Proper Handling and Storage of Fresh Produce
All fresh-cut produce is highly perishable and should be handled accordingly. Improper handling shortens shelf life and has a negative effect on product quality. Follow these simple guidelines to ensure your fresh-cut produce stays fresh and delicious:
- Practice First-In/First-Out inventory procedures. Maintain accurate inventory and usage records. Rotate stock after each delivery to ensure the oldest product is used first.
- Handle fresh-cut produce properly. Remove all air and reseal bags or trays after opening. Product is freshest when used within 10-12 hours of opening the bag or tray. Avoid dropping or mishandling boxes. Product will bruise and damage easily. Damaged packaging can compromise the integrity and shelf life of the produce.
- Prevent cross-contamination. Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood and other allergens. Avoid bare hand contact with fresh-cut produce. Wear gloves or use tongs or other utensils. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before putting on gloves or handling utensils.
- Maintain the cold chain. Refrigerate produce immediately upon delivery. Store products between 34-40°F in the coldest part of the cooler, typically in the back of the cooler on the lower shelves. Dispose of any un-refrigerated produce within 4 hours of removal from refrigerated storage. Do not store produce directly on ice or at a temperature below freezing.
Proper storage of whole produce helps to maintain freshness and flavor. Ideal storage conditions vary by commodity based on two primary factors:
- Temperature sensitivity. Some fruits and vegetables should be stored only at room temperature, because refrigerator temperatures would cause damage. Others require refrigeration in order to maintain freshness.
- Ethylene sensitivity. Some fruits and vegetables are ready to eat at harvest. Other varieties ripen after harvesting, because they naturally produce a gas called ethylene. Some fruits and vegetables are ethylene-sensitive, and exposure to ethylene-producing items cause deterioration. Do not store ethylene-producing and ethylene-sensitive varieties together.
The following chart list proper storage guidelines for a variety of fruits and vegetables. Once produce has been cut, the fresh-cut guidelines above apply.
All Fresh-Cut Fruits
All Fresh-Cut Vegetables
Greens (Mustard, Collard, etc)**
Summer Squashes (Zucchini, Yellow, etc.)
|Ripen at Room Temperature, Then Move to Refrigerated Storage||
|Store at Room Temperature||
Winter Squash (Butternut, Acorn, etc.)**
*Ethylene Producer **Ethylene Sensitive Source: Canadian Produce Marketing Association