. My lettuce I pick from my own garden lasted over a month in those bags.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Paula,
    I looked into it and updated the post.
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Eighmey

    I didn’t realize that I should be freezing the unused wheat flour I have in my pantry, or putting it in my fridge. Thank you!
    This was very insightful so that I know what I can and can’t do with some of my produce.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jamie/penguinsandladybugs

    Hi! You are so great to share so much in your blog. There is already so much info and I keep learning. I have a suggestion. Seeing the picture of your freezer inspired me to think that a tour of your kitchen would be so much fun! If you have the capacity to video it….even better…but posting photos (which I know you’ve done a lot of already) and sharing what is in your pantry, gadget drawer, etc. And if you decided to start posting videos….of some of the things you do or make….that would be a bonus!!! Just a thought! Thanks again for being so gracious to share so much with us!!!
    .-= Jamie/penguinsandladybugs´s last blog ..On My Mind…. =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Jamie,
    Oof. Would I have to clean it? ;) Actually, we’re trying to set the house to sell it, so maybe a little “blogging” would give me added incentive to keep the place manageable more often. A bunch of bloggers are doing videos lately, but I tend to avoid viewing them myself. Perhaps I should realize not everyone is just like me! ;) I’m intrigued. I’ll definitely think about it! Thank you for such kind words – you made my day — Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Morgan Conner

    Thank you! I needed all of this info! I am very new to “real” cooking and this summary is very helpful!
    .-= Morgan Conner´s last blog ..Outside the Snow is Falling.. =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Anjanette

    Wow! What an awesome resource! Printing it out! Thanks!
    .-= Anjanette´s last blog ..What Does "Pantry" Mean To You? =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Carrie

    the only thing i do differently is that i do put potatoes in the fridge. they seem to last longer for me that way.
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Framing Art to Finish the Dining Room =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Carrie,
    A few resources including this one: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48
    say that the starch turns to sugar and makes them taste too sweet when kept cold.
    ?? Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Carrie Reply:

    i’ve always kept them in the fridge, mom always kept them in the fridge so if it makes them taste too sweet that must be what i’m used to
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Framing Art to Finish the Dining Room =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Evelina Reply:

    I always keep potatoes in the bottom crisper drawer here in Florida.

    Leave them out a few days on the counter top, or stored in a cabinet – that’s when you learn the meaning of stomach turning stench. Let me tell you, the first time I stored my potatoes in a cabinet when I first moved back to Florida, oh goodness, I swear it took years to get the smell out of the cabinet! Never again!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Pat Reply:

    I do to. I keep them in the fridge along with the onions. Out of the way and they seem to stay fresh longer.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kate

    Tomatoes only on the counter? Really? I’ve never heard that! Why is that?
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Movie Review: Maxed Out =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kate,
    I just read that this summer – it has to do with flavor. If you’re going to lose them to mold/rot on the counter, stick them in the fridge, but for best flavor, especially with fresh summer toms, keep them out.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sarah W Reply:

    I was also told that putting tomatoes (and peaches) in the fridge make them mealy.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Melody Joy

    Something I didn’t see:

    When my bananas are too ripe, I peel them and freeze them for banana bread. They don’t look pretty when they thaw, but they are perfectly fine for baking.
    .-= Melody Joy´s last blog ..Menu Planning in the New Year! =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Frances Reply:

    I put my overripe bananas directly into the freezer, unpeeled. When I want to make banana bread, I just set them out on a plate for a couple hours to thaw (they tend to sweat, hence the plate), open one end, and squeeze the banana out, directly into the mixing bowl. So convenient!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lori

    I freeze peeled, ripe bananas and add them to my smoothies instead of ice. Delicious!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Meghan

    I have to say I loved your comment about your freezer vomitting ziploc bags. The same thing happens to me when I put too many things in my freezer – what a great way to describe it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Frances

    I have my onions and potatoes stored together in the fridge…I’d be very interested to know why that isn’t recommended.

    Thanks for all the great info, Katie!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Melissa Reply:

    Also wondering this. I keep them on the same shelf in the bottom of my pantry.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Made from Scratch =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Frances,
    I didn’t bookmark the link, but it’s something about one affecting the longevity of the other. I know everyone keeps them together, but I moved mine apart when I read that! Potatoes get too sweet in the cool temps.
    Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sarah W Reply:

    I read the same thing somewhere that the gasses that onions and potatoes put off cause one another to rot faster. I guess if you use them up pretty quickly it might not be an issue.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rita

    Thanks for this great post Katie! I probably got up about three or four times while reading it to move things in or out of the fridge lol! Thanks again!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brenda

    Very informative, thanks! I ripen my banana’s and avocados in brown paper bags sometimes, that works for me.
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Fit in Twenty Ten/Wordful Wednesday =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • tonya

    i always refer to extension’s food storage bulletins. i am trying to find my fave, a really comprehensive 2 page bulletin, that i printed & put on the fridge when i lived w/ 2 guy roommates. one in particular had very BAD food storage habits.

    here’s a lengthy but comprehensive one – http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/store/texas_storage.pdf

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Melissa

    Yay! This is the topic that I requested :)

    Very informative! I love the tip about storing asparagus upright in water. This really keeps it firm and crisp.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Made from Scratch =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Aunt Vic

    Hi Kate – We store foods similarily. I have begun to store bananas differently. I do not like them soft. I wash and dry them, wrap them in saran wrap and put them in the refrigerator. The skins darken, but the banana stays firm. Eat it right away when taken out of the refrigerator, or they seems to catch up on ripening within a couple of hours. Make sure banana is at ripeness you want before refrigerating, as they will not ripen when chilled. Love, A. Vic

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jayne

    This is great information! I will say, though, that I often store bananas in the refrigerator because my kids like to eat them better when they’re cold. The skin turns dark but the inside stays nice and firm. Just keep them away from the apples and other fruits that emit gasses! The gas from those fruits makes the bananas mushy. I once had a great little note that I kept on my refrigerator that listed all the fruits that emitted gas and those fruits that were sensitive to it so you could remember what to keep separated, but I’ve lost it. I’ve found such wonderful tips and recipes on your site. Thank you!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • jeanne

    In answer to the tomatoes — the cold turns the tomatoes natural sugar into a starch and they take on a grain texture. Also I have had alot of luck chopping fresh mushrooms very small, flash freezing and then using them in sautee or stir fry or white sauce.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Whitney

    Bookmarking this page for future reference. I may end printing it. Thank you for all the information!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lisa

    to keep celery crisp in the fridge, wrap it with aluminum foil…no kidding, this works! My husband (who is the chef in our home) was surprised with this one, but now an ardent believer.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Triptych of the Kykkos Mother of God with St. Andrew and St. George =-.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Janine

    Love this list! One thing I can add…I chop up fresh herbs from my garden or windowsill, mix with either butter or olive oil to make a pasty consistancy, then put tablespoonfulls on to parchement paper and freeze. When frozen, transfer to plastic bag and store in freezer. Ready to throw in sauces, eggs etc.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Evelina Reply:

    Oh, I love this idea!

    I’ve been washing, drying, then cutting up my fresh herbs and storing in freezer after loosely wrapping them up in a paper towel. They are sort of flash frozen if you make sure they are very dry, and don’t squash them together in your freezer container. (Chopped green onions work really well with this method.) Your idea sounds so much easier. I’ll be doing this with my herbs from the flower bed…(yep, growing in a flower bed out front, sorta hiding between the landscaping grasses and flowers.)

    I do something similar with garlic. I can’t stand the raw taste of garlic in my food. So I cut off all the tops, drizzle olive oil over them, and bake them in the toaster oven. Then I squeeze out the baked/roasted garlic cloves, mash them up with a fork and mix in just enough olive or canola oil till it has the texture of smooth butter.

    I ended up putting this garlic mash in a container in my freezer. I was hoping I could scrape out the needed amount with a spoon; nope, it was hard as a rock. So I tried cutting the solid block up into small cubes. (Very slippery and difficult to do) Only problem, they melt so easily just from the heat of my finger tips gingerly touching the frozen garlic block that they all stuck together. So now I have to pry the cubes part with a fork, (only injured myself once! Yikes!).

    I think I’ll try your trick with my garlic. I’ll use teaspoonful sized portions.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • bailey

    I was wondering why you have to cook vegetables once they’ve been frozen and read that it is because a certain bacteria can grow at super cold temperatures. Is this why you stated that in your post? I always ate frozen peas for a snack growing up and I don’t think it made me sick ever. Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Bailey,
    I’ve always fed my babies frozen peas as finger foods, too! I would just normally cook frozen veggies because it’s weird to eat them cold (peas are an exception in my book). :) We eat frozen fruit right from the freezer all the time, so I’m hoping no bacteria are in there but certainly am not going to cook my blueberries! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Danielle @ HetzelKitchen

    If that is the ideal temperature for garlic, should they be kept in the freezer? We just bought a big bag from Costco, and I really don’t want them to go bad!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Danielle,
    Yes, I guess so…I honestly can’t remember where I read that garlic info, but I still lazily store mine on the counter. However, especially this time of year when they’re probably old from last season, I get a lot of mushy cloves that I have to throw away and sprouting garlic. ??? Sorry about that! :) katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Destiny

    So…what’s the consensus on the PROCESS for freezing vegetables? Does the produce go on a cookie sheet so it gets air? A bowl so it doesn’t? Does the sheet or bowl need to be coated with foil or parchment? Does it need to be stored in plastic? Foil? Glass? Do you wash it before or after you store it?
    Obviously, I’m new to ANY of this this. Much apprecited.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Destiny,
    I don’t know that there’s one “perfect” way. I freeze on a sheet if I need to get them apart, like sliced strawberries. Right in the bag for blueberries, because they come out no matter what. Chopped onions = in the bag, but flat so I can bang them on the counter to get some out. Same for sliced peppers. Most things you can just freeze in whatever you’re going to store them in. For space reasons, I usually store in plastic bags. As for washing, you’ll want to look up specific instructions for each veggie -for example, blueberries should not be washed, if you can handle that depending on how they were grown, b/c it makes the skins tougher after freezing. Many, many vegetables need to be blanched (lightly cooked for literally just a few minutes), so you def. wash and cut them. Hope that helps a little bit! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rebecca via Facebook

    Can raw milk be frozen? I bought some at a store on our trip to CA and brought it home hoping it could be frozen.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sonya

    Sunflower seeds? Uh oh. I always store these in my cupboard at room temperature. Any idea why? They are even on the shelf at the grocery store

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sonya,
    I’m guessing sensitive fats, like walnuts. But soaked and dried (crispy) nuts are more important to be cold, and sprouted even more. ??? I kind of count nuts as an “optional” in the fridge/freezer if I don’t have room… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Beckie via Facebook

    I have a question on chicken broth. Do u skim the fat or mix it in. I skimmed the frothy brown stuff. But now I can’t decide whether to
    Skim off the broth or leave it

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    Rebecca Volkov, yes – try to shake it up while it’s freezing every 30-60 minutes or so, helps consistency. More here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/recipes/safe-handling-of-raw-milk-keep-it-fresh/

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    Beckie Thiessen – I always leave it in if the chicken was well-raised; if a store chicken, I might skim it off.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Beckie via Facebook

    Nope my chicken. Organic. Range fed. An expensive :)

    [Reply to this comment]

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    [...] to Make Over Your Leftovers posted at Buck$ome Boomer’s Journey to Retirement. Katie presents How to Store and Freeze Fresh Produce, Grains and More posted at Kitchen Stewardship. Wise_Bread presents Sex Up Your Sandwich: Ideas for Budget Conscious [...]

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  • Food grains

    I love cooking and in your post nice information is provide about food grais.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Krystal Wight Armstrong

    SO helpful, as a new real-food cook!
    2 questions though:
    -Why do you keep brown rice in the fridge?
    -And why do you keep mushrooms in a brown bag after opening? Should they be opened and transferred immediately? Is it bad for them to be trapped under the saranwrap that usually keeps them in the foam tray at the store?
    Thank you!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Krystal,
    Glad this was helpful! Brown rice is sensitive to going rancid because of the bran/germ still being intact, however – I buy rice in huge bags now and do not store it in the fridge. I had completely forgotten this “rule” that I once knew! You’re probably okay either way…

    On mushrooms, the brown bag just helps them last longer and be fresher, but again – I’ve gotten lazy and don’t always do it. They last a while however you store them, but longer in a brown bag.
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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