Potatoes and onions are appetizing when French-fried and served up on a plate, yet there are reasons to keep a safe distance between the two in the pantry.
In the garden, it’s a toss-up. Companion planting with potatoes and onions has two lines of thought; the first is that onions (or alliums in general) may reduce pests with their strong smell. The second is that onions stunt the growth of potato tubers. To know which one is the truth, may take some experimentation on your part.
What we do know for sure, is that certain foods simply should not be stored together. Otherwise, you run the risk of one or the other rotting quicker than expected. And food waste is something we should all try to avoid.
One Bad Apple Spoils The Whole Bunch
Storing apples isn’t rocket science. But there is one small thing you shouldn’t overlook: never keep a rotten apple next to healthy apples. One bad apple could mean the difference between losing your entire harvest or picking out those rotten few and tossing them on the compost pile.
That being said, whether you take the time to grow your own fruit or harvest it from the store, you’ll always want to get your time’s – or money’s – worth.
Keeping fruits and vegetables fresh is one way to store them for longer. Then there is freezing, dehydrating and canning for an even longer storage life.
When you store your fruits and vegetables fresh, it often depends on how quickly you intend to eat them.
So take all these “foods you shouldn’t store together” with a grain of salt. If they need to all be tossed quickly into your refrigerator, they’ll be fine for a few days, if not riper than when you bought or brought them in.
However, if your fruits and vegetables tend to hang on for a long while, it’s good to know what foodstuffs don’t make the best pantry friends.
Why Some Fruits & Vegetables Shouldn’t Be Stored Together
Ethylene. That’s the quick answer. Some plants emit it, others are sensitive to it.
Ethylene gas is actually a plant hormone that affects growth, development and stress responses. What we are most interested in today, however, is how it affects fruit ripening.
Almost all fruits produce ethylene, though it varies from plant to plant. You’ll also find that fruits contain more ethylene than vegetables. Most of the time, putting the two together is a recipe for a small disaster.
The trick is to know which plants produce higher amounts of ethylene and which ones are sensitive to it. This way, you know exactly what foods you should never store together.
The basics of food storage are as follows: rotate and use up your stored food regularly, move older items to the front, place new ones to the back and be on the lookout for rotten foods. Be sure to remove them immediately.
It doesn’t have to be first in, first out when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but do be aware that they all have their own unique shelf life. When ethylene-producing foods are stored with ethylene-sensitive foods, freshness literally goes right out the door.
What about storing ethylene-producing fruits together?
Well, that’s also a no-no most of the time.
If you are trying to ripen your avocados, then, by all means, set them right next to that bunch of bananas. However, if your avocados are ready for eating all at once, you better make a batch of guacamole quickly.
We’ll get to it in a few seconds, but ripe bananas will help ripen just about any other unripe fruit. At the same time, the unripe fruit will slow the ripening process of the bananas. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Apples are one of the greatest ethylene-producing fruits you’ll find in your kitchen. What’s more, they may even cause premature ripening in vegetables. For this reason alone, apples should be kept further apart from vegetables, even in the fridge.
Another aspect of storing apples with, let’s say, onions, is that apples will take on the scent of the onions. Not particularly pleasant if you ask a young child her or his opinion.
Enter the ethylene gas again to find out that apples and oranges should also be stored further apart from one another. Separate them whether they are in a fruit bowl or the fridge.
Fresh apples can be kept in the refrigerator for more than a month, even longer, if kept in a cellar.
Apricots continue to ripen after harvesting and should be stored at room temperature. Chilling them in the fridge will slow the ripening process down, so only store them in the cooler once they have reached their ripeness peak.
Take note that overly cold temperatures will affect flavor and texture.
One thing you should never do is ripen apricots in a plastic bag. In a plastic bag, the ethylene gas may become too much, resulting in mushy, unappealing apricots. A brown paper bag does the trick to ripen fruit to perfection.
From rock hard to overly ripe by the time you finally think about eating them. Yep, that’d be an avocado.
Despite that, avocados are lovely when they are perfectly ripe. Achieving that, however, is another story. See, avocados are unique in that they do not ripen on the tree. The longer they are left on the tree, the higher the oil content and the richer the taste. Outside of harvesting your own avocados, there’s no way to know how long they’ve been hanging around.
If you seek to soon eat your stone-hard avocado, all you have to do is place it in a brown bag with an apple or banana for a few days. Don’t forget to check on it once in a while.
It’s all a matter of timing or setting your avocado next to another ethylene-producing fruit to get to that gorgeous green flesh.
Bananas from the store arrive from exotic locations at different levels of ripeness. Sometimes they are completely green, other times they are getting brown spots which show they are past their prime. Not that you shouldn’t toss a few of these into a batch of banana bread.
Bananas have such a short shelf life, sometimes not more than a few days. For this very reason, bananas are often thrown in the trash, peel and all. Fruits and vegetables make a large contribution to food waste.
If you find that you’ve kept a bad bunch too long, Tracey has a recipe for banana peel fertilizer that you can use in the garden. Make sure those banana peels are organic if you keep a chemical-free garden.
Storing bananas the right way.
In the case of bananas, ethylene is produced from the stem. Wrapping the end in foil is a good trick to keep the bananas fresh for longer.
Bananas should never be kept in the fridge, as the skins will turn black. Instead, set them on a plate or bowl on your kitchen counter, away from direct sunlight and heat.
If they are too hard to eat, you can hasten the ripening process by putting them in a paper bag with an ethylene-producing apple overnight. You can also put a potato or avocado in the bag or use whatever fruit you have. Careful though, it will quicken the ripening of the other fruit too.
In other words, unless you are trying to ripen a bunch of bananas, keep them separate from all other ethylene-producing fruits.
If you are storing a honeydew melon for just a couple of days, it’ll sit on the counter just fine. A couple of hours before serving it, however, you may want to chill it in the fridge.
Unsure of when you’re going to indulge in a slice of melon, or it’s already in half and you need to save the rest for later? Then into the fridge it goes. Cut melons should always be covered with plastic wrap, or for a plastic-free option, how about a plate on the cut side to preserve them for longer. Uncut melons last up to 2 weeks in the fridge, and 2-4 days once they are opened up.
Ethylene production increases once the honeydew is cut into, so don’t store them with ethylene-sensitive foods. Please note, that this is only the case for honeydew. Cantaloupe, on the other hand, is sensitive to ethylene, so refrain from storing the two together.
I usually try to buy mangoes that are ready-to-eat, because once the craving for a mango lassi hits, I don’t want to wait another week. If you have underripe mangoes but are in a hurry to eat them, try the brown paper bag ripening method with these delicious fruits too. Don’t forget to toss in an apple or banana for quick results.
Mangoes don’t produce nearly as much ethylene as other fruits, yet they will ripen faster when subjected to the gases of other ethylene producers. Store them separately or pre-cut in a container in the fridge.
You can keep mangoes on the countertop for 3-5 days, up to one week in the fridge inside a freezer bag.
7. Pears, Peaches and Plums
Pears ripen the fastest in warm environments. One way to slow down the ripening process is to put them in a cooler place, such as a cellar, or a refrigerator. This by itself will reduce ethylene production.
That being said, you won’t want to store your pears right next to your apples in the cellar, or in the pantry. One will feed off the other and your harvest will depreciate before your very eyes.
Pears ripen from the inside out, once it gives way slightly under your fingertips, it is ready to eat.
It’s the same with plums and peaches. They all continue to ripen after being plucked from the tree. At first, they can be stored on the counter in a slightly warm environment to ripen. Once they become the ripeness you’d like to eat, you can store them in the fridge for a few days.
Longer-term storage for all three involves freezing, canning and dehydrating.
However, the amount of ethylene produced will increase if the potatoes are damaged or chilled. Here’s how you should be storing your potatoes, so they last for multiple months.
To put it simply, potatoes should be stored in a pantry, or at room temperature for the longest shelf life. They should never be put in the fridge.
And as we said at the beginning, never store your potatoes with onions.
Related reading: How to Freeze Potatoes Any Which Way You Slice Them
Strawberries, unlike most ethylene producers, are picked when they’re fully ripe. Yet sometimes you get the chance to pick more than you can eat at once, in part because the strawberry season is so short.
If you don’t quite have that many, putting them in the fridge is a wise idea.
Even in the fridge, make sure the strawberries are stored away from other ethylene-producers. At the same time, keep them away from other ethylene-sensitive foods.
I know, it can be tricky, but when you’ve got a mouthwatering crop of strawberries, you need to do all in your power to prevent them from rotting or going moldy before you have the chance to eat every last one.
Tomatoes are another one of those foods that shouldn’t set foot in the fridge. Doing so won’t cause them harm, though it may ruin their flavor and that’s a disgrace to a homegrown tomato.
The thing about tomatoes is that they are moderate ethylene producers. So, instead of storing them with ethylene-sensitive foods, store your tomatoes with other ethylene-producers. Keep them away from all members of the cabbage family, spinach, okra, pepper and sweet potatoes.
Keep in mind that tomatoes ripen to their best flavor at room temperature, so it’s a no-no to put them with pears. And they shouldn’t be stored with onions, due to their high moisture content.
Tomatoes stored in the pantry are good for 3-4 days.
If you have too many tomatoes to eat at once, go ahead and can them up or dehydrate them. Here are a couple of recipes to get you inspired:
Not all fruits are sensitive to ethylene.
Cherries, pineapples, blueberries and grapefruit can all be stored next to the foods featured above on this list.
Once you get the hang of where all that fruit should go, in the fridge or on the countertop, you’ll be saving food like a pro.
It’s for certain that the quality of lettuce, carrots and broccoli will deteriorate when stored with apples, bananas, pears, plums and peaches.
If there is too much ethylene in the room, apples will lose their crispness, flowers and leafy greens will wilt and decay, while cucumbers and broccoli will turn yellow. Nobody wants that to happen. Not for the sake of food waste, or ruining your precious backyard garden crop.
I don’t enjoy eating tough, stringy, lignified asparagus and I’m sure you don’t either.
If you are growing your own asparagus, you won’t want to waste a single hard-earned bite. Purchasing it from the store entails a bigger sum of money, so you’ll want to savor every spear.
It’s worth noting that if you can’t manage to eat a bunch of asparagus the moment you bring it home, it should never be stored with any of the ethylene-producing fruits from above. Doing so will toughen the spears, making asparagus-leather of your tender harvest.
Fresh asparagus has a shelf life of only 3-5 days. Most likely, you’ll want to put the fresh spears in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. You can place them in a plastic bag with a damp towel, or stand the stalks upright in a jar with about an inch of water.
Broccoli stored close to apples and other ethylene-producers can result in reducing the storage life of broccoli (which is already minimal, at 3 to 5 days), to 50%. If you are able to harvest a bunch at once, you won’t want that to happen. Nobody likes to eat yellow broccoli. It’s tough enough to get some kids (and adults) to eat it while it’s green.
Keeping in mind that it takes anywhere from 90 to110 days for broccoli to mature, only to harvest it and not be able to eat your green stalks would be devastating.
If you have more broccoli than you can eat at once, freezing is your best bet for this short-shelf-life vegetable. In the freezer, you can keep it for up to a year, in the fridge only a few days.
13. Brussels Sprouts
Green vegetables may be trending and it’s predicted to stay that way for some time. However, the only way to keep them fresh, young and tender, is to keep them away from high ethylene producers. While Brussels sprouts do produce a small amount of ethylene themselves, it’s something they also must stay away from.
In the presence of ethylene, the sprouts will quickly begin to yellow and shed their outer leaves.
You can leave them outside for a very long time, still attached to the plant. However, if you are bringing them from the (super)market, store them separately in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze them for longer shelf life.
Carrots are finicky roots to grow, their strange shapes can attest to their defiance to aim straight into the earth.
Similarly, when they are exposed to ethylene, they will become bitter, like the non-compliant roots they are. Though carrots can be stored for several months in the cellar, it only takes a couple of weeks with higher amounts of ethylene gas for them to develop a bitter undertone.
If you don’t have enough space to store carrots far enough from other ethylene producers, let’s say apples in the cellar, it’s better to store them for up to three weeks in the fridge. You can also can or freeze them for longer-term storage.
Brassicas are continuing to make the list of ethylene-sensitive vegetables. Cauliflower is no exception. Just like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cauliflower will begin to yellow when exposed to higher amounts of ethylene.
Just because cauliflower and tomatoes can be harvested at the same time, doesn’t mean they can be stored together. Store your cauliflower away from all the other ethylene-producing fruit too.
Like broccoli, cauliflower has a very short shelf life of 3-5 days in the refrigerator under ideal conditions. Do your part to not decrease that any further.
In the freezer, properly prepared cauliflower can last up to a year.
Cucumbers are usually pickled to extend their shelf life beyond the short week they can last in the fridge.
If you choose to eat them fresh, be sure not to store these ethylene-sensitive cukes next to tomatoes, melons or bananas, or any other ethylene producers for that matter. If you do, yellow cucumbers are what you’ll be left with. The flavor will be lost, and bitterness will creep in. Avoid that situation by storing your cucumbers separately.
Freezing cucumbers isn’t really an option, so it’s pickles for the win.
17. Leafy Greens
While your lettuce may be lush and green out in the garden, you need to watch out for that potential color loss as you bring it into the house. Or maybe you bought a head of lettuce at the market and have no idea when it was harvested, that’s cause for storing your lettuce properly too.
All lettuces are highly sensitive to ethylene. Some plants discolor in its presence, while others produce unsightly spots.
If you want an appetizing summer salad, be sure to make it fresh, adding tomatoes or apples only before serving, never a day ahead of time. Keep them apart, outside of the salad too.
Lettuce and other leafy greens can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or more.
Did you know that storing onions with potatoes cuts their shelf life in half? You won’t just lose your onions in the deal though, pounds of potatoes will suffer as well.
See, potatoes are the ethylene producers and onions are sensitive to that. When onions are exposed to ethylene, onions will be encouraged to sprout. There is also the possibility that fungus will develop to ruin the storage party.
Elizabeth wrote an article about how to store onions so they last up to a year. Follow her advice and keep those spuds away from your onions.
Apples, and other ethylene-producing fruits, should never be stored with peppers. Doing so can cause them to overripen, discolor and spoil quickly.
Always store your peppers away from other ethylene-producing foods such as grapes, avocados and tomatoes.
20. Pumpkins and Squash
You’d think that when a thick-skinned pumpkin or squash was ready to harvest, it’d stay that way, perfectly preserved till you need it for dinner or dessert.
However, you may be surprised to find out that pumpkins and winter squashes are sensitive on the inside. If the interior ripens quickly, you’ll likely end up with a large fruit that rots from the inside out. Like other foodstuffs on this list, storing pumpkins and squashes with other ethylene-producing foods will reduce their shelf life by half.
If you want to store your squash for a long time, be sure to give them all the distance they need from apples, potatoes or onions in the pantry or cellar.
Again, if you’re unsure about where to store them and happen to have a little bit of freezer space left, freezing squashes will keep them edible the longest.
Fruits & Vegetables That Don’t Respond (Much) To Ethylene Gas
In your quest to find suitable counter and refrigerator space for your plethora of fruit and veg, you’ll likely have a bunch of other food that doesn’t quite fit into one category or the other. Let’s call these the non-sensitive to ethylene foods.
This list of food that can be stored anywhere includes:
- berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
- citrus (lemons, limes and oranges)
Once you know the top ethylene-producing fruits, it’s easy to avoid putting them directly next to the ethylene-sensitive ones.
That’s all there is to it. Easier than you thought. The main thing is: keep those apples away from already ripe foods and you’ve already increased your chances of food storage success.
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