We’ve been discussing the benefits of eating seasonally regarding our produce and what we can find fresh each month, but how do we care for that produce? There’s an art to cleaning and storing our fruits and vegetables for longevity, ensuring that we can enjoy every ounce of our fresh produce until they’re gone.
Why you should keep your produce fresh longer
How often have you picked up your favorite food from the grocery store’s produce section, only to go bad before you’ve had a chance to enjoy it? It’s unfortunately not uncommon to come back to something we purchased just a few days later and find that it’s already inedible and has gone bad in a short period. Not only does this food get wasted, but it’d also be harmful to consume. Produce contaminated with mold can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems when ingested. If we want to reap all of the benefits and nutrients that produce can provide, it’s in our best interest to keep our food fresh as long as possible.
When we discover spoiled, moldy produce, the only option we’re left with is to throw it out. However, with items we pick up going back in just a few days, we’re likely causing food waste each week. Not only is this not economical even if you compost the scraps, but food waste is also approximately 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States. By extending the shelf-life of our fresh produce, we’re cutting down on the waste – both financially and ecologically.
How to clean your produce
In addition to risks associated with moldy produce, we can face other health issues when food is contaminated too. There are an estimated 48 million people each year that are affected by the food that is contaminated with germs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are several ways that our produce can become contaminated, including during the growing phase caused by animals, substances in the soil or water, or poor hygiene in the workers. Further risk occurs after the produce is harvested when it makes its way through many hands after you’ve bought the produce, while you’re prepping your meal, and by improper storage methods.
The FDA shares several tips for avoiding contamination, including washing your hands with soap and water before touching your produce and rinsing it off before any of it is peeled so bacteria and dirt are not spread to other surfaces. Also, try to avoid bruised fruits when shopping, but if bruising does occur, cut off the damaged portion before eating or cutting the produce up for later.
Just hold the item under running water and gently rub it to clean most produce. For produce that has a firmer exterior, like a melon or cucumber, you can use a vegetable brush to scrub the outside. For vegetables like lettuce or cabbage, you should also remove the leaves on the outside. Once the produce has been rinsed, use a clean cloth or paper towel to avoid contamination of the freshly rinsed items.
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How to store your produce
There are various ways to store different types of produce inside your refrigerator and out at room temperature. To preserve the optimum freshness of each piece of produce, it’s important to understand the type of environment in which specific fruit or vegetable will thrive for longevity.
When it comes to leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale, you want to ensure that you’re not packing them too tightly in a container as they need room to breathe so they do not rot or degrade. You’ll then want to store them in a glass container placed in the crisper or toward the back of your refrigerator to ensure they remain in the coolest place. As another step, you can add a damp paper towel to the container to reduce the moisture buildup to stop the greens from wilting.
Apples, bananas, celery, mangoes, melon, peaches, and pears – what do all of these produce items have in common? They emit ethylene gas, which kick-starts and speeds up the ripening process. Because each item emits this gas, it’s best to store them separately and securely to ensure the ethylene gas remains contained and doesn’t spread to other produce items in your fridge or kitchen. Try to avoid storing them with anything else, and if that’s not possible, celery can be stored in beeswax paper or reusable silicone bags in the crisper. However, if you want something to ripen faster, putting a fruit like mango in a bag solo can also help trap the gasses and speed up the process.
While it may be tempting to put all of your produce in the fridge, there are several fruits and vegetables that also thrive in a room temperature environment outside the cool temperatures. These produce items include tomatoes which can get mushy; stone fruits like nectarines, peaches, and apricots which can lose their moisture; and garlic and onions, which can suffer a texture change when they are not stored in a cool, dry place.