This isn’t the first time we’re talking about widespread food waste, and it probably won’t be the last! The amount of food that’s thrown away before even making it onto a plate is staggering, and studies show that anywhere from a third to half of the food produced in the U.S. goes to waste. This waste occurs at several points along the farm to table journey (check out our imperfect produce blog), but today we’re going to focus on the produce we throw away at home and what we can do to make it last longer.
How many times have you had to throw away food because it has ripened, wilted, and rotted faster than you could eat it?
Although we try to be conscious about buying only what we need, some of our fruits and veggies go bad (and get added to our compost) more often than we’d like to admit. So we decided to do a little research and find new ways to properly store our produce and hopefully buy us a little more time to cook and eat it. Interestingly, so many of the tips out there include “wrap in a paper towel” or “store in a plastic bag,” so we’ve decided to greenify these storing tips and give you some examples of how you can keep your fruits and veggies fresh without turning to single-use products.
First things first: why is our food ripening so fast and what can we do to slow this down?
Ethylene is a gas produced by some fruits and vegetables that is responsible for the ripening process. Sometimes we can use this gas to our advantage (this is why you place avocados in a paper bag if you want them to ripen quicker), but often this gas leads to produce ripening faster than we would like.
So, in order to slow down the ripening process of your fruits and veggies, keep ethylene-producing foods away from ethylene-sensitive ones. Below are some examples of the two categories:
Ethylene-producing: apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
Ethylene sensitive: apples, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, potatoes, summer squash, watermelon, lettuce and other leafy greens.
Food will still ripen and eventually rot, but storing these two groups of foods in separate drawers in your fridge or in different areas of your kitchen will definitely help slow down the ripening process.
Here are other interesting food storage tips we found (that don’t include single-use products, such as paper towels and plastic bags).
Keep refrigerated (or in the freezer)
Refrigerate your berries and don’t wash until you’re ready to eat them. The moisture will cause them to mold quicker. Cherries should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Wrap your broccoli and cucumbers in a damp towel before storing in your refrigerator. If you’ve noticed the towel has dried after a couple of days, re-dampen and put it back in the fridge.
Lettuce also likes to be wrapped in a damp cloth with the added step of being kept in an airtight container.
On the flip side, arugula doesn’t like to stay wet. Wrap it in a dry towel and place it in an open container in your refrigerator.
When you get home with your pineapple, cut the green top off and store the pineapple on a plate upside down in the refrigerator.
Store cut or whole carrots, celery, and asparagus in water in the refrigerator. They will stay crisp for a few weeks, but be sure to change the water often.
Keep your mushrooms and figs in a brown paper bag in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
Store your fresh and tumeric in the freezer. They will last longer and will be easy to slice and grate.
Store at room temperature
Potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, melons, tomatoes, garlic should be kept in a cool, dry place away from the sun. Do not put them in the refrigerator because the cold will ruin their flavor.
Store at room temperature until ripened, and then move to refrigerator
Unripened bananas should be kept on the counter until they become ripe. Then you should move them to the refrigerator. The skin will turn brown at this point, but the flavor is not affected. You could even peel them and put them in the freezer, so they are ready for a delicious smoothie.
Apples, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, pears, plums, kiwis, mangoes, citrus, and avocados may be stored on the counter and then moved to the refrigerator once they’re ripe.
We obviously couldn’t list every fruit and vegetable, but if you want to check out a more comprehensive list, we recommend this link from the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California. Be aware of the produce you buy regularly and which ones you’re having to toss before you’re able to eat them. Do some research on those items and tweak your storage habits to have fresher produce longer and buy yourself some extra time so hopefully none of it has to be thrown away!