Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet. They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re also low in fat and calories but help to keep you feeling full without packing on the pounds. Additionally, research shows that eating foods in a wide variety of colors can help ensure you’re getting all of the essential nutrients your body needs to perform its best. However, choosing the best produce at the supermarket or your local farmer’s market can be tricky. Knowing how to determine ripeness seems to be a trick only some people know. (Are you really supposed to smell a melon?) Plus, it’s tough to determine how long produce will stay fresh once you bring it home or how to store it properly to ensure it lasts as long as possible. We’ve created this ultimate produce buying guide to cover everything you need to know to determine ripeness, make your produce last, and more:
- How to Determine Ripeness
- How Many Days Does Produce Stay Fresh?
- Tips and Tricks to Make Produce Last Longer
- Decoding Produce Labels
- Seasonal Produce Picks
- More Information on Buying Produce
If you’re looking for some produce that will always arrive at peak freshness, check out our Fresh Fruits Box. It’s packed with apples, bananas, strawberries, cantaloupe, and more. Plus, you won’t have to worry about trying to pick the best produce because it’s already been carefully selected for quality and freshness.
How to Determine Ripeness
One of the hardest parts of shopping for produce is determining if it’s ripe. We’ve all fallen prey to buying a perfectly good-looking melon at the store, coming home, and cutting it open to discover a green, sour, and under-ripe mess. Luckily, it isn’t that difficult to tell when most fruits are ripe. Once you know the tricks, you can always be prepared when shopping for produce going forward.
Fruit ripens in two primarily different ways. There are climacteric fruits and non-climacteric fruits. This may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. Climacteric fruit continues to ripen after it’s harvested. Think bananas, which are known to turn from green to yellow, to brown spotted as they sit on your countertop. Non-climacteric fruit ceases to ripen after it has been harvested. That means what you buy at the store is what you’re going to get; it’s not going to continue to ripen after you bring it home. Here are some common fruits you’ll find at your local produce stand, whether they’re climacteric or non-climacteric, and how to tell if they’re ripe:
As mentioned before, bananas are climacteric. They start off as green before the ripening process begins. As they ripen, they turn yellow and develop brown spots. The more brown spots a banana has, the softer the texture will be, and the sweeter the taste.
Apples are climacteric as well. To tell if an apple is ripe, pick it up and feel its skin. You can even gently press an area of the skin to make sure it’s firm to the touch. Avoid apples that are soft, mushy, have dark spots, or indent easily when you press the skin.
As a climacteric fruit, cantaloupes will continue to ripen after you bring them home. However, it’s important to buy a cantaloupe that’s not too under-ripe. A ripe melon will exhibit a sweet and pleasant aroma and appear tan or yellow-gray in color in between the netting. You can tell a melon is overripe is by looking at the rind, which will look yellow and soft.
Avocados will continue to ripen after you bring them home. You’ll know an avocado is ready to eat if it feels slightly soft to the touch but not mushy. Ripe avocados may also have a darker color, but not always. It’s a better idea to use the touch test to determine ripeness.
Oranges are non-climacteric. That means you want to choose the ripest oranges you can find at the store because they won’t ripen any more once you bring them home. Ripe oranges are firm with smooth skin. Choose an orange that doesn’t have spots or indentations. The riper the orange and the more juice it contains, the heavier the orange should feel for its size.
Grapes are another non-climacteric fruit. Ripe grapes should be firm but not hard or mushy. Additionally, grapes shouldn’t easily fall from their stems. If they do, that may indicate they’re overripe.
Strawberries are also non-climacteric and do not continue to ripen after being harvested. To choose the best-tasting strawberries at the grocery store, pick those that have a sweet aroma. Additionally, look for strawberries that are bright red and free of dark spots.
Watermelon is a non-climacteric fruit. That means it should stay on the vine until it has reached peak ripeness. One way to ensure that it has ripened on the vine for a long time is to look for a bright yellow spot. That area is called the “field spot” and is caused by the melon sitting on the ground. A light-colored spot means the melon was picked too early. Another way to ensure your watermelon is nice and sweet is to check its weight, which should be pretty heavy for its size.
How Many Days Does Produce Stay Fresh?
Now that you know how to pick the very best produce at the grocery store and farmer’s market, you may be wondering how long your produce will stay fresh once you bring it home. Here’s a cheat sheet that will let you know how long common produce items stay fresh:
- Apples: 4-8 weeks in the fridge
- Avocados: 4-7 days at room temperature
- Bananas: 2-5 days at room temperature
- Blueberries: 1-2 weeks in the fridge
- Broccoli: 7-14 days in the fridge
- Carrots: 3-4 weeks in the fridge
- Cucumbers: 1 week in the fridge
- Garlic: 3-6 months at room temperature
- Lettuce: 7-10 days in the fridge
- Lemons: 3-4 weeks in the fridge
- Onions: 2-3 months at room temperature
- Oranges: 3-4 weeks in the fridge
- Peaches: 1-3 days at room temperature
- Potatoes: 3-5 weeks at room temperature
- Strawberries: 3-7 days in the fridge
- String beans: 3-5 days in the fridge
- Tomatoes: 1 week at room temperature
- Watermelon: 7-10 days at room temperature
- Whole mushrooms: 7-10 days in the fridge
- Zucchini: 4-5 days in the fridge
Tips and Tricks to Make Produce Last Longer
Ensure your fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer by storing them properly. Instead of tossing spoiled produce and throwing money down the drain, try these tips and tricks to help your produce last longer:
- Clean it properly. Most of the fruits and vegetables you buy at the store require a good cleaning to ensure they’re sanitary and safe to eat. Plus, cleaning fresh fruits and veggies will keep them fresher in most cases. To clean most fruits and vegetables, mix one cup of vinegar to four cups of water and add it to a spray bottle. Shake to combine. Place your fruit or vegetables in a colander in the sink. Spray with the mixture, and allow it to sit on the produce for a few minutes. Rinse off the mixture thoroughly with water.
- Dry your washed produce. Tossing your produce in the fridge while damp can make fresh greens soggy and delicate fruit, like berries, grow mold. After rinsing, be sure to always pat dry and store in an open container in the fridge.
- Use produce bags. Store fruits and vegetables in breathable produce bags. These specialty bags will allow your fruits and vegetables to absorb moisture and air. When kept in their regular sealed bags, produce will break down quicker.
- Put grapes on a paper towel. Grapes can break down and grow mold quickly. Remove them from their container. Wash them using the same instructions as above and gently pat dry. Place the grapes on a paper towel and place them in the fridge in an open container.
- Don’t wash your mushrooms. Mushrooms will mold too quickly if washed. Instead, store them in a sealed container in the fridge.
- Separate bananas. Separate each banana from the bunch. This slows down the ripening process, which gives more life to your bananas.
- Remove berries from containers. Berries are extremely delicate and need a little extra care. Remove them from their original container. Wash and pat dry. Place in a single layer on a paper towel in an open container. Store in the fridge.
Decoding Produce Labels
Did you know that those sticky little fruit and vegetable labels can actually reveal a lot of information to you about the produce you want to buy? Once you understand the codes, you can take a look at that little label and be able to tell whether the produce is organic, was treated with pesticides, or is even genetically modified.
If you see a four-digit code, that means the produce was conventionally grown. According to WonderHowTo.com, these codes typically begin with a 3 or 4. When you see this code like this, it means your produce may have been grown with the presence of pesticides. This doesn’t mean you should automatically stay away, however. According to the USDA, the pesticide levels in conventionally grown produce are so low they aren’t harmful. All you need to do is properly wash your produce (as described above) to remove any residue as well as bacteria and germs.
If your produce has a label with five digits that begins with an 8, then it has been genetically modified. These foods are also known as GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. Though it sounds unsettling, GMOs are completely safe. The FDA ensures that all GMOs are completely safe for human and animal consumption.
On the other hand, five-digit codes that begin with a 9 mean that the fruit is organic. This means the produce was grown in accordance with USDA organic standards. The USDA National Organic Program has a long list of requirements that growers have to meet to have their fruits and vegetables labeled organic. The guidelines farmers must meet are quite extensive and meeting the requirements isn’t an easy task, so you know that any produce that’s labeled organic has really gone above and beyond.
These tiny labels can tell you a lot about the details of the produce you’re buying, such as the commodity, variety, size, botanical name, and more. Just enter the code into this PLU codes search tool. The first number in a five-digit code is just an identifier, marking it as either GMO or organic, so you just need to enter the last four digits in the codes search tool.
Seasonal Produce Picks
Seasonal food is produce that is purchased and consumed closer to the time it’s harvested. Seasonal produce is fresher, tastier, and more nutritious than food consumed out of season. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often fresher, as they don’t require long-distance transport. Also, unlike out of season produce, which is harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed across the country, produce picked at the peak of ripeness is also full of flavor and more nutritious for you. Plus, eating local food supports the local economy, and it’s actually less expensive than produce shipped long distances.
To help you pick the freshest produce throughout the year, here are seasonal produce picks, according to the USDA (assuming you live in the continental United States):
- Brussels Sprouts
- Sweet Potatoes
- Winter Squash
- Romaine Lettuce
- Honeydew Melon
- Collard Greens
- Sweet Potatoes
- Winter Squash
More Information on Buying Produce
If you’re looking for more information on how to purchase the best, freshest, ripest produce, check out these articles and reports:
- Produce Storage Cheat Sheet
- Seasonal Produce Guide
- Seasonality and Dietary Requirements
- 10 Tips: Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits
- 8 Secret Tips for Buying the Best Produce at the Supermarket
- 15 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Buying Produce
- How to Buy Produce
- Seasonal Food Guide
And don’t forget to check out our fresh produce options to have the finest, freshest produce delivered straight to your door. Our Create Your Own Produce Box, for example, allows you to pick your very favorite locally sourced fruits and vegetables.