By Dr. Mercola
It's happened before. You brought home too many fresh carrots, cucumbers and fancy mesclun lettuce, didn't get to them as quickly as you thought you would and they spoiled. Rubbery carrots, slimy cucumbers and rusty lettuce can definitely make you lose your sense of humor.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) says Americans dispose of 19 percent of the vegetables and around 14 percent of the fruits they buy due to spoilage.1 What can you do to keep this from happening?
There are a few tricks, some of them scientific. For instance, some fruits (and a few veggies) are climacteric,2 meaning they emit ethylene gas, which helps them ripen.
Storing climacteric produce next to foods that are ethylene sensitive causes them to ripen — and spoil — more rapidly. The Washington State University Extension (WSU Extension) website explains:
"Ethylene is a small hydrocarbon gas … You can't see or smell it. Some fruit will produce ethylene as ripening begins. Apples and pears are examples of fruit that produce ethylene with ripening. Ethylene is responsible for the changes in texture, softening, color and other processes involved in ripening."3
You may have noticed that a bruised apple will spoil faster. That's ethylene at work. The key to preventing ethylene-emitting foods from spoiling the ones that don't emit ethylene is to store them separately; keep potatoes away from onions and apples away from bananas, for instance.
You could also get an ethylene gas absorber to place in your fridge. Several of the most popular ethylene-producing plant-based foods include:
Many of the most common fruits and veggies that are sensitive to ethylene are:
✓ Green beans
✓ Lettuce/other greens
✓ Summer squash
Additional Tips for Keeping Foods Fresh
Eat berries as soon as possible or refrigerate them. If a few are mushy, remove them, and if they get wet, blot them with a paper towel or cloth. Don't wash berries until just before you eat them. As for the cloudy coating on blueberries, Consumer Reports says:
"The coating is a safe, natural part of the fruit. Known as the 'bloom,' the waxy, silvery-white substance on the surface of grapes, blueberries and certain plums acts as a barrier against insects and bacteria and helps to seal in the fruit's moisture.
The bloom is also a sign of freshness, since it fades with time and handling. But it's still wise to rinse or scrub produce thoroughly under running water to minimize exposure to pesticides and bacteria."4
Freezing berries can save them from spoilage and stop mold growth. Rinsing them in a vinegar solution may also help to kill mold spores and keep the berries fresh. Here's the drill:
- Quick-rinse the berries in a 1:3 ratio of white vinegar and water.5 Placing them in a bowl, measuring out the water and then increasing the volume of the water by one-third with the vinegar works well.
- Rinse the berries using a colander, roll them onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet in a single layer and blot them dry, as moisture encourages mold.
- Freeze berries in a single layer on the baking sheet, then pop them in a freezer bag (not a storage bag) and return to the freezer to enjoy another day.
Advice Regarding Fruit and Veggie Storage
Some of the best food advice you'll ever get: avoid refrigerating tomatoes (and potatoes, garlic and winter squash). They lose their texture and become tasteless, pithy and watery. Also, don't store them someplace chilly or even cold, like a back porch when the temperature dips. Even before harvest, tomatoes don't tolerate chill.
Don't store produce near a gas stove, smoky area (including cigarette smoke) or high heat such as near a fireplace, as these can speed up the ripening process.
Don't let produce that's gone bad sit in your refrigerator. Remove it as soon as possible to prevent other foods from spoiling as well. Also keep your refrigerator clean, and make sure the produce drawers are free of humidity to keep everything crisp.
✓ Apricots and plums — These both keep ripening after being picked. Store at room temperature if they're not quite "done."
They're best when they "give" just a little when you press your thumb gently into the flesh.
They can be refrigerated, but it may alter the taste and texture somewhat.
✓ Apples — Keep apples in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat for up to two weeks, depending on the variety.
Kept in the refrigerator, they'll stay fresh for three to four weeks.
✓ Bananas — Keep bananas away from sunlight and heat as they ripen.
You can speed up the process by placing them in a brown paper bag with an apple, an ethylene-emitting fruit, for a few days.
Tip: banana peels will turn dark when refrigerated, but it doesn't damage the fruit inside.
✓ Broccoli — Like carrots, celery and cauliflower, broccoli should be wrapped in plastic and placed in the crisper drawer to prevent it from going limp.
If it's washed, blot it dry before refrigerating it again.
✓ Cabbage — Cut cabbage turns to an unappetizing brown, even in plastic in the fridge.
The fix: place the cut side against a large sheet of paper towel and wrap the whole thing completely before putting it in a bag.
When the paper towel turns damp, rewrap with fresh paper towel and it will keep much longer.
✓ Celery — Place celery in a plastic bag, then wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil.
Or store it in a tall, upright container with cold water (this works for some herbs, asparagus and green onions as well) for over a week.
This method will even bring the crunch back into cut celery that's gone slightly limp.
✓ Grapefruits, tangerines oranges and/or nectarines — Unrefrigerated, grapefruits keep for just a week.
In cold storage, however, they'll last for several weeks.
Oranges are a little hardier; store them at room temperature for a few weeks or in the refrigerator for several weeks in a mesh or perforated bag.
✓ Grapes — Grapes continue to ripen after being picked, so refrigerate them to keep them longer.
Tip: when choosing grapes at the store, fresh grapes have green, bendable stems while older grapes that have been sitting around for a while have stems that are darker and woody.
✓ Kiwis — When kiwis are ripe, their flesh gives slightly when you press it.
Put them in the refrigerator for a few days to keep them longer. When very firm, they'll keep in the fridge for as long as two months.
✓ Lemons and limes — These can keep on the counter for a couple weeks and in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Limes are similar; keep them from direct sunlight.
✓ Mangoes, nectarines, peaches and pears — These too, continue to ripen when picked, and refrigeration slows down the process.
When the skin begins to "give" when pressed, they're ready to be eaten.
Nectarines and peaches can be placed in a paper bag for quicker ripening. Oddly, pears ripen from the inside out.
✓ Lettuce, kale and other greens — Making sure they're dry, heads or sheaves of lettuce should be wrapped loosely in paper towel and placed in a plastic bag with one end open, so air can get to it.
Pent-up moisture makes leafy greens go bad quicker. A salad spinner helps tremendously.
✓ Melons — Store cantaloupes and honeydews at room temperature to ripen, then refrigerate.
Ripe melons can be identified if the stem end "gives" slightly when pressed.
Place cut melons in a sealed glass container in the fridge to keep for several days.
✓ Passion fruit —Store passion fruit on the counter out of direct sun until the fruit skin dimples and darkens, indicating ripeness.
To freeze, scoop from the halved fruit, transfer to freezer containers and freeze, or freeze them whole.
✓ Pineapples — Cut the tough, spiky leaves off pineapple and store it upside down.
This shakes the sugars back down that settled to the bottom during shipping.
Then You Have Avocados
Avocados aren't only a fruit — they're actually a berry.6 They're ripe when they've just turned black and their skin gives slightly when you can press it with your thumb. To store halved avocados, keep the pit intact in an airtight container with as much air expelled as possible. Oxygen darkens the flesh and makes it slightly bitter. Or, as MDhealth.com advises:
"The presence of acid can keep avocados fresh so it will not turn brown. If you have half an avocado, rubbing some lime or lemon juice on the flesh and placing it in a bag will help keep it from turning brown … If you are trying to protect pieces of avocado, add a half teaspoon of lemon juice for every avocado and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to come in contact with the avocado flesh to help prevent oxidation."7
Tip: after being cut, you can slow an avocado's browning process by as much as four hours by placing the cut pieces in ice water. I eat two avocados every day. One simple trick I learned is to purchase them in large quantities when they are on sale. I typically will purchase 40 rock hard avocados and store them in the fridge. Take them out two days before you plan on eating them and they will be ripe.
More Smart Tips for Fruits and Veggies
One way to make sure fresh food doesn't go to waste in your pantry or refrigerator is to buy only what you're likely to use. It may necessitate shopping more often, but it will be worth it in the long run. More smart tips:
- Store green, leafy veggies and herbs in plastic bags, blow into the bag to force carbon dioxide into it and close tightly before refrigerating. Oddly, it works.
- Onions stacked on pantyhose with knots tied in between and strung up in a cool, dark place can last for months.
- Store apples with potatoes to prevent the potatoes from sprouting.
- Spritzing lemon juice is great for keeping cut fruits like apples and pears from darkening and looking less than fresh.
- Preserve your bumper crop of herbs by drying them,8 or chop them, place them in an ice cube tray covered with water and freeze them. Remove and place in a plastic zipper bag to add to soups or even thaw and drain for salads.9
As always, eat fruit in moderation. Fructose, a simple sugar found in fruit, has been known to adversely affect the pancreas and even trigger pancreatic cancer when eaten in excess. For healthy people, I recommend no more than 25 grams of fructose a day, and less if you're insulin resistant.
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
After handling produce, wash your hands, as it may have been sprayed with pesticides. That's also true with organic produce. Even if they're marked "organic," there is still overspray to consider, and it may have come into contact with other produce treated with disease-causing pesticides or herbicides. A Mother Jones article noted:
"The wind can — and frequently does — blow chemicals from nearby conventional fields onto organic crops. Pesticide contamination can also happen in the warehouse, since many produce companies use the same facilities to process organic and conventional products. In that case, companies are supposed to use the label 'organically grown' instead of 'organic,' which can mislead consumers."10
For the worst and best fruits and veggies in terms of pesticide contamination, click here.