Named for the crisp sound fresh beans make when they are snapped in half, snap beans are also known as string beans or green beans. Available in supermarkets year-round, the versatile, nutrient-rich legumes are often boiled, steamed, sauteed, stir-fried or incorporated into casseroles, soups, stews and salads. Snapping green beans ahead of time is fine, but storing green beans properly is critical, whether the beans are whole or snapped and fresh or cooked. Foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly if beans are left out too long.
To Snap or Not To Snap
You can store fresh, unwashed, unsnapped green beans out of the refrigerator if the beans are in a clean, dark, well-ventilated room with a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, even unsnapped beans stay fresher if they are refrigerated as soon as possible.
Snapping green beans ahead of time is okay, but snapped green beans must be placed in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria and pathogens from entering through the broken ends. If you can't place them in the refrigerator immediately, put the beans on ice to keep them cool and then refrigerate them as soon as possible. Throw away uncooked snapped beans that remain at room temperature longer than two hours.
Storing Fresh, Uncooked Beans
Using the recommended method of storing green beans is critical for food safety. Fresh, unsnapped green beans should be put loosely into mesh bags or bowls for unrefrigerated storage. For refrigerated storage, place unsnapped beans loosely in a plastic bag and then store the bag in a vegetable crisper drawer. If that's not available, be sure to store them above raw meats so they aren't contaminated by leaking juices.
If the beans are unwashed, they will keep up to a week in the fridge, but the quality is better if you use them sooner. Washing green beans shortens the storage time, because it introduces moisture that can cause the vegetables to mold and rot. If the beans are soiled, remove surface dirt with a soft brush or paper towel before storage.
Bacteria is present everywhere, including in the air, water and food. The small amount isn't dangerous until it multiplies, which can happen if cooked food isn't refrigerated properly. To prevent growth of bacteria, throw out cooked snap beans that sit at room temperature longer than two hours, including the time the green beans were on the table.
Pathogens can begin to grow any time food isn't kept at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit the Danger Zone, where bacteria can double within 20 minutes. The green beans may look and smell fine, but the bacterial growth can still be high enough to make you sick.
Packaging Cooked Beans
Divide cooked snapped beans into airtight, leak-proof containers. If the beans are hot, they cool faster in small, flat containers. Don't wait for green beans to cool before refrigerating them. While they're safe on the counter for about two hours, the risk is in forgetting about them until many hours later.
Experts used to advise letting cooked food sit out until it cools before refrigerating it, but this is no longer the case. Today's modern refrigerators are able to cool hot foods safely. When you're ready to use the beans, heat them quickly in a pan on the stove top. Discard cooked beans after four days.