When produce spoils before you’ve had a chance to use it, it can be very disappointing. Not only have we lost nourishment and money, but we are also adding to the immense amount of food waste generated daily. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 36 million tons of food waste was generated in 2011 alone. Unfortunately, only 4% of this waste was diverted for composting. You can do your part to reduce waste by remembering to purchase produce only within your family’s means and then properly storing the produce for their longest shelf life. Check out our tips for storing some very common fruits and vegetables below!
Bananas, Pears, Apples and Other High Ethylene Producing Fruits
Fruits play an important role in every diet, adding healthy nutrients like good amounts of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. However, improper storage of some of these fruits may be the reason that some of your other produce is ripening (and therefore spoiling) quicker.
Bananas, apples, pears, honeydew, peaches, tomatoes, plums and nectarines are all high producers of ethylene gas. Ethylene gas is an odorless, tasteless and harmless gas that fruits and vegetables produce naturally, so there’s no need to worry about it besides when you’re storing your produce! Just remember that the fruits mentioned above are high producers of ethylene, and will cause ethylene-sensitive produce to ripen faster. On the plus side, you can use this to your advantage to ripen produce like avocados quicker by placing them near bananas. Store high ethylene producing produce away from other produce for longer life.
For convenience and shipping purposes, mushrooms from the grocery store are often stored in plastic or Styrofoam containers with plastic wrap covering them. This is the opposite environment that most mushrooms need to be stored in!
Upon arriving from the market, be sure to place mushroom in a paper bag and roll it closed. When you run out of mushrooms, go frugal and sustainable and reuse this bag for your next batch. You may even consider ditching the plastic completely and taking your paper bag to the market to bag your mushrooms if you don’t buy them pre-packaged. If you are lucky enough to get your mushrooms at the farmers market, the farmer will likely sell them to you in this way.
Garlic is a staple in most households, but many of us are shortening its shelf life by storing it improperly. Garlic, like all fruits and vegetables, is a living food. We are often reminded of this when we don’t use our garlic for a long time and they sprout green tips! In order to increase the life of this bulb, we need to mimic the environment it was grown in. When properly stored, whole dry garlic will last for months at a time.
Garlic does best when stored in cool, dry, dark places with low moisture. Avoid plastic bags or containers, and opt for something with good air circulation like a wooden basket or paper bag. If the garlic bulb has not been used, do not store it in the refrigerator, as this environment adds loads of moisture and will promote molding and sprouting quicker. Similarly, avoid purchasing garlic that is refrigerated at the market, has green sprouting tips, or is soft. Also avoid freezing garlic, as it changes the flavor, moisture content, and consistency when defrosted.
If you have broken individual cloves from the bulb, they will store in a cool, dark and dry place for about a week. The actual life of the bulb will decrease as you start to remove cloves. If you have unpeeled cloves, they will store in an airtight container for a short time in the refrigerator – a couple of days at best. If you enjoy canning foods, you can preserve garlic cloves to last a year or longer as well.
The proper way to store onions when they are un-peeled or cut is just like storing garlic. Onions need a cool, dry and dark place to avoid sprouting and mold. We love this idea from Monica of the Yummy Life for storing onions, garlic and shallots in hole-punched paper bags. As is the case with garlic, be sure that you get firm, non-sprouting, blemish free onions that are not refrigerated when you first purchase them. Don’t store onions and potatoes together! Though they enjoy being stored in the same type environment (and happen to taste delicious together), onions and potatoes should not be stored next to one another. When these two are together, they tend to have the same effect as high ethylene producing fruits over-ripening other produce.
Have loads of garlic and onion and don’t want them to go to waste? Make your own preservative and chemical free garlic and onion powder! Don’t forget to check out our post that teaches you how to properly and efficiently dice an onion here.
We’ve all been there before: we purchase celery, green onions or herbs and end up using about 1/10th of what we bought for the recipe. So what to do with the rest? All of these items will store very well in a glass with a little bit of water in it, just like you would store fresh flowers. You can cover it with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator or just leave it on the counter. Green onions and celery will actually continue to sprout for you for some time, but you will eventually need to throw out the original cutting to avoid rotting – just keep a sharp eye on it. Another tip is to completely submerge herbs in clean water in a container with a lid on it. This is called an Herb Tank, and you can read more about it here.
Do you have some tips/tricks for storing produce? Let us all know in the comment section below!