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
- Pick healthy undamaged veg
- Don’t use pre-refrigerated veg
- Use care transporting & handling
- Don’t stack
- Don’t store with fruit
- Store in a cool dark location
- Good air circulation
- No airtight containers or plastic bags
- Don’t wash for storage
- Remove the rotten ones
- 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.
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.
|What To Look For, And What to Avoid When Choosing the Freshest Vegetables|
|Sweet Potatoes||Firm Skin with no bruising or blemishes|
|Tomatoes||Plump, heavy, smooth blemish-free skin, no soft spots or cracks|
|White Potatoes||Firm clear skin with no soft spots, major blemishes, green skin or sprouts|
|Broccoli||Firm green florets, tight heads with no picks, soft spots or yellowing|
|Rutabagas||Fair, clean skin with no blemishes or bruising; avoid if sprouting.|
|Winter Squash||The stem should be intact, firm and dry; avoid cracks, cuts, bruising or imperfections on the skin|
|Garlic||Heavy firm bulbs with no soft spots, avoid broken skin, bruising, damp spots and sprouting|
|Yellow Onion||Avoid soft spots, wetness, discoloration. Onions should be dry and tight|
|Carrots||Firm and bright orange with clear skin and no cracks.|
Old carrots are limp and black towards the top
Firm, smooth clean skin, no blemishes or soft spots, avoid yellow spots
|Summer Squash||Pick small squash that look bright and colorful; Avoid blemishes, soft spots, and discoloration|
|Cabbage||Tight, compact, crisp, and heavy; avoid heads with limp leaves, flabby stems or major skin imperfections|
|Avocados||Darker green avocados are ripe; avoid mushiness, large indentations, bruising or skin blemishes|
|Celery||Crisp tightly packed stalks free of skin blemishes, avoid limp, lose heads with wilted leaves|
|Green Peppers||Peppers should be firm and glossy & heavy for their size: avoid wrinkled skin, dark stems, soft spots or skin blemishes|
|Zucchini||Choose small zucchini that are dark green and feel heavy for its size; avoid skin blemishes, soft spots, and shriveling|
|Asparagus||Diameter doesn’t matter, look for firm crispy stalks that are bright green, purple or white with tightly closed florets; avoid limp stocks with blemishes|
Choose B. sprouts that are heavy for their size, brightly colored and firm; avoid yellowing and black spots
|Radish||Pick 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|
|Okra||Bright green, firm pods that are 4″ or less; avoid bruises, soft spots, and skin blemishes|
|Jicama||Firm, smooth skin free of blemishes, Avoid shriveling, soft spots, limpness or wetness|
|Ginger||Firm, tight, thin-skin, easily nicked; Avoid woodiness, thick fibrous skin, bruising and skin blemishes|
|Pumpkin||Intact 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,|
|Beets||Should be fresh, crisp and colorful, leaves should also look fresh and crisp: avoid soft spots, mushiness, and skin blemishes|
|Eggplant||Blemish free, smooth shiny skin, heavy for their size, smaller eggplants are sweeter; avoid, soft spots, mushiness and cracked skin|
|Leek||Crisp and firm, the white part of the onion, the better: avoid mushiness, discoloration, and withered or flabby tops|
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.
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.
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 Sensitive Vegetables|
Store Vegetables In a Cool Dark Location
Storing vegetables in a cool, dark 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 Type||Approximate No Refrigeration Shelf-life|
|Sweet Potatoes||2 to 3 Weeks|
|Tomatoes||Picked green and stored in a cool dark location up to 6 weeks, sitting on the counter around 5 days|
|White Potatoes||2 -3 months|
|Broccoli||2 to 3 days|
|Winter Squash||1 week|
|4 to 6 weeks|
|Carrots||3 to 5 days|
|Cucumbers||2 weeks (cucumbers get cold damaged easily in the fridge)|
|Summer Squash||1 to 5 days|
|Avacados||3 to 5 days|
|Green Peppers||1 to 2 weeks|
|Zucchini||5 to 7 days|
|Asparagus||Cut spears and store upright in a water-filled jar, change water daily-should last 7 days plus|
|Brussel Sprouts||3 to 4 days|
|Radish||7 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
|Pumpkin||2 to 3 months|
|Eggplant||3 to 5 days|
|Leek||2 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
- Leaking moisture or juice
- Soft Spots
- Brown Coloring
- Off Smells, Funky or Rancid Odor
- Edges are torn or broken
- Severe Wilting
- Limpness or Flabiness
- 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:
- Pick lettuce fresh from the garden, clean it, and eat it or
- 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
- Separate Leaves of lettuce
- Wash individually
- Discard leaves that are torn, bruised or rusting
- Immerse leaves in a cold bowl of water to remove sand and dirt
- 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
- If you use vinegar follow up with a clean water rinse
- Blot dry with a paper towel, or use a salad spinner
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