Step 5: Storing Garden Produce

When it comes to washing your garden produce some produce should be washed before storage and some produce should have the dirt removed by other means before bringing the produce into the kitchen. These options both have pros and cons. Dirty produce can be covered with pathogenic microorganisms or bacteria that can possibly cause foodborne illness, so if you bring in dirty produce, you can transport these pathogens into your kitchen. On the other hand, if you choose to wash your produce, some have the tendency to mold or rot more quickly. To prevent this, you should thoroughly dry your produce with a clean paper towel to prevent molding and rot. Please read the table below to determine which produce can be washed and which produce should be wiped clean.


When washing produce, it is important to pay special attention to the temperature of the wash water, which can affect the safety of some fruits and vegetables. If the water is much colder than the produce, then surface pathogens may be drawn into fruits or vegetable through the stem or blossom ends. The rule is that the rinse water should not be more than 10 degrees F colder than the produce.

Not Washing

When storing your produce without washing, make sure to “dry clean” your fruits and vegetables by shaking, rubbing or brushing off the garden dirt with either a clean soft brush or a clean dry paper towel while still outside. The produce should then be placed in a plastic bag or container to prevent contamination of other foods in your refrigerator.

Berries should not be cleaned until they are ready to be consumed. Produce that requires refrigeration should be stored at 40° F or less and away from raw meats, poultry, and fish.

The table below provides produce storage methods, times and washing tips (Garden to Table from Project of the Universities of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and funded by CSREES/USDA. Project 2003-5111001713).

Fruit / Vegetable Storage Method / Time Tips
Melons (Watermelon, Honeydew, Cantaloupe) At room temperature until ripe Refrigerator: 3 to 4 days for cut melon For best flavor, store melons at room temperature until ripe. Store ripe, cut melon covered in the refrigerator. Wash rind before cutting.
Nectarines, Peaches, Pears Refrigerator crisper: 5 days Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and then refrigerate in plastic bags. Wash before eating.
Onions (Red, White, Yellow, Green) Dry onions: Room temperature 2 to 4 weeks; green onions: Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days Store dry onions loosely in a mesh bag in a cool, dry well-ventilated place away from sunlight. Wash green onions carefully before eating.
Peas Refrigerator: 2-3 days The sugar in peas quickly begins to turn to starch even while under refrigeration, so eat quickly after harvesting. Store peas in perforated plastic bags. Wash before shelling.
Peppers Refrigerator crisper: up to 2 weeks Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Wash before using.
Potatoes Room temperature: 1 to 2 weeks Store potatoes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light, which causes greening. Scrub well before cooking.
Summer squashes (zucchini, patty pan) Refrigerator: 2-3 days Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Wash before using.
Tomatoes Room temperature; once cut, refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Refrigeration makes them tasteless and mealy. Wipe clean and store tomatoes at room temperature away from sunlight. Wash before eating. (Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further.) Store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator.
Winter squashes, pumpkins Room temperature for curing; then cool, dry storage area for 3 to 6 months. Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicate. Wipe clean before curing. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for 10 to 20 days. After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50F), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures result in a shorter storage time. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly. The smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator.
Apples Room temperature: 1-2 days; refrigerator crisper: up to 1 month Ripen apples at room temperature. Once ripe, store in plastic bags in the crisper. Wash before eating.
Asparagus Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days. Once picked, asparagus loses quality quickly. Wrap the base of a bunch of asparagus with a moist paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Wash before using.
Beans, green or yellow Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days Store in plastic bags. Do not wash before storing. Wet beans will develop black spots and decay quickly. Wash before preparation.
Broccoli Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days Store in loose, perforated plastic bags. Wash before using.
Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Radish, Turnips Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 weeks Remove green tops and store vegetables in plastic bags. Trim the taproots from radishes before storing. Wash before using.
Berries (Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries) Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days Before storing berries, remove any spoiled or crushed fruits. Store unwashed in plastic bags or containers. Do not remove green tops from strawberries before storing. Wash gently under cool running water before using.
Brussels sprouts Refrigerator crisper: 1-2 days The fresher the sprouts, the better the flavor. Remove outer leaves and store fresh sprouts in plastic bags. Wash before using.
Cabbage Refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Store, after removing outer leaves, in perforated plastic bags.
Chard Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days. Store leaves in plastic bags. The stalks can be stored longer if separated from the leaves. Wash before using.
Collards Refrigerator crisper: 4-5 days Collards store better than most greens. Wrap leaves in moist paper towels and place in sealed plastic bag. When ready to use wash thoroughly. Greens tend to have dirt and grit clinging to the leaves.
Corn Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 days For best flavor, use corn immediately. Corn in husks can be stored in plastic bags for 1 to 2 days.
Cucumbers Refrigerator crisper: up to 1 week Wipe clean and store in plastic bags. Do not store with apples or tomatoes. Wash before using.
Eggplant Refrigerator: 1-2 days Eggplants do not like cool temperatures so they do not store well. Harvest and use them immediately for best flavor. If you must store them, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Be careful as it will soon develop soft brown spots and become bitter. Use while the stem and cap are still greenish and fresh-looking.
Herbs Refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days Herbs may be stored in plastic bags or place upright in a glass of water (stems down). Cover loosely with plastic bag.
Lettuce, spinach and other delicate greens Refrigerator crisper: 5 to 7 days for lettuce; 1 to 2 days for greens Discard outer or wilted leaves. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. Wash before using.

Continue to Step 6: Preparing and Serving Fresh Garden Produce.