Tips for storing fruit without refrigeration -- whether on a boat or in a house or RV

Storing Fruit without Refrigeration

Even though we had refrigeration aboard Que Tal, I rarely stored any fruit in it.  There just wasn’t enough room, and many fruits are relatively easy to store otherwise.

Just as is the case with storing veggies without refrigeration, the first step is selecting the right fruit.

And the same “rules” apply:

  • Buy never-refrigerated fruit. Luckily, it’s generally easier to find fruit that has never been refrigerated than veggies, particularly outside the US.  Even in supermarkets in Mexico, fruit often was not refrigerated.  And even better were the local fruit shops and farmer’s markets — almost none of their goods were refrigerated.
  • Be very picky. Pick over individual items and don’t accept any that are bruised, rotten, overripe, soft, or moldy.  Any swarms of fruit flies are a big no-no, as they’re a sign that the fruit is beginning to spoil.
  • Don’t buy too much. If you buy more than can comfortably fit in your storage areas, your fruit will get bruised as you try to fit the extra in.  Be sure to allow room for padding and air circulation.
  • Transport the fruit gently. If you’re carrying them in a backpack, bring along some towels to pad the fruit and don’t cram it in.  If you’re going by cab, make sure nothing will fall on it and they won’t roll around.  Squashed or bruised fruit won’t last long!

Washing the Fruit

As with veggies, some cruisers prefer not to wash the fruit until they are ready to use it.  I like to rinse it in a mild bleach solution, to make sure that any bugs are removed — fruit seems to harbor more bugs than veggies do.

As I rinse the fruit, I really go over it, particularly with small fruit like grapes and strawberries.  Any that are bad get thrown away immediately, and ones that are “fully ripe” but still edible are set aside for the next meal.

After washing, lay fruit out to dry, preferably out of direct sunlight, and don’t store them until they are totally dry.

Storage Basics

Storage areas need to be well-ventilated and dry.  Unlike veggies, fruits don’t really need to be kept in the dark.  Bins need to be something that can be easily washed — plastic works the best as you can use bleach on it and it dries quickly.  Wire baskets and gear hammocks cause “pressure points” that will bruise, so these need to be well padded.  That said, gear hammocks are my favorite place for storing fruit if they can be hung in locations where they won’t bump into anything in rough seas, but will just swing unencumbered.

Additionally, the bins and other storage containers need to be located where you can see into them to check on the fruit daily.  If you see something that’s bruised, put it on the dinner menu.  Anything that you missed and is now rotting or molding needs to be thrown out immediately — and the container wiped out with bleach.  Should you ever see fruit flies, they mean that something has gone bad — keep searching until you find it!

I don’t store non-refrigerated produce of any sort in plastic bags — they simply trap any moisture (whether from humidity, condensation or left over from washing) and the food rots.  I’ve had equally bad luck with the “green bags.”

Fruit-Specific Information

Citrus fruits:  Wrap individually in aluminum foil and do not store near apples (will cause the apples to rot).  It’s very important to make sure that fruit is 100% dry before wrapping in foil.  Will last several weeks to one month.  If left unwrapped, will last one week to 10 days on average.  Minor mold on the skin can be wiped off with a mild bleach solution.

Bananas:  We were never able to keep bananas longer than 2 days — they are just way to susceptible to bruising.  We’ve been told that if you can find green bananas (we never could), they will last about a week — and they’ll all ripen at once.

Buying a stalk of 100 or so green bananas and tying a bag around it to allow just one round to be exposed – and ripen – at a time sounds like a wonderful idea for a Pacific passage.  However, the boats that I’ve known to try this have ended up with them all ripening at once — not to mention the bugs that came out of the stalk.  I don’t recommend trying this.

Avocados: These are hard to keep from bruising.  The best way that I found to store them was to put them in a sock, then in a gear hammock – otherwise the strings on the gear hammock will bruise them. Even if purchased rock-hard, avocados won’t last much longer than a week to 10 days in tropical heat; if you buy them ripe, they’ll only last a couple of days.

Mangoes:  Buy them in varying stages of ripeness from ripe (to eat right now) to rock hard (to eat in 10 days to 2 weeks).  As the rock hard ones ripen, they’ll ooze a bit of sugary juice, so store them in their own bin with towels that can be easily washed.

Apples:  We never found good apples while we were cruising, unfortunately.  However, apples will last up to a month if you can protect them from bruising.  Don’t store with citrus (will cause the apples to over-ripen) or bananas (will cause the bananas to over-ripen).  If they are not chilled, apples won’t have as much “crunch.”

Pineapple:  Will last up to 2 weeks if purchased green.  Pad well against bruising and keep upright.

Strawberries:  Will only last 2 days at most — only one if fully ripe when purchased.  My suggestion:  buy and eat the same day!

Grapes:  Will usually last at least 2, often as many as 4 days or sometimes more.  After that, they may start to dry out (on their way to becoming raisins), but still won’t mold for several more days — sometimes never.  I continue to eat them as long as they don’t rot or mold — but I try not to buy more than I think we’ll eat in 4 days.  The older, drier ones are great used in coleslaw or tuna salad!

If you’ve learned other “tricks” for storing fruits — ways to keep it longer OR things not to do — please share your insights with the rest of us in the comments!

  • Lee (s/v Afroessa)
    Posted at 26 June 2011 Reply

    Hi Carolyn, I just ran across your blog. Hope you and Dave are doing well. Regarding keeping bananas I have found they last much longer if I separate them before bagging them in the store. Inveribly if I have not done this the stems are ripped out of the bananas before they get aboard.
    Storing apples and potatoes together in a dark well ventilated place seems to preserve both for a longer period of time. A burlap bag works well – the one I use is a Basmati Rice bag from Costco.
    Dan and I were thinking about the two of you as we were prepping for a hurricane threat. Remembering the time when you helped us out and got Dan up the mast to untangle the jib halyard. Thanks again! You are missed.
    L & D
    PS: Nobody explains hurricane prep like you do!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 June 2011 Reply

      Hi Lee!

      Great to hear from you! Thanks for adding your tips, too — didn’t know that about the bananas!

      Good luck with the hurricanes — even though we’re living ashore, I still watch the forecasts. Glad the hurricane prep articles help!


      • Nathan
        Posted at 06 April 2016 Reply

        Bananas accelerate ripening in response to the gas released by other ripening fruits, especially other bananas. Storing them in a well ventilated area and covering those you want to ripen with a plastic bag will result in the covered bananas ripening first. Adding another ripe fruit, such as an apple or orange, before covering seems to help.

        It sounds like those trying to cover the entire stalk got things backward.

  • Minne
    Posted at 15 August 2011 Reply

    I’m planning to try something called “bluapple” it’s supposed to absorb and transform ethylene gas from ripening fruit, combined with an airtight container of course. is their website. I will also do some research and see if I cannot substitute it with my own chemical concoction when time and opportunity permits. It seems to be only natriumpermanganate and zeolite.

  • Katie
    Posted at 24 December 2011 Reply

    Hi I just read your article and would like to add a tip on strawberries. Strawberries are nice to have on board although, as you said they do go back rather quickly. One tip (I grew up on picking berries in the field) roll your berries gently when sorting or washing and only handle them by the tops, the oils in our hands cause the flesh of the berry to rot and mold they bruise very easily. Proper handling should buy you at least 5-7 days with your berries.

  • joe
    Posted at 09 October 2012 Reply

    You could freeze ripe bananas for making smoothies. Better than stuffing yourself or dumping them.

  • Krissy
    Posted at 26 March 2013 Reply

    Agree with Lee about the bananas. Seperating them and storing the Away from each other will slow down the ripening as it starts at the stems.

  • Monica McKaskle
    Posted at 27 April 2013 Reply

    Green apples last longer (2X?) than red. My son prefers the red so when I can find them, we only buy Gala apples…they stay crunchy and don’t get mealy. But as you said, store them away from the citrus or they’re done for.

  • Erin Jackson on Facebook
    Posted at 27 June 2013 Reply

    I was actually reading this last night in the book :). Trying the tomatoes tip this week

  • Edd rauch
    Posted at 27 June 2013 Reply

    A small amount of bleach on a paper towel and a vacuum sealed jar will extend the freshness of strawberries for up to a couple of weeks. but they will rot within hours of opening.

  • Robert Winia
    Posted at 29 September 2013 Reply

    Just found you site. Nice Reading.
    I am sailing in the Mediterranean. Just a remark concerning pineapple storage: store UPSIDE DOWN. The leafs are where the new plant will start from. To avoid the leaves from sipping juices from the fruit, just turn it upside down. You will see this on all markets in Africa, they must be doing this for centuries.

  • Jan Beagle
    Posted at 21 April 2015 Reply

    I discovered a trick for keeping strawberries up to a week. After I purchase them, I discard any that have started to spoil and spread the rest out on a paper towel until the are dry. (I don’t wash the berries until I use them but they are usually a bit damp in the container.) Then, using the plastic container they come in, I put a piece of paper towel covering the bottom. I place berries on top until they fill up the space without overlapping. Then, another small piece of paper towel on top of them followed by a layer of strawberries on top and another paper towel. Continue layering to the top of the container with one last piece of paper towel covering that layer. Usually we finish eating them before they go bad, but I’ve had them at least a week.

  • Lynn
    Posted at 21 April 2015 Reply

    Mangos, and other some other fruit, can be kept longer if stored with some citrus fruits; it slows down the ripening process.
    If you have a large bunch of bananas, storing them upside down is supposed to slow the ripening (according to an Island friend) and helps to have them come ripe at different times (banana/oat cookies and banana pancakes are other uses for over ripe). As for plantains, I have recipes for every level of ripeness, from green to black.
    Conversely, papaya ripening can be sped up by scoring it or slicing some of the stem off to let the milk/sap run.

  • Christy Ottavio
    Posted at 21 April 2015 Reply


  • The Sea and Sailors
    Posted at 22 April 2015 Reply

    It is not a good idea…

  • Connie Watkins Weaver
    Posted at 04 November 2015 Reply

    Fair winds! ⛵️☀️

  • Beth Coates
    Posted at 01 July 2017 Reply

    To keep strawberries fresh, leave the green leaves on. Soak/wash in a 5 to 1 water and vinegar solution. Dry thoroughly, then place on paper towel in a sealed container in refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week to 10 days depending on ripeness.

  • Gena Alker
    Posted at 01 July 2017 Reply

    Christine Maltese Brian J. Ward

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