How long can you keep fresh food?

Fruit and veg

Australia wastes more than 7.3 million tonnes of food each year.

If you are having trouble processing that, it’s the equivalent of 300kgs of food per person, per year. Yikes.

Wasting food not only contributes to landfill and wasted money, but it also leads to a significant amount of carbon emissions and wasted resources.

One simple habit to cut down on food waste is to use up your fruit and vegetables before they their ‘shelf life’ is up, but that is as varied as fruit and vegetables itself. However there are a few guidelines to help you get the best out of your fresh produce.

One of the biggest factors that affect the shelf life of fruits and vegetables is the type of produce itself, as well as the time spent in the supply chain, including storage and transport, from the moment it was picked.

Picked produce

Some families of fruits and vegetables naturally last longer, such as potatoes, apples, carrots, garlic, lemons, and oranges. When stored correctly, these varieties can be enjoyed for up to a month or even longer.

Others, such as corn and berries will only last a couple of days. In fact, corn is best eaten within hours of being picked as it harvested it steadily converts sugars into starches, giving it that chalky mouthfeel.

Most fruits found in supermarkets are harvested before they have fully ripened. While this is desirable for fruits such bananas and avocados, for the majority of fruits, it is not.

They are then stored at very low temperatures with low oxygen levels to halt the ripening process. However, once they are stocked on supermarket shelves at room temperature, the ripening process occurs rapidly.

Many fruits are also sprayed with a gas called ethylene when they are harvested. This gas delays the natural ripening process, allowing supermarkets to transport and store the fruit before putting it on the shelves. That’s why ripening happens so quickly once you bring the produce home.

Apples4 days1 month
Avocados3 days3 days
Bananas7 days if green, 2-4 days if ripeDo not refrigerate
BerriesNot recommended2-3 days
Citrus1-2 weeks2 weeks +
Grapes3-5 daysNot recommended
Kiwi fruit2-3 days to ripen1 week once ripe
Melons 2-3 days1 week
Peaches1 day to ripen3 days once ripe
Pears 2 days to ripen2 weeks once ripe
Pineapple2 days (whole pineapple)1 week once cut
StrawberriesNot recommended3 days if covered
Watermelon2-3 days6-8 days

AsparagusNot recommended3-5 days
BeansNot recommended3-6 days
BroccoliNot recommended5-7 days
CabbageNot recommended1-2 months
CarrotsNot recommended1-2 months
CapsicumNot recommended1-2 weeks
CauliflowerNot recommended1-2 weeks
CeleryNot recommended3-4 weeks
CornNot recommended3 days
CucumberNot recommended10-12 days
EggplantsNot recommended10-12 days
LettuceNot recommended10-12 days
MushroomsNot recommended10-12 days
Onions1-3 months1-3 months
PeasNot recommended5-6 days
Potatoes2-4 monthsNot recommended
Tomatoes2-5 weeks to ripen5-7 days

It’s also crucial to be aware of the shelf life and expiry date of the food in your fridge.

The expiry date is the date listed by the manufacturer that indicates how long a product will remain good if unopened.

For highly perishable foods such as meat and dairy products, this is called a ‘use-by date’, while foods that stay better in storage have a ‘best before’ date.

Shelf life, on the other hand, refers to the length of time that products can be stored without becoming unfit for consumption.

Factors such as microbiological changes, moisture and water vapour transfer, chemical or biochemical changes, food-packaging interaction, and domestic storage all influence the shelf life of food.

Do you have trouble keeping food fresh? What are your best tips? Why not share them in the comments section below?

Also read: Eight myths about mince you shouldn’t believe

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

One Comment

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  1. If you are concerned about food waste and saving money, you must try The Swag bag!
    I discovered these several years ago and they are just magic! An Aussie invention, they are fabric bags designed to store fresh produce in your fridge – fresher for much longer! I keep recommending them to friends!
    You simply dampen them before use: “The Swag protects your fruit & veggies by preserving the water within the middle layer from drying out too quickly.”

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