Fun fact: Your crisper drawers actually have a purpose.

I’m sure plenty of you are guilty of tossing vegetables, fruits, cheese, beer, and whatever else in those deep, ambiguous drawers at the bottom of your refrigerator. For me, it’s definitely a get in where you fit in approach—I cram my produce into whatever available crevice I can find. This is all fine and dandy until you notice that disturbing brown liquid coating the bottom of the drawer because of a produce bag bearing some unidentifiable, mushy rotten produce item. This gross byproduct of severely over-ripened food is a clear indicator that the refrigerator is due for a serious deep clean. However, it also suggests that your crisper drawers might not have been utilized properly. Understanding how these pockets of your fridge function is key to giving your fresh fruits and veggies the longest shelf life possible.

What to the crisper drawers do?

The crisper drawers help prolong the freshness of your produce by controlling the the humidity levels. What many people don’t realize is that each drawer works independently of each other, with one being better suited for vegetables and the other for fruits.

Somewhere on or around your crisper drawers, there will typically be a dial ranging from low to high. This low-tech function opens and closes a small window in the drawer that controls the airflow. The low setting opens the window and allows air to flow through, creating a low-humidity atmosphere; meanwhile, the high setting closes the window reducing airflow to create a high-humidity atmosphere. In the case you don’t have a toggle to control humidity settings, the default setting is typically high-humidity (because there is no way to control the airflow). Alternatively, in some refrigerators, the drawers will simply be labeled as “fruits” and “vegetables” respectively, based on the pre-set humidity level for each.

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What produce is best kept in low humidity?

Certain fruits and vegetables release ethylene, a naturally occurring gas that promotes ripening. Being that the goal is to keep your produce fresh, this ethylene needs a way to escape to prevent premature ripening. (That’s why the hack for speeding up the ripening process for bananas or avocados is to place them in a closed paper bag, or other closed container, trapping the ethylene gas inside.)

Besides bananas and avocados, examples of other ethylene-releasing produce that you should store in your “low-humidity” drawer include: apples, apricots, blueberries, cantaloupes, cranberries, figs, grapes, honeydew, kiwi, mangoes, peaches, pears, plantains, and plums. If for some reason you’re storing them in the fridge (which, we wouldn’t necessarily advise) potatoes and tomatoes fit in this category as well. Because this list is comprised mostly of fruits, if your drawers are labeled, these produce items would intuitively belong in the “fruits” drawer.

What produce is best kept in high humidity?

Fruits and vegetables that are particularly sensitive to ethylene should be stored in the “high-humidity” drawer in order to keep the away from the produce items that release the gas. Examples of these fruits and vegetables include: asparagus, blackberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplants, onions, peppers, raspberries, squash, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and watermelon. Ethylene-sensitive produce, be it a fruit or vegetable, should be stored in the drawer labeled “vegetables.”

This closed environment is also great for produce that wilts easily or dries out quickly. The high humidity-drawer is a space that retains moisture well for leafy greens such as spinach, kale, various lettuce varieties, and Swiss chard. Since herbs (like thyme, rosemary, parsley, and dill) tend to dry out quickly without moisture, they should also be stored in this drawer. Wrapping your herbs in a damp paper towel and storing them in a zip-top plastic bag is another way to preserve their freshness.