How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & VegetablesImage by Vitalij Sova#howtostoreproduce #howtoproperlystoreproduce #howtokeepproducefresh #howtokeepfruitfresh #makeproducelastlonger #sustainablejungle
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How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Heather Seely

Few things last forever—and produce definitely isn’t one of them. If you’re like most people, around two-thirds of your food waste comes from spoiled foods. Hence today’s pressing (er, freshing?) question: how to store produce in a way that maximizes freshness and minimizes food waste?

Of the 20,000 types of fruits and vegetables, we only eat about 20 of them which, while not great for crop diversity and an overall sustainable food system, does make it a lot easier to store our fickle fruit friends.

And no, you don’t need to buy anything special. As cute as that specialized silicone avocado sleeve is, a cotton bag or cloth is really all you need.

1. General Tips To Make Produce Last Longer

How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & VegetablesImage by Renphoto#howtostoreproduce #howtoproperlystoreproduce #howtokeepproducefresh #howtokeepfruitfresh #makeproducelastlonger #sustainablejungle
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Like other living beings (ahem, humans), many types of produce are extremely finicky about their environment. Something as simple as exposure to sunlight or extra moisture could mean all the difference between a plump juicy peach and a disgusting fuzzy mess. 

Before we get into more specific solutions for how to properly store produce, let’s get a lay of the leafy greens land with some helpful general rules of thumb (er, plum):

1. Stay cool as a cucumber.

Did you know that, just like us, all produces breathes (AKA respirates), which is what ultimately leads them to change flavors and eventually deterioriate in form>

While some produce respirates slowly (like potatoes and citrus fruits), others have higher rates of respiration (like broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach). Some degree of respiration is unavoidable. It will take place even after the produce is picked—that is, until its nutrient supplies are depleted, which is when the fruit or vegetable starts to rot—but cooler temperatures slow it down significantly.

2. It’s all about airflow.

Another factor that influences respiration is the level of oxygen available. We need oxygen to breathe, and so do our fruits and veggies.

We’ll spare you the science lesson, but as pretty as that bowl of fruit looks, it’s generally better to give the produce a little space to breathe. Never seal produce in an airtight bag unless you’re freezing it.

3. Quicker is better. 

Only buy produce you’re sure you’ll eat and eat quickly. Besides not allowing it to go bad, the quicker you can bite into a fruit or a vegetable after it’s been harvested, the tastier and more nutritious it’ll be. While storing certain produce in a refrigerator will extend its longevity, it will reduce its sugar content and dehydrate it.

4. Be careful with blemishes.

Minor scratches and bruising is fine (in fact, we encourage you to shop for imperfect produce, as it often goes unsold in stores and gets thrown away), but some flaws in the produce may allow microorganisms to get in, not only changing the flavor but leading to increased rates of decomposition. If you buy imperfect produce, eat it quickly.

5. Know where to draw the line between edible and ‘ew’.

Browning on a banana or apple may not taste so great, but it definitely doesn’t impact its safety—in fact, brown bananas are sweeter and make for delicious banana bread—but it could be a precursor to other issues. Bruising may create an opportunity for microbes to grow so check for mold and bad smells, and remove the damaged part if necessary.

Just like bruising, when vegetables develop a soft rot, they welcome bacteria into their tissues. You likely won’t want to eat these areas, but you can remove the soft rot and safely eat the rest. Unfortunately, fruit with soft rot provides a breeding ground for yeast and mold, which can be toxic. In this case, the whole fruit should be composted. If you spot mold in a pack of produce (like berries), remove the moldy pieces so that it doesn’t spread to the rest. 

Leafy greens that become, well, less green might not look great from an aesthetic standpoint but are totally okay to eat safely. Wilting and yellowing are fine, but offputting smells and slime means it’s time to toss.

Green and sprouted potatoes contain toxins that won’t be destroyed during cooking, meaning it’s best to cut off the green areas and compost these, too. Or plant them in your ecological garden to grow fresh potatoes!

2. how to keep produce fresh in The fridge

How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Image by Monkey Business Images #howtostoreproduce #howtoproperlystoreproduce #howtokeepproducefresh #howtokeepfruitfresh #makeproducelastlonger #sustainablejungle
Image by Monkey Business Images

We’ve all been there… at the grocery store, groping the whole bin for an avocado that will be perfect for avocado toast tomorrow morning. Except we wake up the next day and the avocado is stinky, spotted, and squishy. This is where a refrigerator comes in and some types of produce should go there directly:

  • Ripe fruits (like those mentioned above)
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Berries
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery 
  • Cherries
  • Citrus (lemons, lime, grapefruit, oranges)
  • Cranberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant (once ripe)
  • Greens
  • Herbs
  • Leeks
  • Some mushrooms (remove from any plastic or styrofoam containers and place in a paper bag instead)
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Pineapple
  • Rhubarb
  • Root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, sunchokes, parsnips, rutabagas)
  • Summer squash (yellow, zucchini, pattypan, etc.)
  • Watermelon (once cut)

While cool temperatures in the refrigerator will slow the ripening process, it won’t stop it completely, meaning you will only get an additional two or three days out of that perfectly ripe avocado (so don’t forget about it!).

Many of these items should be places in some kind of open container in the fridge, like any one of these plastic-free food storage containers if you’re interestedin learning how to store vegetables in the fridge without plastic.

3. how to keep produce fresh On The Counter

Just call us potatoes because we, like some types of produce, like dark and cool conditions—such as bananas, morel mushrooms, eggplant (until ripe), potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkins.

Don’t confuse cool with cold, however, and avoid putting them in the refrigerator. Instead, find a dry area that isn’t exposed to natural light (i.e. in a pantry), but still has plenty of ventilation. Since warm air rises, the lower cabinets, shelves, and drawers of your kitchen or pantry are a good place to clear space for such types of produce.

Other types of produce still prefer the dark but do better at room temperature (like on the countertop), at least until they reach ripeness, at which point some should be moved to the refrigerator. These include:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Whole melons
  • Avocados (until ripe)
  • Mangoes (until ripe)
  • Kiwis (until ripe)
  • Plums (until ripe)
  • Peaches (until ripe)
  • Pears (until ripe)
  • Oranges (until ripe)
  • Nectarines (until ripe)

4. Managing Moisture

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All told, the best way to keep produce fresh is to manage moisture levels in its environment. Generally speaking, moisture = good, wet = bad.

While most types of produce can’t tolerate wet conditions, some vegetables will last a little bit longer when exposed to some moisture—like leafy greens and herbs, asparagus, carrots, and spring onions—especially considering that a refrigerator tends to dehydrate. For these, you can either:

1. Bunch together, trim the ends, and wrap in a damp cloth or reusable paper towel. Some items, like celery, prefer to have ends wrapped in a damp cloth, before being wrapped again in aluminum foil. Since there is no non-single-use substitute for foil, try to reuse the aluminum as long as possible before recycling. Then place the wrapped produce in a container or ziploc bag alternative (left open to avoid TOO much moisture buildup) in your refridgerator’s produce drawer set to a more humid setting, if your refridgerator has such an option.

    2. Submerge the ends in a jar of water and store in the door of the fridge. This is especially suitable for spring onions and leafy greens and herbs, who love to drink water but with leafy parts that will rot if kept wet.

    For all other types of dry-loving fruits and veggies, you can still wrap them in a cloth, but instead ensure it’s a dry one to help remove excess moisture. Placing such items in mesh or moisture absorbing cotton produce bags can also help, but avoid storing in plastic at all costs.

    Items like berries should be placed in a flat container lined with a cloth at the bottom to absorb extra moisture. 

      5. Beware Of Gassy Produce

      How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Image by Sustainable Jungle #howtostoreproduce #howtoproperlystoreproduce #howtokeepproducefresh #howtokeepfruitfresh #makeproducelastlonger #sustainablejungle
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      Some types of produce are known for being very gassy. No, they don’t fart, but they do emit ethylene, a colorless and odorless gas that speeds up ripening and if even used commercially to do just that. You can use it to your advantage to, say, ripen up that rock hard nectarine by placing it in a brown paper bag.

      But what can be helpful can also be harmful, and some types of vegetables are extremely sensitive to ethylene. A key rule for how to store different produce together is to keep ethylene emitting produce away from ethylene sensitive produce. For example, while they both like darker cave-like conditions, don’t place your ethylene-sensitive potatoes nearby ethylene-rich onions.

      Here are some types of produce known for emitting ethylene:

      • Apples
      • Apricots
      • Avocados
      • Bananas (only when ripe)
      • Blueberries
      • Cranberries
      • Figs
      • Green onions
      • Guavas
      • Grapes
      • Kiwi
      • Mango
      • Melons (only when uncut)
      • Nectarines
      • Paypayas
      • Passion fruit
      • Peaches
      • Pears
      • Persimmons
      • Plums
      • Potatoes
      • Prunes
      • Quince
      • Tomatoes
      • Zucchini

      And those that are ethylene sensitive:

      • Asparagus
      • Bananas (when unripe)
      • Blackberries
      • Broccoli
      • Brussels sprouts
      • Cabbage
      • Carrots
      • Cauliflower
      • Cucumbers
      • Eggplant
      • Endive
      • Garlic
      • Green beans
      • Kale
      • Leafy greens
      • Leeks
      • Lettuce
      • Okra
      • Onions
      • Parsley
      • Peas
      • Peppers
      • Raspberries
      • Spinach
      • Squash
      • Strawberries
      • Sweet potatoes
      • Swiss chard
      • Watermelon

      6. Storing Produce Long Term

      How To Store Produce: Fighting Food Waste With Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Image by Sustainable Jungle #howtostoreproduce #howtoproperlystoreproduce #howtokeepproducefresh #howtokeepfruitfresh #makeproducelastlonger #sustainablejungle
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      If you really want to make produce last longer (like, way longer), get into the art of food preservation. While most of these methods won’t keep fruit fresh and in its original form, per se, it will at least help fruit keep for months or even years.

      The freezer is one of the most simple and effective tools we have. Simply let fruit reach peak ripeness, then cut into pieces and place a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, you can place the pieces of fruit in a freezer friendly bag (like a reusable silicone freezer bag). For most vegetables, follow the same steps with a quick blanching session before putting them in their storage bag.

      Frozen produce will last for months, but if you want your greens to last even longer, you can also try the following preservation techniques:

      • Pickling (works for almost any vegetable)
      • Canning (works best for fruits and some vegetables)
      • Drying (works for all herbs and vegetables and most fruits)
      • Fermenting (works best for low-moisture veggies)

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