Storing Vegetables Without Refrigeration: 11 Top Tips


Vegetable Market with vege

Why in the world would you want to store your vegetables outside of your refrigerator? Well, what if your power goes out? Your living off-grid. Or, like me, you have a family-sized refrigerator that seems to shrink as time passes. Whatever your reasons, you can get shelf-life out of most vegetables when stored at room temperature.

11 Tips for Storing Vegetables Without Refrigeration

  1. Pick healthy undamaged veg
  2. Don’t use pre-refrigerated veg
  3. Use care transporting & handling 
  4. Don’t stack 
  5. Don’t store with fruit
  6. Store in a cool dark location
  7. Good air circulation
  8. No airtight containers or plastic bags
  9. Don’t wash for storage
  10. Remove the rotten ones
  11. Keep storage containers clean

Vegetable damage, moisture, and airtight containers are an invitation to the pathogens that cause your vegetables to go bad.

Avoid purchasing pre-cut vegetables they need refrigeration and won’t last as long as whole vegetables.

Crazy as it sounds vegetables breath just like people. The process is called Oxidation; It leads to the eventual decline and spoilage of your vegetables. You can’t stop oxidation but you can slow it down by following the 11 tips.

Farmers Market

Pick Healthy Undamaged Veg

The length of a vegetable’s storage life is dependent on many factors. Unless you picked the produce from your garden all you have to go on is how fresh a vegetable, looks, feels, and smells.

A good rule of thumb for storing fresh vegetables with or without refrigeration is to choose the best product you can find: no bruises or discoloration, flawless skin, and the most vibrant colors.

Following is a list of how to pick the best of the bunch from the 26 most common vegetables.

Vegetable
Type
What To Look For, And What to Avoid When Choosing the Freshest Vegetables
Sweet Potatoes Firm Skin with no bruising or blemishes
TomatoesPlump, heavy, smooth blemish-free skin, no soft spots or cracks
White PotatoesFirm clear skin with no soft spots, major blemishes, green skin or sprouts
BroccoliFirm green florets, tight heads with no picks, soft spots or yellowing
Rutabagas Fair, clean skin with no blemishes or bruising; avoid if sprouting.
Winter SquashThe stem should be intact, firm and dry; avoid cracks, cuts, bruising or imperfections on the skin
GarlicHeavy firm bulbs with no soft spots, avoid broken skin, bruising, damp spots and sprouting
Yellow OnionAvoid soft spots, wetness, discoloration. Onions should be dry and tight
CarrotsFirm and bright orange with clear skin and no cracks.
Old carrots are limp and black towards the top
Cucumbers
Firm, smooth clean skin, no blemishes or soft spots, avoid yellow spots
Summer SquashPick small squash that look bright and colorful; Avoid blemishes, soft spots, and discoloration
CabbageTight, compact, crisp, and heavy; avoid heads with limp leaves, flabby stems or major skin imperfections
AvocadosDarker green avocados are ripe; avoid mushiness, large indentations, bruising or skin blemishes
CeleryCrisp tightly packed stalks free of skin blemishes, avoid limp, lose heads with wilted leaves
Green PeppersPeppers should be firm and glossy & heavy for their size: avoid wrinkled skin, dark stems, soft spots or skin blemishes
ZucchiniChoose small zucchini that are dark green and feel heavy for its size; avoid skin blemishes, soft spots, and shriveling
AsparagusDiameter doesn’t matter, look for firm crispy stalks that are bright green, purple or white with tightly closed florets; avoid limp stocks with blemishes
Brussel Sprouts
Choose B. sprouts that are heavy for their size, brightly colored and firm; avoid yellowing and black spots
RadishPick small to medium-sized radishes, larger radishes get woody. Tops should be bright green; avoid hollow or soft centers (squeeze to check), and wilted tops
OkraBright green, firm pods that are 4″ or less; avoid bruises, soft spots, and skin blemishes
JicamaFirm, smooth skin free of blemishes, Avoid shriveling, soft spots, limpness or wetness
GingerFirm, tight, thin-skin, easily nicked; Avoid woodiness, thick fibrous skin, bruising and skin blemishes
PumpkinIntact stem, pumpkins get sweeter with age so don’t avoid dull pumpkins unless you are maximizing shelf-life; Avoid soft spots, skin blemishes or mushiness,
BeetsShould be fresh, crisp and colorful, leaves should also look fresh and crisp: avoid soft spots, mushiness, and skin blemishes
EggplantBlemish free, smooth shiny skin, heavy for their size, smaller eggplants are sweeter; avoid, soft spots, mushiness and cracked skin
LeekCrisp and firm, the white part of the onion, the better: avoid mushiness, discoloration, and withered or flabby tops
University of Nebraska: Selecting Fresh Vegetables

Don’t Use Pre-refrigerated Vegetables for No Refrigeration Storage

One of the cardinal rules of maximizing the life of most vegetables is to pick the freshest undamaged produce. Refrigeration damages vegetables.

Yes, it may extend shelf-life, but it still causes damage at the cellular level. If you put veg in the fridge, it has the same effect as bruising. When you remove a previously refrigerated vegetable and store them on the counter, they will go bad faster than if you had just left them on the counter to begin with.

Pantry Room Floor

Use Care When Transporting and Handling Your Vegetables

Try to avoid killing your vegetables before you get them home. Avoid: heat, dropping them, putting things on them, wrapping them in plastic, pushing them or smashing them into a space, or anything else that can bruise or damage. They will thank you, if you do, by lasting longer.

How “not” to shop for potatoes!

A guy (me) throws a bag of potatoes in the shopping cart and then continues shopping, stacking every other shopping item on top of that bag of potatoes, including a fifty-pound bag of dog food.

The guy checks out, throws the groceries in the hot trunk. He stops for lunch, drives home, and unloads the groceries.

The bag of potatoes is carelessly tossed onto the pantry floor, on top of 1/2 bag of old onions, and a partially eaten bag of potato chips.

Don’t do what I do; use care with your vegetables if you want the maximum shelf-life.

Boxes of vegetables

Don’t Stack Your Vegetables

I have a habit of stacking things in the pantry or the refrigerator. If I can smash it in, I do. Everything I can get into the crisper drawer goes in. Half of the produce in the drawer is already droopy, so I’m hastening the decay of the new stuff.

Stacking vegetable cut’s down on airflow, causes bruising and speeds the demise of your veg.

Don’t Store Your Vegetables With Fruit

Some fruits off-gas ethylene. Ethylene speeds-up the ripening of some vegetables. Not the best situation if you are trying to extend the shelf-life of your unrefrigerated veggies. Some veg are more sensitive than others.

Don’t Store These Vegetables With Fruit

Ethylene
Emitting Fruit
Ethylene Sensitive Vegetables
Apples
Apricots
Avocados
Bananas
Cherimoya
Cucumbers
Figs
Guavas
Kiwifruit
Mangoes
Melons (uncut)
Nectarines
Peaches
Pears
Plums
Tomatoes
Beets
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Leafy Greens
Parsley
Peas
Peppers

Concord Food Co-op: Produce Storage Guide click here

Store Vegetables In a Cool Dark Location

Storing vegetables in a cooldark place slows down decomposition, and protects against sprouting. Many vegetables will sprout if exposed to sunlight.

Keep in mind, some vegetables do store better in the refrigerator, but I’m going on the assumption that refrigerator storage isn’t an option, or it’s not possible.

Veges Need Good Air Circulation

Store the veg so they can get some air: don’t stack or squish into a counter-top colander.

Vegetables need to breathe. If you cut air circulation off altogether by storing veg in a tight bundle or airtight container, they will start to suffocate, which accelerates spoiling.

Say No To Airtight Containers And Plastic Bags For Veg Storage

Remove the air and spoil the veg! That’s right. There is a lot of misinformation out there about storing things like lettuce in an airtight container. This is wrong.

Airtight containers trap moisture from vegetable respiration creating the perfect environment for pathogens and premature rotting.

Plastic bags suffocate the vegetable which further enhances the decaying process.

Do not place produce in sealed plastic bags…this slows ripening and may increase off-odors and decay due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide and depletion of oxygen inside the sealed bag.” UC Davis

Don’t Wash Vegetables for Storage

So you want to wash your vegetables before you store them. I get it; washing keeps everything clean. You have to make a choice though, for maximum shelf-life, you shouldn’t wash vegetables until right before you eat them.

Rinsing vegetables for storage speeds up microbial growth which leads to quicker spoilage

Things you can do to limit bacteria and microorganisms on your produce

  • Start Clean: make sure your hands and all surfaces that touch your veg are clean, keep cutting boards and counter-tops clean.
  • Purchase Local produce to reduce the time it takes a veg to reach your location
  • Wash Before You Eat Not Before You Store: washing produce before storage promotes bacteria and speeds spoilage

If you decide to wash prestorage, make sure they are dry before storage.

Wash vegetables before you eat them. Here’s a guide from Colorado State University on cleaning your produce click here

Remove the Rotten Ones

Check your vegetables every day. If any of them look like they’re heading south, cook or eat them. Consider using a vegetable container that’s easy to clean and makes it easy to see the vegetables.  

Avoid Pressure Points When Storing Vegetables: it causes bruising. If necessary, pad your storage container it may keep your produce from bruising.  

Remove Rotten produce from the bunch and sterilize your container.

Keep Storage Containers Clean

Sterilize Storage containers before you use them and keep them clean.

After removing rotten or damaged vegetables, clean the container again. Ever hear the term “one bad apple ruins the bunch” well, one rotten tomato will accelerate your other tomatoes going bad.

Don’t let any goop build up on your container, or it will hasten the demise of your other veg. After cleaning, make sure the container is dry.

How Long Will Vegetables Last if Stored Without Refrigeration

There are so many variables like, climate, humidity and handling that effect a vegetable life that it’s hard to pinpoint a vegetables lifespan. Your veg may last much longer or much less than the guidelines Below.

Vegetable TypeApproximate No Refrigeration Shelf-life
Sweet Potatoes 2 to 3 Weeks
TomatoesPicked green and stored in a cool dark location up to 6 weeks, sitting on the counter around 5 days
White Potatoes2 -3 months
Broccoli2 to 3 days
Rutabagas1 week
Winter Squash1 week
Garlic1 month+
Yellow
Onions
4 to 6 weeks
Carrots3 to 5 days
Cucumbers2 weeks (cucumbers get cold damaged easily in the fridge)
Summer Squash1 to 5 days
Cabbage3 weeks
Avacados3 to 5 days
Celery
Green Peppers1 to 2 weeks
Zucchini5 to 7 days
AsparagusCut spears and store upright in a water-filled jar, change water daily-should last 7 days plus
Brussel Sprouts3 to 4 days
Radish7 days
Cut-off tops and bottoms, immerse in a jar of water, change the water daily. Another option is to wrap in a moist towel in a container, moisten&clean rag daily
Okra3 days
Jicama3 weeks
Ginger7 days
Pumpkin2 to 3 months
Beets3 days
Eggplant3 to 5 days
Leek2 to 4 days

Vegetables That Should Not Be Stored in The Fridge

  • Tomatoes like a sunny window sill so they can ripen to perfection. Refrigerate tomatoes, and they get mealy and stop developing.
  • Acorn and Butternut Squash: refrigeration changes the texture, and it’s just not necessary, hard squash do well in the pantry
  • Garlic– store in a cool, dry, and dark location, refrigerated garlic will sprout, which changes the flavor from tasty to bitter.
  • Yellow and White Onions: dry and dark is what they like (Scallions are the exception, they need to be refrigerated)
  • Sweet potatoes and potatoes: Cool dry and dark, potatoes will sprout in the sun, which changes the flavor. If you need seed potatoes to plant in the garden, put them in the sun, dig a hole and drop it in

13 Indications That Your Vegetables Have Gone Bad

It’s pretty easy to tell if your veg are beyond the time of edibility, but here are some indications that you should avoid eating them.

13 Signs that Produce is Not Fit to Eat

  1. Leaking moisture or juice
  2. Sliminess
  3. Discoloration
  4. Soft Spots
  5. Cracks
  6. Brown Coloring
  7. Off Smells, Funky or Rancid Odor
  8. Mold
  9. Mushiness
  10. Edges are torn or broken
  11. Severe Wilting
  12. Limpness or Flabiness
  13. Off Texture

Keep in mind a vegetable doesn’t have to be pretty to be edible.

Can You Get Sick From Eating Bad Vegetables?

Eating Rotten vegetables can make you sick and even give you food poisoning.

Normal oxidation, open wounds, or vegetable damage are an invitation for bacteria and microbes. Some bacteria are harmful, and some are not. Without microscopic analysis, you have no way of knowing if the bacteria is genuinely detrimental or if it will just give you an upset stomach.

Is It Ok To Store Lettuce Without Refrigeration?

Leafy Greens and lettuce can’t be stored without refrigeration.

Once the lettuce is picked, it declines pretty rapidly without refrigeration. If left on the counter, you have hours before lettuce wilts and becomes unpalatable.

You have two choices with leafy greens and lettuce:

  1. Pick lettuce fresh from the garden, clean it, and eat it or
  2. Refrigerate It

If you are picking lettuce from the garden, leave it in the ground or trim it right before you are ready to eat it.

Washing Produce Before You Eat It

Washing won’t remove or kill all bacteria, and it won’t remove all pesticides. Freshness and taste aren’t the only reason to start a garden; you can grow without pesticides.

Cleaning fresh produce well with clean water has been shown to reduce the number of micro-organisms. Washing also removes dirt, bacteria, and garden pests.

Running water will also remove “residual pesticides”

How To Clean Produce:

  • Under running water rub vegetables briskly with a vegetable brush or your hands to remove dirt and surface micro-organisms
  • If your washing in a sink make sure it’s clean, a better option might be to use a large-clean- bowl filled with fresh water
  • Don’t wash vegetables with detergents or bleach the veg may absorb the chemicals

Are commercial produce washes good? The effectiveness and safety of these products have not been evaluated by the FDA so your guess is as good as mine.

7 Steps to Wash Leafy Green Vegetables

  1. Separate Leaves of lettuce
  2. Wash individually
  3. Discard leaves that are torn, bruised or rusting
  4. Immerse leaves in a cold bowl of water to remove sand and dirt
  5. You can use 1/2 Cup of White Vinegar to 1 Cup of water if you want vinegar is shown to reduce bacteria on produce, but it may affect flavor and texture
  6. If you use vinegar follow up with a clean water rinse
  7. Blot dry with a paper towel, or use a salad spinner

Useful Links

Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers, Virginia Cooperative Extension: click here

Storing Food for Safety and Quality, Oregon State Education, Sandra McCurdy, Joey Peutz, and Grace Wittman click here

Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste, the University of California at Davis, Post Harvest Technology click here

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