The University of Arizona conducted a study that analyzed families and their eating habits and found that, on an average, over 470 pounds of food was tossed out (14% of all food brought home), at an annual cost of $600! One fourth of all produce Americans buy is thrown out because it has gone bad, which sums up nationally to around $43 billions dollars worth of food per year!
If your produce goes bad after just a few days, it may be because you are storing it improperly. Some fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas (a ripening agent), that speeds the ripening of ethylene-sensitive foods (and thus leaving them to rot at a much higher rate). If some of your produce has mold on it, this mold can proliferate and rapidly spread to anything nearby. If you do have spoiled produce, make sure you toss it out immediately to prevent spoilage of nearby food items.
Lengthen shelf life
Putting fruit and vegetables in cooler areas (like the fridge) slows down the respiration process and helps make (most) produce last longer. In warmer temperatures, produce respires at a much faster rate, making the ripening process much faster.
You do want to slow down the rate of respiration, however, you do not want to stop it altogether. Sticking produce in airtight plastic bags in the fridge is one of the worst things you can do to fruit and vegetables. You will suffocate them and speed up the rate of decay (and thus leave you throwing out tonnes of produce)
If you recall earlier when I mentioned ethylene gas (a natural ripening agent released from fruit and vegetables), this can lead to premature decay. If you put greens like kale, collards or spinach in the same bin as nectarines, peaches or apples, you will find your greens turning yellow and limp in just a few days.
Separate produce that emits ethylene from produce that is ethylene-sensitive:
- High ethylene-gas emitting produce: apples, nectarines, apricots, papayas, avocados, passion fruit, cantaloupe, peahces, cherimoyas and pears
- Keep these foods away from high ethylene-gas emitting produce: bananas (ripe), broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and other leafy greens, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and watermelon
- Refrigerate apples, apricots, canteloupe, figs, and honeydew
- Don’t refrigerate avocados, unripe bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes
Eat more perishable items first.
For example, eat your fragile raspberries sooner than you would your apples. Fruit that ripens faster, eat first, and fruit that takes longer to ripen eat last.
- Green beans
- Mustard greens
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
Eat Third (these last for quite a while):
- Winter squash
Some fruit and vegetables should never be refrigerated, or should not be refrigerated until fully ripe!
For example, keep tomatoes FAR AWAY from the fridge! They turn mealy and flavourless if refrigerated. Keep tomatoes at room temperature to ripen, and only store tomatoes in the fridge if they have been cut.
Melons should not be refrigerated until fully ripe. If you put them in the fridge when they are still hard, they will turn rubbery and flavourless. The only exception here is watermelon, which tastes wonderful refrigerated (it gets a little more crunchy I find)
Winter squashes, onion, garlic and potatoes should not be kept in the fridge either, and should be kept in a cool dark place.
Use perforated plastic bags to allow for air circulation (this also prevents drying out of produce)
Fresh herbs do well when you store them in water. Use mason jars, and fill them with a little bit of water – you can use these mason jars to store parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, marjoram, basil, rosemary, tarragon, mint and chives.
For cruciferous greens like kale, chard, and collards, remove the tough stems and cut the leaves into ribbons. Store them in a perforated plastic bag with damp paper towel to keep them fresh. Likewise, you can also store your greens in little water containers to keep the leaves crisp and prevent wilting (just put the base of your romaine, kale, chard, collards, or other leafy greens in a mason jar with a little bit of water)
To prevent root vegetables from wilting, cut off their tops before refrigerating.
Use paper towel in your produce bags to absorb extra moisture (this is good for leafy vegetables and herbs, especially if there is not enough room in your fridge to use the mason jar & water idea)
Never soak your mushrooms in water, and do not wash them in water before storing them. Mushrooms should be left alone – water spoils their flavour. If they are muddy, remove the mud just before you eat them with a dry towel (the mud should just crumble off – and a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone, especially if you are consuming organic produce)