Fruit and vegetables begin losing nutritional value as soon as it’s harvested from the plant. This happens as a result of oxidation or exposure to oxygen. Oxidation is one of three common factors responsible for decreasing the nutritional value in foods; with the others being heat and water-both of which are typically encountered during the cooking process. Vitamins C, E, and A are particularly vulnerable to oxidation during storage. Produce can lose as much as 25% of these nutrients in about 5-6 days (Gil, 2006).
Most fruit and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator with temperatures below 40° F (USDA, 2012). Visible signs of aging can occur such as wilting or discoloration after 4-5 days in storage. These are not only indicators that the produce has lost its peak of flavor, but also some of its nutritional properties as well. Cutting off the affected area doesn’t improve nutritional value, therefore it’s best to simply use or freeze produce within a few days of purchase to ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck. Another option to consider is purchasing a combination of fresh and frozen produce. The fresh produce should include items that you are certain to use within a few days of purchase; while the frozen items can be reserved for future meals. This will allow a bit more flexibility in meal planning and potentially eliminate wasted produce.
Maria I. Gil, et al., Quality Changes and Nutrient Retention in Fresh-Cut versus Whole Fruits during Storage, Journal of Agriculture Food Chemistry, 54 (12), 4284 -4296, 2006.
United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA), Food Facts Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely 2012, http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299.htm