Fruit and Vegetable Storage Tips
(Part 3 of 3)
The quickest things to spoil in most kitchens are fresh produce. Those fruits and vegetables that are so important for a balanced diet, may have a shelf life as short as a couple of days. When you adopt a healthy lifestyle, it can be frustrating to see so much money end up in the trash because food has turned bad.
There are all sorts of ways to prevent waste at the supermarket. Pick up frozen vegetables for things you always want on hand. Shop the salad bar for smaller servings. Don't buy more than you're going to use for the next few days. But once you get it home, you've got to store it properly.
Here are some tips on how to keep produce fresher, longer.
There are essentially five storage options.
- Crisper drawers in the refrigerator are designed to retain moisture and help foods like herbs.
- The main compartment of the refrigerator is better for other produce like berries and leafy greens, because it draws mold growing moisture out.
- Foods like tomatoes turn mushy when they get cold, so the countertop of your kitchen is appropriate for them.
- Some items get hurt by light and cold, so they last longer in a dark pantry.
- Finally there's the freezer, but that's best used for items already cut up or cooked.
Bags that you use to store produce, should have holes in them to allow air-flow. When you store them, leave space between the items. The closer you store produce together, the quicker it will rot.
One of the things that speeds up the ripening process is a natural gas called ethylene. Some fruits and vegetables release it as they age. The key is using it to your advantage. Let's say you have an avocado that's not ripe yet, and you want to speed it along. Seal it in a paper bag and the ethylene gas will make the avocado ripen much faster. Keep things that are sensitive to ethylene, away from the foods that produce a lot of it.
The top ethylene emitting fruits include apples, avocados, bananas, pears, stone fruits and tomatoes. Those should be separated from delicate leafy greens, the produce that's most susceptible to ethylene gas.
Onions and garlic should be stored by themselves. They like to share their pungent fragrance with their neighbors. Take special care to keep them away from potatoes, which can wilt and sprout more quickly with onions nearby.
Before you prepare any produce, it's always good to wash it. The bacteria that cause foodborne illness clings to the surfaces of fruit and vegetables. Melons are particularly susceptible to salmonella. Even if you're cutting off the outer layer, bacteria can contaminate the cutting board and work its way into the parts you're eating.
Here's how to wash everything.
Berries mold quickly if they stay wet. Wash them using a strainer, then spread them out on a plate with a towel on it to dry. Use a microwave steamer or any container that has a breathable rack at the bottom to hold them when you put them back in the fridge. Put that container on a plate, so any moisture that leaks out won't hit refrigerator shelves. Try not to wash berries until just before you use them.
Leafy greens, even “triple washed” produce should be cleaned. Separate the leaves from the head and soak them in cold water for about five minutes. Swirl them around gently to loosen any particles stuck to them. When you're done, use a salad spinner and spin them dry. Don't store them wet overnight or they may quickly turn to mush.
Herbs should be washed the same as leafy greens, then dried with a salad spinner. However, when you're finished you can store them with a damp towel in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Don't put them away wet, but keeping them connected to moisture helps them stay fresh. Another option is clipping the bottoms off and putting them in a jar of water like cut flowers. Then put that jar in the refrigerator. The same trick works for asparagus when storing it.
The exception to that rule is basil. Yes you should store basil in a jar like cut flowers, but keep it on the counter, not the refrigerator. Change the water every other day to keep it fresher.
A very important thing to remember with most fruits and vegetables is that too much moisture is the enemy. You can clean them when you first bring them home from the supermarket, just make sure they're really dry before storing them.
Below I have prepared a free downloadable list on where, and how long to store many fruits and vegetables. It includes tips on how to extend the life of produce or make things ripen faster.
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