As harvest season approaches and summer winds down, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of one of the most bountiful produce seasons of the year. In September, produce like beans, broccoli, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches, pears, raspberries, watermelon, and more (I could seriously go on and on) are in season. It’s a challenge to go to your farmers market and not leave with armfuls of cucumbers, fistfuls of greens, and maybe one or two pumpkins for good measure. But is there any greater woe to the fresh produce-lover than a summer squash getting squashy in the fridge? Food waste is a horrible, no-good, very bad thing, but how can the busy fruit-and-veggie lovers among us avoid it from time to time?
According to studies done to examine North American produce losses, 28% of produce is thrown out at home do to spoilage. Food waste is one of the world’s biggest issues, and while much of the work to reduce it needs to be done on the production end, careful shopping and care on the part of the consumer is also a key to keeping those numbers down. Here’s how you can prolong the shelf life of produce in your home.
High and dry Dry garlic bulbs, lettuce that’s free of condensation, and generally fruit and veggies that have space to breathe will fare better than crowded and—pardon the expression—moist produce. Moisture can lead to molding, which is never a tasty addition to your strawberries. Thoroughly dry your lettuce and thr0w in a paper towel with the leaves and you’ll definitely see an improvement. Of course with that being said, oxygen isn’t exactly the BFF of produce, either. So make sure everything is dry and sealed tightly.
Break it up Mushy bananas: a boon to your banana bread baking habits, but the bane of your snacking existence. The secret to keeping those yellows from turning into browns? Breaking up the bunch and sealing up the individual stems. Plastic wrap is the easiest method for wrapping stems, but some people swear by dipping ends in melted food grade paraffin wax—a more environmentally-friendly, crazy cheap, and reusable option (just peel off the wax when you’re ready to eat, then remelt and reuse once you get a new bunch). Also, in general, keeping fruits like bananas, apples, and pears away from other fruits will help them all last longer, as the ethylene gas they naturally produce can control and encourage browning and ripening of each other and any fruits nearby. Similarly (and heartbreakingly in my case, because I’ve been doing this for years), you should keep your onions and your potatoes well away from each other. The gases given off from the onions encourage potatoes to sprout.
Keep it unclean In general, washing your produce is an incredibly important step, but it’s key not to get ahead of yourself. Don’t wash your fruit or veggies until absolutely necessary. Unwashed berries in particular will last much, much longer in the fridge than washed ones. As mentioned before, extra moisture on your produce can promote moldiness, and with more and more companies leaning towards environmentally safe alternatives to traditional preservatives, you don’t have to fret the waxy stuff.
Know your audience Different produce have different ideal environments. Tomatoes, apricots, peaches, avocados, bananas, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, plums, pineapples, onions, garlic, and potatoes shouldn’t live in the fridge. According to experts, these guys aren’t fans of the chilly environment of your fridge, but corn, fresh peas, apples, cherries, grapes, and celery love that cool environment.
When things go bad, chill What’s my go-to solution for when I’ve neglected my greens or spot a veg that’s seen better days? The freezer. Less-than-perfectly-crisp kale or spinach gets the chill and is ready for tossing with garlic and chilis for a quick weeknight pasta. Not-so-pretty carrots (and almost all of my other vegetable scraps) go in a big sealable plastic bag that becomes a large batch of homemade stock. It’s not a perfect solution, but if you have the space in your freezer, I find that it beats the trash can every time.
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