I am guilty of tossing vegetables and fruits into those deep, ambiguous drawers in my refrigerator without much thought. I follow the “get in where you fit in” approach—I cram my produce into whatever available crevice.
This is fine until I find mushy rotten produce and likely, I’ll have to deep clean the drawer. However, I recently learned that this suggests that I might not have been utilizing the crisper drawers properly. Understanding how these drawers—usually two or three—function is key to giving your fresh fruits and veggies the longest shelf life possible.
High or Low: What the Settings Mean
The crisper drawers help prolong the freshness of your produce by controlling the level of humidity and airflow. Somewhere on or around each crisper drawer, you’ll find 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. The high setting closes the window reducing airflow to create a high-humidity atmosphere.
In fridges that don’t have a toggle to control the humidity setting, the default is typically high-humidity. Alternatively, in some refrigerators, the drawers are preset and labeled as “fruits” and “vegetables,” respectively, based on the ideal humidity level for each.
Each drawer works independently of the other and one setting is better suited for vegetables and the other for fruits.
Produce Best Kept in the Low-Humidity Drawer
Certain fruits and vegetables naturally release ethylene, a gas that promotes ripening. Since the goal of storing produce in the fridge is to keep it fresh for longer, this ethylene needs a way to escape the drawer to prevent premature ripening. A low-humidity setting allows air to flow in and out of the drawer, pulling out the ethylene.
(Psst! One hack for quickly ripening bananas or avocados is to place them in a closed container, trapping the ethylene gas inside.)
Besides bananas and avocados, examples of other ethylene-releasing produce that you should store in a low-humidity drawer include:
If for some reason you’re storing potatoes and tomatoes in the fridge—which we wouldn’t advise—they fit in this category as well. Because this list is comprised mostly of fruits, if your drawers are labeled, they intuitively belong in the “fruits” drawer.
Produce Best Kept in the High-Humidity Drawer
Fruits and vegetables that are particularly sensitive to ethylene should be stored in the “high-humidity” drawer to keep them away from the produce that releases the gas. Ethylene-sensitive produce, be it a fruit or vegetable, should be stored in the drawer labeled “vegetables.”
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
This closed environment is also great for produce that wilts easily or dries out quickly, like spinach, kale, lettuces, 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 bag is another way to preserve their freshness.)
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com.