The week of Feb 21, 2022, Primal Kitchen is featuring ways to cut down on food waste. Find food waste facts, waste reduction tips, exclusive recipes, and resources from the Farmlink Project by signing up here. All week, MDA will be featuring posts that can help you get the most bang for your grocery budget and minimize food waste to boot!
You love eating vegetables. When you hit the supermarket or farmer’s market, you enthusiastically fill your basket with all the colors of the rainbow, grabbing up vegetables, fruit, and fresh herbs with abandon. But what you can’t figure out is how to prevent your fridge full of fresh, healthy produce from turning into a vegetable drawer full of mush!
Globally, people waste an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food each year between food that doesn’t get harvested in time and food that spoils during processing, in transit to stores, on store shelves, and in our refrigerators. A 2020 survey of almost 40,000 Americans found that they spend more than $1,300 each year on food that’s ultimately wasted—more than the average American spends on gas, clothing, property taxes, or household repairs and upkeep. This comes at not only a great economic cost but also an environmental one, as resources are poured into growing and transporting food that never gets eaten.
You can help reduce food waste by making sure that the food you buy doesn’t go bad before you get a chance to eat it. Here’s everything you need to know to preserve produce.
How to Select Produce
Fresh, healthy produce will last longest.
When selecting produce, make every attempt to select items that are near ripening, that have no bruises or brown spots, and that do not appear wilted. Selecting “ugly” produce—the lumpy, scarred, asymmetrical pieces—can actually help prevent food waste, as they are the most likely to end up in the trash bin. Just make sure they aren’t actually damaged or rotting if you can help it. If you bring any damaged items home, be sure to either eat them immediately or, if you intend to store them, remove the damaged parts to prevent the spread of microbes that can speed deterioration.
Separate Different Types of Produce
For ideal freshness, store fruits and vegetables separately.
Although fruits and vegetables are often lumped under the same “produce” umbrella, the reality is they don’t really get along that well, especially when it comes to ethylene. Fruits are generally ethylene producers, while vegetables are ethylene sensitive. That means vegetables tend to spoil even more quickly in the company of fruits.
There are a few exceptions to the rule:
- Asparagus and tomatoes, for example, are two vegetables (well, sort of) that actually produce ethylene,.
- Watermelon is something of a cross-over artist and is one fruit that is actually very ethylene sensitive.
As a rule of thumb, though, it’s best to keep your fruits and vegetables separated at all times for longevity.
Ideal Temperature and Humidity for Produce
Aim for the optimum temperature to preserve fruits and vegetables.
Every fruit and vegetable has an optimum temperature that can promote ripening while also staving off deterioration. Broccoli, lettuce and mushrooms, for example, need to be stored in a refrigerator, preferably at a temperature of between 34 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, avocados, eggplants, onions, and squash are best left at room temperature.
Which refrigerator drawer is best for storing different produce?
Fruits need a dry drawer, but vegetables need a cold, crisp drawer.
Since fruits should be kept in a dry environment, and they should not be washed prior to refrigeration (or, if you’re going to wash them, make sure to dry them thoroughly).
Vegetables, on the other hand, like some moisture. “Moist” is not the same as “wet,” though. Delicate leafy greens are especially susceptible to rotting if they are too wet. Most vegetables will keep best when stored in the crisper drawers at the bottom of the fridge, wrapped loosely in kitchen towels and/or storage bags. Not only are crispers the coldest spot in the fridge—what with that whole law of physics, cold air sinks thing—but the drawers can also be set to preserve humidity. Need motivation to stock up on more produce? The crisper drawers actually work best when they are two-thirds full.
When storing leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce, it is best to wash and dry the leaves, wrap them in paper towels and then store them in an airtight container. To prevent browning due to too much moisture, replace the paper towels every other day or so.
Freezing Produce for Preservation
Do you have too much produce that will go bad before you get the chance to eat it? Freezing is a great option for preserving the nutrient content of fresh produce.
However, in order to freeze vegetables successfully, you must first blanch them, a process whereby you partially cook them for a few minutes – either in boiling water or in a microwave – and then prepare them for freezing. For best results, blanched produce should be frozen within two hours.
If you’d like to learn more about freezing produce, we’ll have a post coming up later this week!
Do you have any special tricks to handle an abundance of rapidly decomposing produce? Let us know in the comments.