Tips for Maximizing Produce’s Freshness and Shelf Life

Harvesting your garden or visiting a farmer’s market for fresh greens, crisp carrots, and seasonal fruit is one of the highlights of late summer. Now you have to store these perishables so that they stay fresh and you can enjoy them longer and reduce food waste.

The key to keeping food longer is by selecting the freshest fruits and vegetables according to The New York Times. Leafy greens should not have any limp or yellowing leaves; that signals that they are already past their prime. Root vegetables and fruit should be blemish and spot-free. Choosing well will go a long way in how long your produce will last.

Since American’s throw away around one-quarter of the food they buy, according to a report from the National Resources Defense council, and fruits and vegetables comprise 22 percent of that. Most of that is due to improper storage. Learning the ins and outs of produce storage will go a long way in reducing that statistic.

The things that determine how and where to store fruits and vegetables is: “temperature, ethylene, and airflow—the big three,” Emily Gove, sales strategist in fresh produce at Equal Exchange told NYT.

While a lot of produce will stay fresh in your refrigerator, others, like potatoes, onions, and garlic need to be kept at room temperature. Some fruits like bananas and apples produce ethylene gas and that can hasten spoilage of ethylene-sensitive fruits and veggies so they should remain separate.

Apples and citrus fruits look great in a fruit bowl, but they will spoil much quicker if not refrigerated. Citrus will shrivel up and apples will get mealy if left on the counter. Understanding what should and should not be refrigerated is very important.

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You should store your produce dry according to Bon Appetit. Store refrigerated fruits and veggies in airtight containers, reusable silicone produce bags, or zip-lock bags in the crisper section. But, produce that is stored at room temperature should not stay in plastic bags, even the ones they come in.

Storing herbs is a bit more complicated. Remove all bands or strings and gently wash herbs and then you can use a salad spinner or clean dish towel to dry them. Then gently place the herbs in a bag and refrigerate.

While it is ok to keep fruit that needs to ripen – bananas, avocados, mango, and pineapple – at room temperature, make sure to refrigerate when fully ripe. That will buy you 2 to 3 extra days but if you can’t use it up in time, freeze it. Frozen fruit make great smoothies.

Another way to maximize your produce is to make sure you use the oldest and softest first. So just don’t put it in the fridge and forget it there. While this may sound like a lot of work, it really isn’t and the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables are well worth it.

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