This staple in your produce drawer may not last as long as you think.

By Kelsey Ogletree
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Crisp, refreshing cucumber is a mainstay in recipes like salads, cocktails and pasta, and also an excellent addition to a crudité plate or even as a vessel for scooping up mouthfuls of homemade hummus. However, there's more to this humble piece of produce than meets the eye: It turns out, cucumbers are quite the sensitive little veggie (that's technically a fruit, classified as such in the botany world for its hard outer rind and no internal divisions.)

No matter the variety — whether it's slicing, English, Persian, Japanese or mini snacking — cucumbers are subject to what's called "chilling injury," says Trevor Suslow, vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association. This means that when they're stored for more than a few days at typical home refrigeration temperatures (37°F to 40°F), cucumbers will develop soft spots, sunken areas, or sliminess.

Slicing cucumbers, a basic variety you'd find in any supermarket, are often coated with a thin layer of an approved food wax or fruit luster that helps reduce water loss and adds a few days of "keeping quality," Suslow explains. "Therefore, a few days in the refrigerator is fine for the hardier slicing cucumbers and essential for the Persian and very thin skinned mini-snacking cucumbers." When stored in the refrigerator for more than five days, cucumbers will often turn more mushy than appetizing. (The USDA's FoodKeeper app, an excellent resource with information on how long food and beverages can safely be stored, also recommends cucumbers be consumed within four to six days for optimum freshness and quality.)

You may also find some supermarket cucumbers packaged in a thin polyethylene film, which is perforated to help with the natural shrinking process of the produce and allow for some breathability, according to experts at Sunset Grown Produce. Studies show that a naked cucumber will shrink as much as three percent due to water loss, so the film acts as both an insulator to protect against cold injury, and slows dehydration and spoilage.

If you're buying cucumbers from a farmer's market or harvesting them from your own garden, the situation is a little different. These kinds of cucumbers will likely stay around acceptable keeping quality for about 10 days in the fridge, says Suslow. Leave them in there until you plan to use them, however, as they'll be subject to chilling injury if they're removed from the fridge and then put back inside.

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