One of my biggest pet peeves is throwing away produce because it spoiled before I had a chance to use it. I typically like to make a meal plan for the week so I can put together a complete list of ingredients I will need and only make one grocery run. One way I try to keep from wasting food is to make a more cohesive meal plan and grocery list (a sort of capsule grocery list). For instance, if I plan on making fresh pasta sauce and buy a bunch of basil then I will also plan on making pesto that week. The main goal is to use all of the ingredients I buy instead of buying an item for one dish and the rest going to waste. However, even with this shopping and cooking strategy there are still times that I have extra produce I don’t use.
In my household we tend to make most of our meals from scratch. If you do the same then you know that requires a lot more fresh produce. Certain fruits like bananas and strawberries seem to go bad much faster than others. And leafy greens, like spinach or parsley, always start to wilt after a few days. I got tired of racing against the clock to use my produce so I researched the best way to store fresh produce so they will last longer. Here are some tips and tricks I found.
With the produce listed below you will notice that some items needs to be stored alone. That’s because of ethylene gas. Many fruits, including bananas, avocados, apples, and tomatoes put off ethylene gas which can speed up the decay of other produce stored with them. If you have ever heard of wrapping plastic wrap around the stems of bananas so they will lasts longer that is why it works; because it stops them from releasing ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is also why you shouldn’t store potatoes and onions together. Potatoes produce ethylene gas and onions are more sensitive to it.
If you have fruits that are not yet ripe enough to eat they can be left at room temperature for a few days. The warmer temperature allows them to continue ripening where as the cooler temperature of the refrigerator will slow down that process. With some fruits, like avocados, you can store them in a paper bag overnight to accelerate ripening. This works because the ethylene gas, which encourages ripening, becomes more concentrated.
I was a bit surprised to find that I wasn’t storing all of my produce correctly. I would usually put fruits in one crisper drawer, vegetables in another and assume that was good. Once I started washing my produce first I really started to notice them lasting longer – this is especially true for strawberries. I opted to make my own produce rinse using white vinegar and water but you can also buy one that is pre-made. I recently came across these produce storage containers that are specifically made to prolong the shelf life of fresh produce so I’m anxious to give them a test run and see how it goes.
In general, you can think of saving your produce with this mindset. If the produce tends to get wet and slimy, do things that take out the moisture, like adding a dry paper towel to its container. If the produce tends to get wilted and limp, do things to add moisture, like wrapping it in a wet towel or keeping it in water. Many times I feel like I’m tending to a garden in my refrigerator, with changing out water or towels, but it’s actually an enjoyable routine that really works.
- Bananas – If you store your bananas in a fruit bowl along with other fruits this can cause the bananas and the other fruits to ripen faster. That’s because bananas produce ethylene gas that aids in ripening, sometimes a good thing, sometimes not so much. Instead, try storing them above the other fruits. Wrap the stems of the bunch with a bit of plastic wrap to slow down the ripening time. And avoid putting bananas in a closed area, like a bag or cabinet, if trying to halt ripening.
- Strawberries – As soon as you get home from the grocery store wash your strawberries. The best way I have found is to put the berries in a bowl and use 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water. Let the berries soak for a couple of minutes then drain, rinse, and dry before placing in a well-vented container and storing in the refrigerator. When I do this my strawberries stay fresh for about 10 or more days.
- Pineapple – If uncut and not yet ripe, a pineapple can be stored at room temperature. Once it has ripened, cut the leafy part off of the top and store in the refrigerator upside down.
- Apples – Apples can be stored at room temperature, but to get a longer shelf life it is best to store apples alone in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator with the humidity set to high or covered with a damp paper towel.
- Lemons/Limes – When stored in a resealable bag in the refrigerator citrus fruits, like lemons and limes, can last four times longer. Left out in your fridge, you will notice the rind will dry out in a week or so.
- Tomatoes – DO NOT keep your tomatoes stored in a plastic bag, they will ripen and spoil much faster. Tomatoes should actually be stored at room temperature. For the best flavor, just keep them away from too much sunlight. If they are not attached to the stem place them stem part down on the counter.
- Avocados – If your avocado is unripe, place it in a paper bag and leave it on the counter for a couple of days to help it ripen faster. Once ripened store avocados in the refrigerator. If you wish to save half an avocado brush olive oil or lime juice on it to keep it from turning brown then wrap tightly with plastic wrap or invest in these reusable beeswax wraps.
- Onions/Garlic – Place in a paper bag with holes and store them in a dark dry place like the pantry. DO NOT store in the same bag as potatoes.
- Potatoes – Place in a paper bag and store them in a dark dry place like the pantry. You can also place apples with the potatoes to keep them from sprouting but DO NOT store potatoes and onions together, as noted above.
- Mushrooms – To help prevent moisture it is best to store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator.
- Asparagus – Trim off the bottom of the asparagus, about 1/4 inch, then place the ends of the asparagus stalks in a jar filled with 1 inch of water. Remember to change the water every one or two days.
- Celery – Celery will last longer if it is wrapped in foil and stored in the refrigerator. That helps lock in the moisture for crisp stalks.
- Green beans – Wrap green beans in a dry paper towel and place in a resealable bag or airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
- Chives/green onions – Wrap chives in a damp paper towel and place in a resealable bag in the refrigerator. Re-wet the towel every couple days.
- Carrots – To extend the life of carrots for up to a month cut the greens off the tops and store in a covered container filled with water. Try to change the water every one or two days.
Herbs and Leafy Greens:
- Thyme/Rosemary – Wrap in a damp paper towel and place in a resealable bag or container in the refrigerator.
- Cilantro/Parsley – Place ends in a jar filled with about an inch of water and cover the tops with a plastic bag before storing in the refrigerator. Remember to change the water every one or two days.
- Basil – Place ends in a jar filled with about one inch of water and store on the counter. Remember to change the water every one or two days.
- Spinach/Salad mix – Store leafy greens in the refrigerator in an airtight container with a dry paper towel on top to help soak up any moisture. Replace the towel if it gets too wet.
How many produce items were you already storing correctly? Before I started researching the proper ways to store my produce, I was only aware of three of the tricks listed above. I have been washing my strawberries with a vinegar and water rinse for a couple of years now, and my mom taught me the trick for ripening an avocado in a paper bag when I was a kid. What I did not know is that method also works on several other produce items as well. For me, I am most excited to see the bunches of cilantro and parsley I bought are lasting longer. I have always noticed leafy greens seem to have the shortest window of freshness but I no longer have to worry about that as much. What tip are you most excited to try?
If you still find your produce going bad before your have a chance to use them check out this post for tips on how to preserve your produce for later use.