Getting The Most From Our Produce

But like the more than 31 million Americans who throw away nearly 33 million tons of food each year (equivalent to 470 pounds per household per year), I am indeed guilty. Even though I compost most of the produce that has gone past its desired ripeness, I still consider this wasteful and preventable. Part of the problem is that I get a certain craving for a type of vegetable or fruit, but I tend to prepare whatever is easiest in the moment (and what I know my children will eat). Another part of the problem is how I store the produce. Rather than take the time to consciously store certain fruits away from others or make sure the crisper drawer is set to the appropriate humidity, I tend to just randomly divide the veggies between two drawers in the refrigerator and lump most of the fruit together in one pretty bowl on the counter. Bad move. Honestly I can't stand wasting produce - it's not just a waste of money, but it's bad on the environment.

Crisper drawers are there for a reason. The purpose of the drawers is to retain humidity since many vegetables will get flabby and dry in low humidity. Since fruits and vegetables have different needs, it is best to keep fruit in one drawer (most fruit requires less humidity) and veggies in another. High humidity means the little sliding window area is completely closed. There are some fruits and vegetables that should not be refrigerated and simply belong on the countertop. I'm sure most of us have been attracted to a gorgeous bowl of crisp apples or seen a lovely bowl of citrus used as a centerpiece. When done right, this is a great idea. The key is to store them out of direct sunlight and away from other vegetables, and not bring home more than you'll eat.

There is a chemical, actually an odorless gas, called ethylene. Once fruits and vegetables have been picked, they can emit ethylene, some in greater quantities than others. Ethylene tends to cause fresh fruits and vegetables to ripen more quickly, and as a result it can also cause them to spoil. Apples are notorious ethylene producers. Placing higher ethylene producers next to other fruits is not a good idea.

Here are handy guidelines for storing fresh fruits and vegetables that I adapted from Spark People.


Ethylene producers: Apples (store in fridge (low humidity) if you know you'll have them more than a week), Apricots, Cantaloupe, Figs, Honeydew (remember keep these separate from other fruits and veggies)

Store unwashed and in a single layer: Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, leafy greens

Store unwashed in a plastic bag (with a few holes poked in it): Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green onions, lettuce, peas, radishes

Store upright, ends/tips cut off, bottom in water (like flowers in a vase), plastic bag covering: fresh herbs (except basil), asparagus

Store in a paper bag: Mushrooms, okra

Refrigerate (no special instructions): Artichokes, Beets, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Celery, Cherries, Grapes, Green beans, Lima beans, Leeks, Plums, Radishes, Spinach, Sprouts, Zucchini, Yellow squash

Store on Counter:

Ethylene producers: Apples (less than one week), tomatoes, bananas

Basil, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Ginger, Grapefruit, Jicama, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, Oranges, Papayas, Peppers, Persimmons, Pineapple, Plantains, Pomegranates, Watermelon

Ripen on Counter, Then Refrigerate:

Avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, kiwis

Store in a Cool, Dry Place:

Winter squash, potatoes, onions (away from potatoes)

Some fruits are just highly perishable; raspberries come to mind. I only buy raspberries when I know they'll be eaten within the next 48 hours. If not, I'll freeze them or bake them into something wonderful so they don't go bad.

If you are not in a situation where you can shop for produce more than once a week, you'll have to be strategic about storage and preparation in order to meet the goal of 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Aside from following the proper storage guidelines as outlined above, here are a few suggestions of what foods to eat first (assuming they are ripe when you buy them) and what can wait until the end of the week.

Eat within the first 3 days of buying:

Artichokes, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, avocados, corn, cherries, mushrooms, strawberries, raspberries, watercress, mustard greens

Eat within 5 days of purchase:

Lettuce, arugula, cucumbers, grapes, zucchini, lime, eggplant, pineapple, blueberries, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, grapefruit, leeks, lemons, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, tomatoes, watermelon

Will last over a week:

Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, winter squash

Just typing all of this out serves as an inspiration for me to head the kitchen and reorganize the produce in a way that is going to make it last longer. I'm going to choose recipes that use the veggies I don't want to lose and I'm going to enjoy seeing how I can make sure nothing goes to waste. Here's wishing you're ready to do the same.


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