We’ve all been there: you have big plans to use that avocado or tomato or cucumber for dinner, but when you go to take it out of the refrigerator or the cupboard, it has gone bad. Not only are your dinner plans ruined, but you’re out the money that you spent on that piece of produce. It is frustrating, to say the least.
If this has happened to you, know that you are not alone. Americans throw away one-fourth of all produce that they purchase, which adds up to more than $40 billion worth of tossed food in the U.S. every year. The most common reason for discarding produce is that it has gone bad.
There are many negative effects of this high rate of food waste – financial, environmental and more. One additional consequence is to our health – we don’t eat 25 percent of the healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that we buy! And when your primary dinner ingredient has gone bad, you may be forced to order takeout or serve a processed freezer meal which contains fewer nutrients (and more sodium and other unhealthy ingredients) than your planned meal.
The good news, however, is that there are ways to cut down on your food waste by properly storing fruits and vegetables. We’ll lay out some tips below, but we’d also love to hear your food storage strategies. Please feel free to share them in the comments!
First, buy and store produce properly. Make the produce department the last stop on your grocery trip, and get your produce back into refrigeration as soon as you get home. Move older produce to the top of the crisper drawer or fruit bowl so you eat it first. Store refrigerated fruits and vegetables in bags that allow them to breathe – if produce is stored in airtight bags, it will spoil faster.
Second, store your produce in its proper place. Certain fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes, bananas, avocado, winter squash and stone fruit are sensitive to the cold, so don’t store them in the refrigerator. (You can put them in the fridge to preserve them once they’ve ripened, but they should be kept out until that point.)
Also, keep certain kinds of produce apart. Some fruits and vegetables give off the natural gas ethylene, which speeds up the ripening and, ultimately, decay of other produce. Ethylene producers include bananas, avocados, apricots, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes. Keep those items away from fruits and vegetables that are sensitive to ethylene, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy greens.
There are products on the market that absorb ethylene, so if you are dealing with constant produce spoilage, it may be a good idea to keep one of those gadgets in your refrigerator drawer.
Third, keep produce in its complete, untouched state. When you do anything – even something as small as removing a stem – to change the structure of a vegetable or piece of fruit, microorganisms can begin to grow on your produce.
Finally, if something is about to go bad, just toss it in the freezer! Blanch vegetables, make a big pot of soup or marinara or applesauce, peel and chop bananas for banana bread or smoothies, and enjoy your produce later.