There’s nothing worse than getting ready to prepare a delicious meal only to discover that the lettuce, kale, carrots or cauliflower that we need for our favorite recipe have long since gone south. Not only are our dinner plans soured, but now we’re likely upset because we’ve wasted what was perfectly good, perhaps even organic or locally-grown food and the money that we spent on that produce has gone down the drain. No matter how many times it’s happened, and how many times we’ve resolved to do better, we just can’t seem to keep some fruits and vegetables fresh.
You’re not alone! We all do this. Unless you’re compulsively organized, you probably know this frustrating scenario. Between our hectic work and family schedules and the myriad demands on our attention, it’s just plain hard to stay on top of it all. We are only human, after all.
5 Tips to Keep Fruits and Vegetables Fresh
So how do we do better? Below you’ll find five helpful tips for making sure that your fresh produce lasts as long as possible, and that you get to it in time.
1. Good Shopping Habits
One cause of wasted produce can be simply buying too much at once. While sale items can be enticing, it’s no bargain if the produce ends up being thrown out. Resist the urge to buy fresh produce in volume quantities unless you’re preparing for guests or a party. You may need to shop more often is the truth. Try to locate a small neighborhood grocery or specialty shop nearby for added convenience. The prices may be a bit higher, but you’ll end up saving in the long run if you use more of what you purchase.
2. Staying Organized
OK, in order to use your produce while it’s still fresh, you first have to remember that it’s there! It’s so easy to buy some fruits or veggies, stick them in the crisper drawer, and forget all about them until it’s too late. One way to make sure you track what you have is to purchase a mini magnetic erasable dry erase board and stick that to your refrigerator door. (Most office supply shops carry these.) Use this whiteboard exclusively for tracking produce. Whenever you purchase fruits or vegetables, add them to the list along with the date by which you wish to consume them. When the produce has been used, simply erase from the list. Alternatively, if you have room in your fridge, you can pull your produce out of the crisper and put it on the shelves. You forfeit the humidity control but you gain visibility. If you’re going to do this, you can mark your ideal “use by” date on each item with small strips of masking tape in addition to using a whiteboard.
3. Ethylene Gas Precautions
Ethylene is a gas released by some fruits and vegetables as they ripen, and it can cause certain other fruits and vegetables to get overripe, soft or mealy. The trick is to keep the ethylene “producers” away from the ethylene “sensitives.” In alphabetical order, the ethylene producers that you need to be aware of are apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes and honeydew melons, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums and finally, tomatoes. The ethylene sensitives are apples, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, lettuce and other greens, potatoes, summer squash and watermelon. If you want to extend the life of your produce, do not store any of the producers in close proximity to the sensitives.
4. Storing Fruit
- While it may seem like a time-saver to wash fruit before refrigerating it, this is in general not a good idea. Rinsing or washing fruit adds extra moisture and can make fruit decay more quickly.
- Citrus fruits can be kept on the counter but refrigerating them will extend their lifespan, so why not do that?
- When it comes to bananas, peaches, mangoes, melons and other fruits that ripen off the tree or the vine, they should be refrigerated once ripe, but not while they are still in the ripening process. (Bananas will turn brown in the refrigerator but this won’t affect the quality of the fruit inside, it’s purely an aesthetic concern.)
5. Storing Vegetables
- Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and gourds can be stored in a cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator. The unused portions of tomatoes can be refrigerated once cut open, with the exposed interior portion covered.
- Carrots go in the fridge in plastic bags, making sure that the carrots are completely enclosed by the plastic and not exposed directly to the air.
- Broccoli can likewise be stored in plastic bags, or, alternatively, you can take an empty quart yogurt or other plastic container and fill with water. Submerge the stalks of the broccoli in cold water and cover the broccoli tops with a plastic bag (just be careful not to knock the container of water over in the fridge.)
- Cauliflower, as well as parsnips, turnips, and other root vegetables, can be stored loosely in a plastic bag with a paper towel to soak up extra moisture.
- Salad greens and herbs can be stored in plastic bags sealed with a good bit of air inside.
- To store lettuce, cut the end off and separate the leaves. Submerge in a large bowl filled with cold water and then dry off partially by spinning in a salad spinner or shaking excess water off manually. Next, cover the damp leaves, in the salad spinner or a colander, and cover with paper towels. Store in the fridge, being sure to re-wet the paper towels if they dry out. Make sure the leaves are just damp, not completely wet or soggy – you don’t want to induce rotting from excess moisture.
A Healthy Body and a Healthy Wallet
With all the effort and resources that go into food production and purchasing, we all want to keep waste to a minimum. I hope this article gave you some useful tips for keeping fruits and vegetables fresher longer. And if you ever find yourself with excess that you know you won’t be able to use in time – well, that’s what neighbors are for, of course!