5 Food Storage Mistakes You're Probably Making (and How to Fix Them)

Never waste fresh groceries again! A professional chef shares some of the worst food storage mistakes and what you should be doing instead. 

You planned a week's worth of yummy meals, spent an hour at the market, and just lugged 15-plus heavy bags of groceries into the house. Don't let all that hard work go to waste! We've all been there: You stock the fridge with fresh produce only to find half of it is wilted, bruised or overripe in a matter of days. Sure, there's a limited shelf life to fresh fruit and veggies, but the culprit could also be improper storage.

We tapped NYC chef and self-proclaimed veggie connoisseur, Daphne Cheng, to tell us what we're doing wrong and how to make things right. 

The No-No: Storing half-used onions or garlic with other produce

You know how your breath smells after you've eaten onions? Well, you don't want that happening after you bite into a pear or Brussels sprouts, do you? Cheng explains that nearby produce can actually take on a slight taste of items with strong odor and flavor like cut onions and partial garlic cloves if left too close to one another.

The Fix: Whole onion and garlic should be kept at room temperature, and place that half-used red onion in a tightly sealed plastic bag away from other produce—i.e. not trapped in a crisper drawer with leafy greens and peppers.

The No-No: Letting apples chill with your peaches

Apples (and various other fruits like nectarines and cantaloupe) sneakily emit ethylene gas, a natural hormone that allows produce to ripen after it's been harvested. Ethylene hastens the ripening process, so next thing you know those brand-new raspberries, bananas, or sweet potatoes are bruised, mushy and overripe.

The Fix: Simply store apples away from other produce, or in a grocery bag. Try the top shelf — perfect for grabbing breakfast when you're headed out the door.

The No-No: Leaving fresh herbs on the counter in the package

Search for "how to store fresh herbs" and you'll find dozens of conflicting answers, but there are a couple things you should never do. Don't leave cut herbs on the counter in their small plastic container—moisture and heat can cause wilting and decay. And don't just toss a bundle of fresh herbs in the fridge either.

Fix: For herbs with stems still attached, Cheng says you can place them in a jar or cup with water as you would flowers in a vase. If the room's temperature is moderate, they can be left out. Otherwise, it's into the fridge. For cut herbs without stems, you should wrap them in a damp paper towel and place in the fridge inside a sealed plastic bag.

The No-No: Storing tomatoes in the fridge

Storing tomatoes in the fridge can quickly cause them to become mealy and lose their flavor, says Cheng.

The Fix (and genius hack!): Keep juicy, red tomatoes fresher, longer by leaving them stem-side down on the counter. Moisture escapes from their stem, so this helps to keep it contained.

The No-No: Potatoes are in the fridge and avocados are on the counter

Putting a potato in the refrigerator quickens the spud's starch-to-sugar conversion, says Cheng, which is essentially pressing fast-forward on its shelf life. Avocados will ripen quickly if left on a counter (even more so in a paper bag), and a wasted avocado just upsets everyone.

The Fix: Potatoes should also be kept in a cool, dark place. If stored properly, they can last up to two weeks! And it's the opposite problem for avocados: Unless you are prepared to make a bowl of guac suitable for a party of 12, move avocados to the fridge after they reach that perfect consistency. Then, take them out one by one, and enjoy avocado toast for breakfast the next day.

10 Tips For a Super-Organized Pantry

See All Photos

When a built-in pantry isn't available, a standalone unit makes great use of wall space.

Photo By: ClosetMaid

Shelf separators and pantry cubes let you group items by type.

Set an energetic mood in your kitchen with a lively color in your pantry.

Wire baskets can be used for easy access to potatoes and other long-lasting produce.

Pullout wire organizers grant easy access to food and dishes.

An attractive, well-organized pantry space can serve double duty as both storage and a display area.

Adjustable shelves allow easy storage for food products of different heights.

Storage containers help you group smaller food products together.

Don't let door space go to waste. Attach hanging shelves for extra storage.

Pullout shelving grants easier access to items stored on the back of the shelf.

Pullout shelves on lower cabinets help you access items that would otherwise be harder to reach.

Shelves can also be attached to cabinet doors for maximum storage efficiency.

Optimize your larger pantry with a custom storage system.

Photo By: Wellborn

Vertical shelves are great for storing baking sheets.

Adjustable wire shelving is an inexpensive product for customizing your pantry space.

Photo By: Closetmaid

Pullout cabinet drawers work equally well in pantries or in the main kitchen area.

Bonus Tip: Unless you want your morning cup of joe to taste like last night's leftovers, stop storing coffee in the fridge. The grounds absorb odors and flavors of other food, says Cheng. Instead, keep coffee in an airtight, dark container at room temperature. 

Meet the Team

Get to know the talented writers and editors of HGTV's show and design blog. 

Go Behind the Blog

From the Archives

Take a look back at our past posts, from entertaining and design trends to up-and-coming HGTV shows.  

Read All Our Past Posts