Eating in season is the best way to enjoy fruits and vegetables because that’s when they’re beautifully ripe and plentiful. They’re also cheaper, so you can incorporate them into your meals and new recipes. However, they don’t last forever. Here’s how to keep produce fresh for as long as possible and stretch your food dollar further.
Store fresh fruits and vegetables properly to extend their shelf life and avoid unnecessary food waste. Americans waste about $408 billion of food annually, and reducing this expense is prudent.
Perishables like leafy greens, berries and herbs should be kept in the refrigerator. Conversely, tomatoes, avocados, citrus fruits, melons and bananas should stay outside the fridge until ripened. Once ripened, they can be refrigerated if not consumed immediately. Some produce, like tomatoes and eggplants, will shrivel up and lose flavor if kept cold. Only store them in the fridge as a last resort.
Certain fruits, such as apples, bananas and avocados, emit ethylene gas, which speeds up ripening and can lead to spoilage in other produce. Keeping these ethylene-producers away from sensitive veggies like broccoli, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts is vital
Ensure longevity by using produce storage bags or containers with small ventilation holes. This prevents moisture accumulation and reduces the risk of mold. Similarly, leafy greens and herbs should always be dried with salad spinners or towels before storage to avoid dampness.
Herbs and Berries
Herbs, particularly cilantro and parsley, benefit from being stored upright in a jar of water in the refrigerator, covered with a plastic bag. As for berries, a quick bath with one part vinegar to three parts water, followed by a thorough rinse and drying, can stave off mold.
Your refrigerator’s crisper drawers come with humidity settings. Set on high for moisture-loving leafy greens and low for fruits and ethylene-producing items. Juicy fruits and vegetables, like cucumbers and watermelon, must be kept at around 90%-95% humidity.
Remove the attached greens when storing root vegetables like carrots and beets. They take nutrients from the roots, leaving them limp and sometimes bitter. If you wish to use the greens, cut them off as close to the root as possible and store them like leafy greens.
Certain items, when stored together, can accelerate each other’s spoilage. For instance, onions and potatoes should be kept separately to prevent premature deterioration due to ethylene production.
Adequate airflow is key, so avoid cramming too much produce in one place. If you’ve prepped fruits or veggies in advance, store them in airtight containers to keep them fresh longer.
Glass containers are preferable for leftovers because they’re less porous than plastic and don’t retain odors.
Additionally, keep the produce whole until you’re ready to use it. Cutting or peeling exposes the inner parts to oxidation, leading to faster deterioration.
Remove items showing signs of spoilage to prevent them from affecting their neighbors. Prioritize consuming produce with a shorter shelf life before those that last longer.
Preserving the freshness and nutritional value of produce is essential for health and economic reasons. Several basic food preservation methods have been used for centuries to prolong the life of fruits and vegetables.
This process slows deterioration by turning water into ice, making it unavailable for most bacteria and enzymes. Blanch vegetables before freezing to destroy enzymes, but fruits can typically be frozen directly. Store in airtight containers or bags to prevent freezer burn.
Drying or Dehydrating
This method removes water content, making it hard for bacteria and fungi to survive. Fruits, vegetables and herbs can be dried using a dehydrator, an oven or even natural sunlight. Once dried, store them in airtight containers.
Removing air from the storage environment can significantly slow the growth of bacteria and fungi. Vacuum-sealed bags can be used for freezing or simply storing produce. If you plan to preserve produce regularly, invest in a tabletop or industrial dehydrator for maximum efficiency.
This involves placing fruits or vegetables in jars and sealing them after boiling. The heat kills off bacteria, yeast and mold, keeping the produce fresh for years. The sealed jar prevents new microorganisms from entering, but you must regularly check the seal to ensure they don’t loosen or warp while in storage.
Immersing produce in vinegar or other acidic solutions changes the pH, creating an environment where most bacteria cannot survive. Vegetables like cucumbers, beets and onions are commonly pickled. Enhance flavors by adding herbs, spices and sugar.
Waste Not, Want Not
Prolonging the freshness of fruits and vegetables is important for your health, budget and the environment. Combining traditional methods and innovative technologies helps you extend the shelf life of these perishables.