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3 Mistakes You Are Making in Storing Fruits and Vegetables

06/04/2015 09:38 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

It's the unofficial start of summer! It's a time of year when many of us consume more fruits and vegetables. After all, who doesn't enjoy watermelon, cantaloupe and the proverbial corn on the cob? And we are more likely to drink fruit smoothies over the next few months than we are at any other time of the year. This is all good, since most of us don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Now, I recognize that fruits and vegetables can be expensive and seem to spoil quickly. But I bet there are three things you currently are doing that if you changed, your produce would last longer and help both your health and your wallet.

It all starts with when you come home from the grocery store or farmer's market.

Most people unpack their shopping bags and put everything in the refrigerator. In theory, that seems like a good idea, doesn't it? Then why do we find a few days later our fruits and vegetables are limp, shriveled, or worse yet rotten? What went wrong?

Well, here are three common mistakes many of us make when storing produce.

1. Wash everything right away. If you don't wash your produce before putting it away, you're doing the right thing. That's right. Don't go washing everything as soon as you get home. Dampness encourages bacteria growth, so wait to wash your fruits and vegetables until you're ready to eat or cook them. I know many folks are concerned about food poisoning, but as long as you wash them prior to consuming, you're fine.

2. Put all fruits and vegetable next to each other. In actuality, you should store fruits and vegetables away from each other, whether they're in the refrigerator, in your pantry, or on the counter. I know many people want to keep fruits and vegetables in the same "section." And I have one friend who organizes everything by subcategory -- melons in one place, berries in another, green leafy vegetables in one place, those that grow on vines in another. Her refrigerator is like a filing cabinet! It's always nice to be organized, but here's the problem: Many fruits produce ethylene gas. It's the same gas that commercial growers use to ripen tomatoes, bananas, pears, and a few other fruits after they've been harvested. So when your fruits emit ethylene gas, it can speed spoilage to surrounding produce.

Don't believe me? Consider bananas. If you're like me, I always avoided buying a big bunch of bananas because they all ripened so quickly. Here's a trick: Break up the bunch and wrap the stem of each banana in plastic wrap. It might be a little bit of extra work, but it really slows the ripening process. And if a banana reaches the ripeness you like but you're not ready to eat it, put it in the refrigerator and the cold will keep it from ripening further. I just learned this a few years ago, and it has made a big difference for my family.

3. Wrap everything in tight plastic or zip-lock bags. I know there is a desire to keep out air, and keep vegetables in a "sterile" space. (And after battling with opening those thin, plastic bags in the produce section, I feel like keeping it on for a while!) The reality is that vegetables need space; they need breathing room. So we are doing exactly the opposite of what we need to do. An airtight plastic bag is about the worst thing you can do to your vegetables. Here's a quick fix: Either poke holes in the plastic bag, or better yet, store them in mesh bags. And use those crispers in your refrigerator.