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Spoiled Rotten - How to Store Fruits and Vegetables

Spoiled Rotten - How to Store Fruits and Vegetables

Perhaps you do it once a week. Perhaps only when you trace those sulfurous odors to your refrigerator's crisper drawers. But eventually, you toss out spoiled fruits and vegetables. Lots of them. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently spent a year tracking families' food-use habits. Working with the United States Department of Agriculture, they interviewed the families about their eating habits, collected their grocery receipts, watched them prepare meals, and then sifted through every last discarded lettuce leaf, slice of bread, burger and bean.

The results, reported in 2002, were pretty shocking. The families tossed out an average of 470 pounds of food per year——about 14 percent of all food brought into the home——at an annual cost of $600. Every day, they discarded more than half a pound of fruits and veggies. In total, Americans chuck a fourth of all the produce they buy, mostly because it's gone bad, says Timothy Jones, PhD, contemporary archaeologist at the University of Arizona. Nationally, we dump $43 billion worth of food every year.

Wasting produce is, well, a waste—bad for our wallets and bad for the environment. Plus, who wants to make a salad when confronted with a bin of rotting sludge? All this led us to ask: How can we keep produce fresh longer?

If your produce rots after just a few days, you might be storing incompatible fruits and veggies together. Those that give off high levels of ethylene gas——a ripening agent——will speed the decay of ethylene-sensitive foods. Keep the two separate. Use trapped ethylene to your advantage: To speed-ripen a peach, put it in a closed paper bag with a ripe banana. One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch. Mold proliferates rapidly and contaminates everything nearby, so toss any spoiled produce immediately. For longer life, keep your produce whole——don't even rip the stem out of an apple until you eat it. "As soon as you start pulling fruits and vegetables apart," says Barry Swanson, a food scientist at Washington State University, "you've broken cells, and microorganisms start to grow."

Cold-sensitive fruits and veggies lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures. Store them on the counter, not in the fridge. Once they're fully ripe, you can refrigerate them to help them last, but for best flavor, return them to room temp. Never refrigerate potatoes, onions, winter squash or garlic. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry cabinet, and they can last up to a month or more. But separate them so their flavors and smells don't migrate.

The ABCs of Fresh

"The main way to lengthen shelf life is by using cold temperatures to slow food's respiration, or 'breathing' process," explains Marita Cantwell, PhD, a postharvest specialist at the University of California, Davis. In general, the warmer the temperature, the faster the rate of respiration, which is why refrigeration is critical for most produce. But while you want to slow it down, you don't want to stop the breathing altogether. "The worst thing to do is seal fruits and vegetables in an airtight bag," says Barry Swanson, a food scientist at Washington State University. "You'll suffocate them and speed up decay."

Some fruits emit ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas that speeds ripening and can lead to the premature decay of nearby ethylene-sensitive vegetables. Put spinach or kale in the same bin as peaches or apples, and the greens will turn yellow and limp in just a couple of days. So the first trick is to separate produce that emits ethylene from produce that's sensitive to it.

REFRIGERATE THESE GAS RELEASERS:

• Apples
• Apricots
• Canteloupe
• Figs
• Honeydew

DON'T REFRIGERATE THESE GAS RELEASERS:

• Avocados
• Bananas, unripe
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Pears
• Plums
• Tomatoes

KEEP THESE AWAY FROM ALL GAS RELEASERS:

• Bananas, ripe
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Carrots
• Cauliflower
• Cucumbers
• Eggplant
• Lettuce and other leafy greens
• Parsley
• Peas
• Peppers
• Squash
• Sweet potatoes
• Watermelon

There are also some innovations to help extend the life of your fruits and veggies. Some products actually absorb ethylene and can be dropped into a crisper, such as the E.G.G. (for ethylene gas guardian), which is shaped like, you guessed it, an egg, and ExtraLife, a hockey puck-like disk. A variety of produce bags are also on the market, such as those by Evert-Fresh and BioFresh, which both absorb ethylene and create an atmosphere that inhibits respiration.

At least as important as how you store produce is when you buy it. Do all your other shopping first so that your berries and broccoli don't get warm——and respire rapidly——while you're picking up nonperishable items. Get the produce home and into the fridge as soon as possible. If you'll be making several stops between the market and kitchen, put a cooler in the car. Shop farmers' markets soon after they open: Just-harvested greens wilt rapidly once they've been in the sun for a few hours.

Even under optimal conditions, fragile raspberries will never last as long as thick-skinned oranges. Eat more perishable items first. And if you still find yourself with a bushel of ripe produce——and a business trip around the bend——improvise. Make a fruit pie, a potful of soup or a great big vat of tomato sauce, and throw it in the freezer. You'll relish your foresight when you get home.

Fastest to Slowest Spoilers: What to Eat First

You can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables with just a single weekly trip to the supermarket, with proper storage and a little planning. The key is eating the more perishable produce early on. Use this guide, right——created with the help of Marita Cantwell, PhD, postharvest specialist at the University of California, Davis——based on a Sunday shopping trip. The timing suggestions are for ready-to-eat produce, so allow extra days for ripening if you're buying, say, green bananas or not-quite-ripe pears. And remember, looks count. Appearance— —is the best clue to whether fruits and veggies are fresh to begin with.

EAT FIRST:  Sunday to Tuesday

• Artichokes
• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Basil
• Broccoli
• Cherries
• Corn
• Dill
• Green beans
• Mushrooms
• Mustard greens
• Strawberries
• Watercress

EAT NEXT: Wednesday to Friday

• Arugula
• Cucumbers
• Eggplant
• Grapes
• Lettuce
• Lime
• Mesclun
• Pineapple
• Zucchini

EAT LAST: Weekend

• Apricots
• Bell peppers
• Blueberries
• Brussels sprouts
• Cauliflower
• Grapefruit
• Leeks
• Lemons
• Mint
• Oranges
• Oregano
• Parsley
• Peaches
• Pears
• Plums
• Spinach
• Tomatoes
• Watermelon

AND BEYOND:

• Apples
• Beets
• Cabbage
• Carrots
• Celery
• Garlic
• Onions
• Potatoes
• Winter squash

Comments on this Article

Check out this nice fruit and vegetable holder from Zojila. You can also hang bananas, grapes and vine tomatoes on it. http://www.zojila.com/shop/fruit-holder-serving-tray-p-58.html

An E.G.G., Ethylene Gas Guardian, absorbs that ethylene, and preserves the freshness of your produce. You?ll be amazed at how much less food you?ll waste, and how much money you?ll save. Check this for more info http://fresh-fruits-and-veggies.com/

Great article- always wondered how to make my produce last longer. Thanks!

Stuff I didn't know.

I get my lettuce out of my garden so I'm not sure how much this would help with the pre-bagged ones but I can keep mine fresh in my fridge for a little over a week by spreading it out on a slightly damp (usually just from the wet lettuce after I wash it) kitchen towel (the cheesecloth-ey version not a fuzzy one!) and then rolling the towel up like a jellyroll or burrito and storing it in my veg crisper drawer in the fridge.

Pretty good advice. I'm always throwing some fruit and/or veggies out.

If you are having problems with mold and/or too much moisture; you can place a few paper towels in the bag to soak up the moisture. Or invest in a salad spinner. Use the spinner to remove the excess moisture and store the lettuce.

i am a 60 year old man who has been a vegatarian for 6 months and have went from 255 to 235 with a goal of 180 which i have not been since high school,and i am enjoying this new world of veggie foods. i have decided to go vegan on labor day and am looking forward to the new experiences of vegan and hope the other 95% of america sees the brave new world that is out there waiting for them to live and enjoy.go veggie.

I always have such a hard time with my fruits and veggies. Especially Raspberries and Strawberries. They always seem to only last a day. I purchased those special bags to place produce in and it seems to help, but you still have to eat the stuff in a timely manner. Thanks for this post, it helps alot. Janex

Any advice regarding prewashed salad in a bag...we eat salad every day but with only the two of us it is hard to keep the mix for an entire week.

This makes so much sense! Thanks for the info everyone.

For those of you who are willing to splurge and are not against using plastic, I recommend investing in Tupperware's FridgeSmart containers. I purchased a set of three from a friend at her party, and I am so happy with them! They are perfectly shaped for the fridge because they are slender, but long. I can't wait to buy the large, round container for heads of lettuce, melons and the like. Each container has three ventilation options, with lists of produce that hold up best for each setting (the lists are on the medium and larger containers, making referencing really convenient). The most impressive so far has been half a mango that lasted over a week!

Egg - guardian my fruits and vegg much easier

Do banana spoil faster than tomato?

Has anyone tried those special bags sold on the Internet that are supposed to extend veggie life?

Bought some of those bags at the "As Seen On TV Store". They have no particular closure system i.e. ziplock or twist tie, but I have been able to keep alfalfa sprouts for over 2 weeks! Things that have a lot of moisture like bean sprouts lasted alot longer than average, but I was just not willing to let it go too long.

I can keep lettuce for about ten days -- which is good, because it takes me that long to eat it as I am the only one in the house. I leave it unwashed and loosely bundled in the grocery bag (single bag) till I get ready to eat the first time, then wash thoroughly and lie out on a towel to draw, blotting with another towel. After about 30 min, I put what I'm not eating in one of the roundish plastic lettuce containers with the "teeth" on the bottom that hold the leaves out of any moisture that collects. I put a folded paper towel in to soak up more excess moisture. For the first few days, I pour off any water that has collected in the bottom. It keeps well for me like that. Mostly I eat red leaf lettuce, sometimes green leaf -- don't know if this would work for head lettuce. On the lettuce in a bag -- that stuff is made to spoil in a few days so you will have to buy more -- plus, no telling how long it has been in the store -- it is also sprayed with something to make it last until opened -- not sure what and, if you'll notice, it is a lot of end and stem-y pieces. I wouldn't eat that except as a last resort.

need help! what is the best substitution for shallots N garlic? thanks.

Hi chengoo, I'm not sure if you're asking because of allergies or just as a general substitution, but here is a link for garlilc substitutes: http://www.foodsubs.com/Garlic.html And here is a link for shallot substitutes: http://www.foodsubs.com/Onionsdry.html Hope this helps!

THANK YOU ..THANK YOU..THANK YOU..I REALLY NEEDED YOUR GREAT INFO. ....AS I ONLY SHOP ONCE A WEEK I FEEL I WILL HAVE BETTER CONTROL NOW ;)

On waste: if the apple just has one bad spot, yes remove it right away from the others, but cut out the spot and eat it! A lot of people think if there's a bad spot the whole fruit/veggy is bad, but that's not always the case. Also, if you know you're not going to eat the fruit/veggy in time, chop it up and freeze it, you can throw it in a pie or a stir fry later, and it'll already be chopped. Very handy, and no waste!

I keep parsley well for up to two weeks by standing the bunch in a glass of water (not too much). Don't forget to take the rubber band off. Put a plastic bag over the whole thing and pop it in the fridge. Change the water every couple of days.

I have a problem. I'm a student and our hostel does not have a fridge. Not only that, our campus is situated quite far from any market. So I do my shopping once a week. From the above, I read that " Cold-sensitive fruits and veggies lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures. Store them on the counter, not in the fridge. Once they're fully ripe, you can refrigerate them to help them last, but for best flavor, return them to room temp." So am I still able to buy broccoli, red cabbages, carrots and green apples (my favorites!), keep them in room temperature and eat them according to guide above. Will my vege/fruits spoil? I tried keeping broccoli in room temperature till Tuesday before, and it lasted. On Wednesday, the buds turned into yellow flowers.

Lynn, I suspect your broccoli and cabbage will spoil within a week. Your apples will be fine, particularly if they were fresh at the market where you bought them. Your carrots will be limp, but they'll be safe, and you won't know the difference if you cook them. You could try standing the broccoli in a glass of water that you changed twice a day, and see if that helped. Fruits other than berries, or very ripe fruit, will probably keep about half a week to a week. In general, the softer the skin, the faster it will go. Veggies, you'll have to experiment with, but anything leafy is probably out unless you eat it that day or maybe the next. Root vegetables will keep the longest.

Lynn, I agree with claire on general storage times. Otherwise your best bet is a cheap crockpot. if you can't keep stuff safe by refrigeration cook it slowly at low temp and enjoy your stews.Heat kills bacteria too.beans soups with lots of veggies for example or a stew of tomatoes,garlic, potatoes,cabbage or kale, squash,carrots & peanuts will keep going safely at least 8 days on low heat providing that you stir a few times a day & add water or canned broth when it looks dry or starts to scorch.the energy use is relatively small compared to refrigeration & you (and whomever you like to eat with) have a hot meal ready when ever you like. A good crockpot will generally cost you about 3-4$ second hand & medium sized ones can be found easily for 15-20$ new (in the US at least).If you're not at the hostel for more than a few weeks you can also be really nice & pass it along to the next folks if you like. If looking at second hand look for three temperature settings, the ceramic part should be removable for ease in cleaning, no cracks or nicks in the liner & don't buy it if it looks like it was manufactured before 1975 unless you spring for a lead testing kit. Also consider dried fruits with oatmeal for breakfasts-cheap healthy & tasty. Lots of veg friendly crockpot recipes are generally available online or at your local library.

I personally don't spend money on those special fridge bags. I've found that a lower-cost way to prolong the life of vegetables in the fridge is to set a paper towel in the bag in which the vegetables came from the store. I also like to leave the bag just a little bit open. This keeps vegetables from getting too damp, which is usually what causes quick decay. I use this tactic with cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, green onions, and mushrooms. Mushrooms will get a little bit dried out if you leave the bag open, but being that does not affect their usefulness, and is much better than a mushroom gone bad. For lettuce and chard, I use the paper towel but leave the bag shut, since those items go limp if they get too dry. Mary owlhaven.net

What about oranges and grapefruit storage? We like them cold.

the best buy date on a bag baby carrots is may 11 this is Jul. 20 they are nice & crunchy but have a white powder on them are they alright to put in a stew

I don't have any problem putting everything but bananas in the fridge and have tried them in door with some success, they turn dark, but are still good. I don't know where this don't put tomatoes in the fridge idea came form. When I have grown a lot of tomatoes, I would place them in the cabinet, stem down until they were fully ripened and then put them in the veggie drawer of the fridge. They were great and greatly extended their usable life. The trick with the parsley is my favorite trick, I buy large bunches of asparagus at the club store and put it in a a container with about 1 1/2 inches of water and put a zip lock over it like a hood and put it in the refrigerator and it keeps forever.

great article and learned alot. just wondering about the storage of raspberries and blackberries, as none were listed above??

Excellent Article.

who wrote this?

i love this article.:}

hello this websit was great,but didnt really help me.

this is a great helper

Nana Great ,i have learn some things i did'nt know!

You stated not to wrap veggies but if you wrap celery very tightly (where it gets no air) in aluminum foil right after you purchase it, it will last for months. I've been doing that for years now.

how do plums get spoiled-like could you please make a list

# 1 Purchase or pick good plums. Look for plums that are free of blemishes, spots, discoloration, and soft spots. If the plums have not ripened yet, leave them at room temperature for a day or so until they become riper. # 2 Store ripe plums in the refrigerator. This will keep them in top shape and prevent fast deterioration. # 3 Prevent bruising by storing plums inside old egg cartons. One plum per egg space. # 4 Eat plums within a few days of picking or purchasing. Spoiled plums can be stewed. DO IT!!

there's a bad spot the whole fruit/veggy is bad, but that's not always the case. Also, if you know you're not going to eat the fruit/veggy in time, chop it up and freeze it, you can throw it in a pie or a stir fry later, and it'll already be chopped. Very handy, and no waste! By Mary on Apr 01, 2008: I keep parsley well for up to two weeks by standing the bunch in a glass of water (not too much). Don't forget to take the rubber band off. Put a plastic bag over the whole thing and pop it in the fridge. Change the water every couple of days. By Lynn on Jul 02, 2008: I have a problem. I'm a student and our hostel does not have a fridge. Not only that, our campus is situated quite far from any market. So I do my shopping once a week. From the above, I read that " Cold-sensitive fruits and veggies lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures. Store them on the counter, not in the fridge. Once they're fully ripe, you can refrigerate them to help them last, but for best flavor, return them to room temp." So am I still able to buy broccoli, red cabbages, carrots and green apples (my favorites!), keep them in room temperature and eat them according to guide above. Will my vege/fruits spoil? I tried keeping broccoli in room temperature till Tuesday before, and it lasted. On Wednesday, the buds turned into yellow flowers. By Claire on Jul 15, 2008: Lynn, I suspect your broccoli and cabbage will spoil within a week. Your apples will be fine, particularly if they were fresh at the market where you bought them. Your carrots will be limp, but they'll be safe, and you won't know the difference if you cook them. You could try standing the broccoli in a glass of water that you changed twice a day, and see if that helped. Fruits other than berries, or very ripe fruit, will probably keep about half a week to a week. In general, the softer the skin, the faster it will go. Veggies, you'll have to experiment with, but anything leafy is probably out unless you eat it that day or maybe the next. Root vegetables will keep the longest. By brigid on Oct 14, 2

The problem with using plastic - of any kind, be it containers or baggies, etc.. is that they emit gases as well. I read that the "fresh" produce we get in the super markets have already lost a great percentage of their nutrients. How do you store leftover tomato?

YESHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

a nice chart 2 hang on fridg or in cabinet would be good 4 anyone who deals with produce. with a quick glance u would know how and where 2 store all your money (produce)!!!

Thanks for all the great suggestions. When making stock for soup, is it okay to use wilted, freezer burned, and spoiled vegetables?

I purchased a plastic container of Artisan lettuce selection with use by date Feb 4. Today, March 10, I opened it up and all looked fine. I removed a few outer leaves, but the rest look good. Is it still ok to eat them even if they look as if they were purchased today? Also, would there be any loss of nutritional value?

I freeze them before they spoil! They are great for smoothies!

Thanks for the tips, I start with your products this week, I will tell you later my own recipies with your products and share with you

A great way to keep lettuce fresh, is to wash, dry, place in container, put several layers of paper towels on top of lettuce, then apply lid to container. Store in refrigerater...UPSIDE DOWN...so the paper towels absorb excess moisture. I learned this while selling Tupperware years ago. Works great!

I am a pawpaw farmer in Ghana and anytime i send my harvested fruits to the market they get rotting the next day, in other words the shelf life of the fruits is shorter. However, when i bring some of the fruits to my house, they can last for about 6days. From what i have read so far, i want to attribute it to transporting it in an airtight material. Please what can i do to prevent these problems from occuren?

This is a very helpful website I will be writing down these facts and posting them on the fridge!

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