Five Tips For Making Your Produce Last Longer | The Rising Spoon

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Five Tips For Making Your Produce Last Longer

Five Tips For Making Your Produce Last Longer |

After the popularity of my Five Things You Should Never Throw Away & How to Reuse Them post, I knew I had to write another informative article on avoiding waste. It really sucks when you spend hard earned cash on fresh foods only to have them spoil prematurely. If spoilage or waste is happening to you a bit too frequently, this post should help. 

And at the very least, pat yourself on the back for buying real food that can decompose instead of the pre-packaged and pre-boxed "foods" that are pumped full of chemicals and preservatives.

1. Buy at the Right Time

If you're one of those people that only goes grocery shopping once or twice a month, it's important to plan your meals out ahead in order to avoid spoilage. The same applies if you shop weekly, too. If you buy a handful of avocados, but aren't going to make guacamole or tacos til six days later, don't reach for the super ripe avocados. 

Instead, look for the fruit that is a few days from peak. How do you tell when an avocado is perfectly ripe? See the little nob at the top where the avocado used to be attached to a stem? Press down on it lightly. If it sinks down easily, it's ripe. If it won't move, it's not ripe. If it presses down with hardly any pressure, it may be slightly overripe. 

So, for produce you're not going to use immediately, be sure it's not super ripe. If it is, make a point of using within the next 1-2 days. It's also important to learn how long certain fruits and vegetables last before spoiling. Some fresh foods are only good for a few days. Plan your meals accordingly. It's always smart to scan the fridge before mealtimes for produce that's ripening faster. Always use that first or freeze for later. Wasted food is wasted money.

2. Proper Storage

Almost all fruits and vegetables emit something called ethylene gas, which is a natural, odorless gas that triggers the ripening and aging process. Some fruits and veggies give off a lot of ethylene gas, while others do not. The ones that don't are particularly sensitive to the ethylene gas because when a fruit or vegetable comes in contact with the gas it immediately begins to produce it, which speeds up the ripening process. This can be a friend or foe. 

If you have a bag full of under-ripe fruit (let's use peaches as an example) and don't want to wait a week for it to ripen on its own, you can either stick the peaches in a closed brown paper bag, which concentrates the ethylene gas, or you can place them next to an already ripened fruit (like bananas or avocados) that emit high levels of ethylene gas. Both techniques will yield fresh fruit quicker. 

On the flip side, if you're negligent about where you store your produce and position a ripe fruit or vegetable next to another ripe piece of produce that's emitting a ton of the ethylene gas and forget about it for a day or two, your produce will likely spoil. To avoid this, you should strategically separate the high gas yielding produce from the others and keep certain foods in the fridge to slow the ripening process. 

Here's a list of fruits and veggies for reference (source).

Fruits & Veggies that Emit High Levels of Ethylene Gas:
  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Figs
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Nectarines
  • Papayas
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Tomatoes

Fruits & Veggies that are Sensitive to Ethylene Gas:
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Green Beans
  • Lemons
  • Leafy Greens
  • Limes
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes
  • Summer Squashes
  • Watermelon

3. Prevent Excess Moisture

One of the biggest enemies to produce, aside from ethylene gas, is moisture. This mostly impacts foods stored in the fridge, since stuff on counter tops get plenty of air. With that said, it's important not to chuck all your fruits and veggies into the icebox straight from the grocery store or farmers market. For some foods, like apples, that's okay. As long as one of the apples aren't super ripe already, they'll be fine. But for leafy produce like lettuce or herbs, it helps to use paper towels (or linen cloths) to absorb excess moisture that develops. 

If you like to wash your produce before storing it in the fridge, make doubly sure it's thoroughly dry beforehand! If you pre-chop your lettuce for the week, a salad spinner or colander might come in handy to wick away all the water. 

A good technique is to wrap whatever you're storing in paper towels or linen cloths so that it doesn't come in direct contact with the bag or container it's in. Usually extra condensation builds up on the sides or top. A paper towel or cloth will create a barrier that absorbs the water droplets. This works especially well if you buy large containers of pre-washed and cut organic lettuce. Simply lay a cloth down across the top (you might need to wipe down the sides occasionally) and exchange it for a dry one every few days. 

4. Re-purpose & Recycle 

If you have produce that's less than picture perfect...don't trash it! Maybe it's wilted, flaccid or spotty. No matter. As long as it's not rotten or moldy, there are many ways to re-purpose veggies and fruit. 
  • Chop up vegetables and add them to stir-fry, pastas, casseroles, soups or sauces
  • Use the whole vegetables or scraps to make a stock that you can freeze for later to add to dishes for extra flavor.
  • Peel, chop and freeze blemished fruits to use in smoothies, sauces and jams. 
  • Mix the fruit into your favorite baked goods like cookies, muffins, quick breads, scones, cobblers or oatmeal bars for added sweetness.
Believe it or not, you can actually regrow certain vegetables like celery and green onions from their root. Cut off what you need to eat and then stick the base in a shallow glass or bowl of water near a well-lit window and watch it grow! 

In as little as a week the green onions will spurt up, but I've heard that celery takes months to grow. This is a great way to get double use out of your store-bought produce!

For More Tips Read: Fifteen Kitchen Hacks to Save Money, Prevent Food Waste & Make Your Life Easier

5. If In Doubt, Freeze For Later or Compost It

If you see something start to ripen quickly and don't have time to use it, take a few minutes to wash, dry and chop it for the freezer. In most cases, it's best practice to freeze the pieces (if it's not liquid) in one flat layer (not touching) on a cookie sheet for an hour or so, then store them as you would normally. This prevents the foods from sticking together. Likewise, if you purchased too much of a particular produce item, freeze it to use later in other recipes. 

Most produce can be frozen raw, but others like tomatoes and leafy greens (like spinach) need to be cooked so they can withstand the freezer and taste decent once thawed. 

When food products are foregone (rotten or moldy), most people are quick to trash them. Instead, you could take the opportunity to compost the decaying produce and in turn use that to fertilize plants in your container or backyard garden. This will make your plants happy and health, which will yield more food for you and that's basically like free money

For the vast majority of these foods, I recommend an array of composting alternatives (bags, buckets, bins, tumblers, etc.) 

I'm certainly no expert, so read here and here for more information on how to begin composting.

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Five Tips For Making Your Produce Last Longer |

I'd like to hear from YOU!

What's the one produce that always manages to go bad before you can eat it?  

This post is linked to Small Footprint Fridays #32.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. However, I ONLY recommend helpful products that I myself would use. And I'm really picky about what I share with you guys. Because I myself am super choosy about what I buy and consume. Recommending products that I love or want to own helps me cover the costs of running this blog and keep providing you with free, helpful information. And it costs nothing extra for you. Thanks! 

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