My full produce haul as I prepared to work from home.
Rachel Askinasi/Insider
  • I went food shopping as I prepared to socially distance myself in the wake of the novel coronavirus spread.
  • While friends and family were reporting empty shelves, I found the produce sections to still be stocked.
  • If you're looking to stock up on produce, here are the different fresh foods that I always buy with the intention of using them weeks after purchase.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.  

As I prepared to work from home starting earlier this month, I began to think about the whole food situation. Friends, family members, and strangers on the internet were all sharing photos of completely empty shelves at grocery stores. Naturally, I started to panic.

After taking a walk through a few different grocery stores myself, I figured out that a lot of those empty shelves were in both the dry and the frozen food sections. I visited Whole Foods, Key Food, Italian specialty store Eataly, and neighbourhood markets and found that the produce sections were still as green and robust as ever.

I started thinking about my typical shopping habits and how there are certain fruits and veggies I buy that tend to last longer in my refrigerator than others. I've had carrots and apples in my fridge for at least two weeks, and a head of cauliflower always surprises me with its lifespan.

See also: Covid-19 update: SA now has 85 known cases, with local transmission in GP, KZN, and WC

I checked in with food safety expert Tamika Sims to make sure it's actually safe to keep certain foods for as long as I do, and she said it all comes down to what I've discovered is her golden rule: Use your senses! If it looks like it's the right colour, has no unusual odor, and retained its typical texture, it's OK to consume.

If you're still unsure after examining the food yourself, the US Department of Agriculture, Cornell University, and the Food Marketing Institute collectively put together a food-specific guide with suggestions on how long you can store produce.

So, here's my list of long-lasting, fresh groceries that you can stock up on during your next supermarket shop - whether that's in person or via delivery service.


Cauliflower is a go-to for me.

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I really do try my best to limit the amount of single-use plastic in my life. Every time I buy a wrapped head of cauliflower, though, I'm amazed at how long it lasts.

I'll often cut pieces off as needed and leave the rest attached to the original piece of the stalk in my fridge. This allows me to use as much or as little as I want at a time, and get several different meals out of the one cauliflower head.

I can have a side of roasted or mashed cauliflower, I can slice a thick cut for a steak, or I can break off a few pieces to add to soup.


I buy large, multi-coloured carrots.

I've also found that the thicker the carrot, the longer it lasts. I've been able to keep carrots in my fridge for around two weeks, give or take a few days.

I prefer the long root carrots over baby carrots because I think they last longer and, in my opinion, they're more versatile.

Leave the skin on or peel it off, slice the carrots long-ways in half, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other spices or herbs your heart desires and stick them in the oven to roast. You can also peel and cut them into carrot sticks for dipping or snacking.


Eggplant is extremely versatile.

I've found that smaller eggplants last longer than larger ones. And unless I'm planning on using it that night - which is not the point of this here shopping list - I make sure to get the firmest one of the bunch.

Once I cut a piece of the eggplant, I'll wrap the portion I want to save in tin foil, plastic wrap, or beeswax wrap if I have it and put it back in the fridge. As a warning, I've found that once I cut the vegetable, it does start to go bad quicker than before I cut it.

Eggplant sautés well when diced or cut into half circles, it bakes well in the oven with just olive oil or some tomato sauce, and it adds a meatiness to sandwiches when sliced into long, wide ribbons.


Buying a head of cabbage is new for me, but I love it.

I never used to buy cabbage because I wasn't sure how to make the most of it, but I knew it would last a while. I've had my head of cabbage for five days now and it's still going strong.

You can do a lot with cabbage: Steam the leaves and stuff them with rice or meat, shred it and toss with an oil and vinegar mixture to create a slaw, or use it to add some nice crunch to a salad.


Broccoli makes for a great and filling side dish.

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Broccoli is on the more short-lived side of this list, but I've still been able to keep it for a little more than a week.

This cruciferous veggie is super easy to work with, in my opinion. For a minimal-effort side dish, cut the florets - or the parts that look like little trees - sprinkle them with olive oil and salt, and stick them in the oven to roast. You can also steam them with water.


Potatoes last for months.

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When I'm shopping for a stock-able starch, I reach for sweet potatoes, Yukon gold, or russet potatoes.

I usually store them on my countertop, and I've used potatoes up to a month after purchasing them, as long as they haven't turned soft.

I typically bake whole sweet potatoes or roast them in disks with herbs. Yukon gold is my pick for boiling and mashing, and russet potatoes make wonderful home-made, oven-baked chips when sliced into thin discs, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt.


Certain alliums last for months as well.

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In my experience, out of everything on this list, alliums last the longest. I usually grab large yellow onions, red onions, and garlic whenever I'm grocery shopping.

While onions, shallots, and garlic fall into the allium family, so do leeks, scallions, and chives. The latter three go bad much sooner than the former, so I tend to stay away from those until I know I'm going to use them.

Until I've peeled and cut into an onion, shallot, or garlic clove, I keep them in a basket on my countertop. Once I cut them, I store them in the fridge.

Alliums can add much-needed flavour to almost any dish.


Brussels sprouts are great to have in the fridge.

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I've bought Brussels sprouts both on the stalk and off, and I found that they last longer on the stalk. That being said, I definitely don't have room in my small refrigerator for a stalk of sprouts, so I often choose loose.

While they don't stay as long as something like cauliflower, I've found that these little green nuggets do have a long fridge life.

I give them a feel every day to make sure they're still going strong - as long as they're firm and dry, they're good to go.

Shave them and eat them raw in a salad or crisp halves in the oven.


I try to always have squash in my kitchen.

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If the price looks good, I always try to pick up some sort of squash when I go to the grocery store.

I've found that any squash with a hard exterior can last for around two months - sometimes more - uncut on my counter.

Some of my favourites are butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and delicata squash.


I've found that small tomatoes last longer than large tomatoes.

In my experience, small tomatoes like cherry and Campari last the longest.

I keep larger tomatoes outside of the fridge until I cut them, but I've historically had better luck with the smaller varieties in the fridge when it comes to longevity. I've been able to keep these for a little more than a week depending on the bunch.

They're great for salads, snacking, and they also do well when roasted in the oven.


Leafy greens are easy to use up.

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I always have spinach or kale - or both - on-hand. Whether I'm feeling lazy and need to add some fiber and greens to an otherwise simple meal (aka pasta and sauce or egg drop soup), both spinach and kale are perfect.

They can both be sautéed or added to soups easily, and you can use them both as a base for any salad.

If my kale looks like it's on its last day, I'll tear it up and throw it in the oven with some olive oil and salt and make chips that last at least another week. Looking to use up your spinach? Make an omelet, sauté it with rice, or blend it into a smoothie.

I keep these in my fridge until they've started to wilt and become slimy.


Fruits with a thick rind typically last a while in the fridge.

In my experience, it's hard to hold onto fruit for longer than a few days. Berries get fuzzy with mold at the first sight of moisture, and more tropical fruits tend to have a very short window of ripeness - for those of us who don't live in a tropical climate.

Recently, I turned to grapefruits and other citrus that have rinds. My last grapefruit was in my refrigerator for a week before I cut into it, and then another two days before I ate the second half. It was a beautiful ruby red, and I've been keeping them as a snack, breakfast, and dessert option ever since.


Apples last a while and can be cut or baked.

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I've seen apples last around two weeks in the fridge. It's important to keep feeling them out as the days go on, though, because there comes a point where they're safe to eat but not as enjoyable.

Whether I'm eating them for breakfast, as a mid-day snack with peanut butter, or baking with them, they typically hold their own for a while, and I'd say it's worth it to toss a couple in your cart next time you're doing a shop.

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