We've all been there: We unpack our groceries in a flurry, tossing all our fruits and vegetables into the crisper drawer, and then we forget about them -- until we notice a funky smell or a puddle of goo in the back of the refrigerator. So we toss the spoiled, rotten produce. But do this often enough, and it starts to add up: wasted produce and wasted money tossed into the garbage can. But if we take a moment to unpack and store produce properly, we can reduce, if not eliminate, the waste, saving time, money and annoyance.
In order to keep produce fresh, remember the clich? about not mixing apples and oranges. Take this clich? seriously because some fruits and vegetables, such as avocados, stone fruit and tomatoes produce ethylene gas as they ripen, and other fruits and vegetables, such as apples, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and greens, are sensitive to ethylene. It causes them to ripen prematurely. Now, this can be useful if you need to ripen a hard avocado or peach (store it in a paper bag with another ethylene producer), but if you're trying to protect produce, separation is key: Use different drawers in your refrigerator and different areas on the counter or pantry.
Furthermore, some produce should be stored in the refrigerator, while others should be stored on a countertop or in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or a cabinet. Store squash, potatoes, onions and tomatoes in a pantry or cabinet. Although some people are tempted to refrigerate tomatoes because of their delicate nature, this will give them a mealy texture and kill flavor. Citrus fruits can also be stored in a cool, dark place for a week. Beyond that time, transfer them to the fridge, storing them in a perforated plastic bag.
Next, gather the produce you will store on the countertop. Create two areas for unripe stone fruit, melons, avocados, peppers and bananas, again separating them based on ethylene. Once ripened, you can move these items to the fridge and buy yourself a few extra days before eating them. Although this will cause a banana's peel to turn brown, it will not change the flavor of the banana itself.
Finally, pretty much everything else can be tossed into the refrigerator immediately, so long as ethylene producers are separated or stored in a perforated plastic bag. Remove any ties or rubber bands, but avoid cutting or tearing your produce. Cell damage jump-starts the aging process. Give your greens a rinse and then dry them. Wrap them in a clean paper towel and store them in a plastic bag with a bit of air.
But delicate produce, such as berries and herbs, require special treatment. Unlike greens, berries should not be washed until immediately before eating. Added moisture can cause mold to grow on berries. And to the extent you can, store your berries in a single layer to prevent bruising, which can accelerate spoilage. Regarding herbs, store them upright in a glass with a bit of water, or wrap a damp paper towel around the stems. In other words, treat your herbs like a bouquet of flowers. An exception to this herb rule is basil. Avoid exposing basil to cold or moisture by keeping it on a countertop.
If these rules seem like a bit too much to remember, many websites provide printable lists of what to store where. There are also some other options that serve as insurance against spoilage. First, ethylene absorbers come in packs of one to three small pods or pucks that absorb ethylene. The second product is special produce bags that limit ethylene release, preventing it from flowing as freely throughout the crisper drawer. But to save money, instead of buying special bags, puncture plastic storage bags with a fork a few times. The third option is to simply buy less produce.
Keeping your produce fresh protects not only your wallet, but also your waistline. Tossing produce in the trash not only wastes money, but it also subconsciously links produce with images of rot, making it less likely that you will eat fruits and vegetables. So however you keep your produce fresh, these tips will keep your family healthy and wealthy.