6 Tips for Keeping Farmers’ Market Fruits and Vegetables Fresh Longer

fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers' market

Locally grown, fresh produce adds appeal to many a meal. Use these 6 tips to keep farmers’ market fruits and vegetables fresh longer…

Tip 1: Choose fruits and vegetables without bruises or other damage

It is easy to overlook examining all sides of a single piece or a bunch of fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market. The first step for keeping fruits and vegetables fresh longer is to begin with fresh produce. A damaged or bruised produce area may hasten the spoilage of your purchase.  Also, avoid squishing produce by filling bags too full – use or bring more bags as needed.

Tip 2: Go directly home from the market

Avoid side trips on your way home. Fresh fruits and vegetables will decline in quality if left sitting in your car, especially when it is warm.

Tip 3: Store produce at proper temperature and humidity

The Florida Tomato Committee recommends storing tomatoes at room temperature with their stem end up.
  • Store these fruits and vegetables at room temperature for best taste: Onions, potatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, melons, watermelon, and winter squashes (Hubbard, acorn, etc.). Keep them in a clean, dry, well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight and away from areas where meat is prepared. Check under my “Vegetable” listing for more information on storing sweet potatoes, other potatoes, onions and garlic.

  • Ripen this produce on the counter before refrigeration: Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and mangoes. Avoid leaving fruits and vegetables in a sealed plastic bag on your counter top. This slows ripening and may increase odors and decay from the accumulation of carbon dioxide and depletion of oxygen inside the bag.

  • Most other fresh fruits and vegetables keep best stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. Use your refrigerator crisper drawer for whole produce. Store fruits in a separate refrigerator crisper drawer from vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that fruits can absorb. Before storing vegetables such as radishes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots etc., cut off the top, leaving about 1 to 2 inches of the stem for better quality. An Internet search yields several recipes for the leafy green tops of beets and turnips if you’d also like to eat this part of these vegetables.

Tip 4: Use best practices for bagging refrigerated produce

Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables in perforated plastic bags (bags with tiny holes in them) to help support moisture yet supply air flow and keep them fresh longer. Unperforated plastic bags can lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. If a plastic bag isn’t perforated, poke or cut several small holes in it. Some sources recommend about 20 holes. Or refrigerate the produce in a loosely wrapped, open plastic bag.

Tip 5: Clean fruits and vegetables correctly

Wash fruits and vegetables just before you use them, NOT when you bring them home. Fresh fruits and vegetables have a natural protective coating that helps keep in moisture and freshness. Washing produce before storage causes it to spoil faster. The Food and Drug Administration gives these 7 tips for cleaning fruits and vegetables:

Scrub firm produce, such as melons, with a clean vegetable brush.
  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  2. If damage or bruising occurs before eating or handling, cut away the damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  3. Rinse produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  4. Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  5. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  6. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  7. Remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

Tip 6: Check fresh produce regularly for spoilage

Inspect produce often for signs of spoilage such as mold and slime. Some produce, like carrots and potatoes, may stay fresh for a couple of weeks. Others, like berries, may remain fresh for only a few days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture makes these recommendations for handling mold on fruits and vegetables:

  • Fruits and vegetables, FIRM (Such as cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.): Use. Cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot (keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the produce). Small mold spots can be cut off FIRM fruits and vegetables with low moisture content. It’s difficult for mold to penetrate dense foods.
  • Fruits and vegetables, SOFT (such as cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.): Discard. SOFT fruits and vegetables with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface.

References and for More Information for Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Fresh

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 1, 2020. Lettuce, Other Leafy Greens, and Food Safety.  Accessed 7/26/2020 at https://bit.ly/2BAgmwf
  • Food and Drug Administration. June 10, 2018. 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables. Accessed 7/26/2020 at https://bit.ly/2D87xKo
  • Kader, A., Thompson, J., Sylva, K. and Harris, L. Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste. UCDavis Postharvest Technology. Accessed 7/26/2020 at https://bit.ly/2OWeUay
  • Produce for Better Health Foundation. Fruits & Veggies. Accessed 7/27/2020 at https://bit.ly/30PNnNv
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Seasonal Produce Guide. Accessed 7/27/2020 at https://bit.ly/32YrC0B

Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement is implied for those mentioned. The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute an endorsement of the information, products or services contained therein. No editorial control is exercised by this blog over the information you may find at these locations.  

This site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Talk with your health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

Information in this post is adapted in part from: “The Garden Grocery: Food Safety & Selection at Farmers’ Markets” authored by Amy Peterson, MS, RD and Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.  Accessed 7/27/2020.

©2020 Alice Henneman