Preserving Produce: Tips For Selection And Storage

Perhaps you do it once a week.  Perhaps you do it more.  But eventually, you toss spoiled fruits and vegetables in the garbage.  Lots of them.  I know I did it last week, cringing and cursing at not having a composter to throw them in.  Clearly we’re not alone.  According to researchers at the University of Arizona, people throw away 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.  That boils down to more than half a pound of fruits and vegetables a day.  And we all know that wasting produce is, well, a waste.  To get the most out of your produce, wise selection and storage is key.  Here are some everyday quick and easy tips for keeping fruits and vegetables fresh…and out of a Hefty.

Selection Tips

  • Don’t buy more than you’ll eat in a week.
  • The typical signs of freshness are crispness and a bright, lively color.
  • Fruits and vegetables at the peak of their season offer the best quality (and often price).
  • When selecting fruits and vegetables look for those with the least physical damage.  Cuts and bruises damage the cell walls of your vegetables and open them up to spoilage.
  • Handle with care: fresh fruits and vegetables, because of their perishability, require constant attention to keep their fresh appearance. The less you handle them when purchasing, or in the home, the longer their life. Don’t pinch, squeeze or poke as bruising leads to damage and damage results in more spoilage.
  • Look for produce which is average in size and shape; humongous produce rarely tastes as good as it looks.
  • If you can smell it, you can taste it.

Storage Tips

  • Accounting 101 at it’s finest; the good ol’ FIFO (first in, first out) rule.  Use whatever is oldest first and continually rotate your stock to ensure freshness and reduce waste.
  • Store fresh produce unwashed until you are ready to eat it, this will ensure the best quality and avoid spoilage.
  • Minimize dehydration: One of the biggest contributors to aging in vegetables is loss of moisture. The air in your refrigerator tends to be very dry, so high moisture produce such as celery, is best stored in plastic bags or containers in the crisper drawer – this will minimize moisture loss and wilting.
  • Store leafy greens in an open plastic bag lined with a damp paper towel in the crisper drawer.
  • Avoid cutting or trimming:
A whole squash will keep longer than a cut piece. Once produce is exposed to the air and to microbes it is only a matter of time before it rots. So best to leave trimming and chopping until the last minute.
  • If fruits and vegetables are stored on the refrigerator shelves, be sure to store them above meats and poultry to avoid contamination.
  • Keep washed herbs wrapped in a paper towel in the crisper drawer.
  • Onions, garlic, and squash are best kept in a dry, dark pantry.
  • Sunlight can promote sprouting in potatoes and sweet potatoes, so unless you’re trying to encourage ripening it’s best to store them in the dark.
  • Mushrooms are best stored in the fridge in a brown paper bag.
  • If there’s one thing you take away from this post, this is it. Do not refrigerate tomatoes (unless cut). Tomatoes are dramatically damaged when chilled, losing fragrance and texture.

DK

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