Purchasing and storing vegetables

If possible, buy small quantities of fresh vegetables frequently. Vegetables that are fresh taste better.

Handle all vegetables carefully because:

  • Roughly handled vegetables deteriorate more quickly - bruising increases respiration and moisture loss, resulting in flavour changes and a shorter shelf life.
  • Broken or damaged skin lets micro-organisms into the vegetable and it will deteriorate faster.

Separate storage for some vegetables and fruits, delays ripening.

Ethylene is a naturally produced gas, given off by fruits and vegetables in varying amounts. It is useful in speeding up ripening but after ripening, it leads to decay. Different vegetables respond differently to ethylene.

Most vegetables produce ethylene in low, medium or high amounts. Some are mildly sensitive to ethylene and others are extremely sensitive. Therefore, it makes sense to store ethylene producing and ethylene sensitive produce separately.

Refrigeration slows chemical deterioration especially when ethylene producers are stored separately from those that are sensitive to ethylene. Many colour changes associated with ageing and ripening can also be delayed and slowed by refrigeration.

Ethylene producing: Avocados and tomatoes produce ethylene, as well as many fruits including: apples, tomatoes, passionfruit, stone fruit (e.g. apricots, plums), bananas, pawpaw, kiwifruit, pears, melons.

Ethylene sensitive: Asian greens, globe artichokes, asparagus, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, courgettes, cucumbers, eggplant, kūmara, lettuce, parsley, peas, potatoes, rhubarb, silverbeet, spinach, sweet corn.

Tips for storing vegetables

  • Handle with care. Bad handling accelerates deterioration. Most vegetables should be handled as if they are as fragile as an egg.
  • Store vegetables correctly. Storage conditions greatly affect shelf life. Vegetables should be transferred to the correct storage conditions as soon as possible after purchase and transit.
  • Use the refrigerator correctly. Air must be able to circulate around the vegetables; hot spots will develop if the refrigerator is over-packed.
  • Keep all storage areas clean. Decaying or rotting vegetables produce high amounts of ethylene.
  • Store ethylene producing and ethylene sensitive produce separately if practical.

Go to the A-Z of vegetables pages for more information on storing specific vegetables.