Ask Eartha: Practicing proper food storage
Dear Eartha, I was gifted some reusable produce bags that are great for grocery shopping, but when I put my veggies in the fridge none of them stay fresh. I like the idea of using less plastic, but it’s not working for me. Any tips?
Reusable produce bags are an increasingly popular way to reduce plastic waste. They are typically made of cotton or synthetic mesh or a loosely-woven fabric like muslin. As you’ve discovered, these bags are great for reducing waste and not so great for storing produce in the refrigerator.
Proper food storage can add days, or even weeks, to the life of fruits and veggies. Simply knowing what to store in the fridge or leave on the counter means less wasted food and less wasted money. According to SaveTheFood.com, a family of four could be losing $1,500 a year on wasted food. Food rotting in landfills produces major pollution, and every bit of wasted food also means wasted water. Just one pound of apples requires roughly 100 gallons of water to produce.
So let’s talk about produce storage and put a stop to wasted food and wilted greens.
Storing fruits and veggies
Ever heard the trick of ripening a hard peach by placing it in a bag with a banana? It works! That’s because bananas produce ethylene gas, which causes faster ripening in many fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t need a bag to work. Simply placing some fruits and vegetables near each other can cause them to ripen faster than you might expect.
Most refrigerated produce stores best on its own in a sealed container. This could be Tupperware, repurposed bread bags or reusable silicone pouches. For produce that is best kept out of the fridge, such as potatoes and garlic, your mesh bags are an excellent storage option. It can feel overwhelming to memorize the ideal storage environment for every type of fruit and vegetable. SaveTheFood.com offers detailed storage instructions, freezer advice and tons of great cooking tips for using up common fruits and vegetables.
Don’t dismiss the greens
As you focus on prolonging the life of your produce, consider how you might be unknowingly tossing perfectly good food. Take beets, for example. The leaves of this popular root vegetable can be sauteed as a side dish or added raw to your next salad.
Have you ever picked through fresh herbs and discarded the stems? Chopped cilantro stems add big flavor to marinades. Maybe you’ve trashed the green parts of the colorful carrots you found at the farmers market. Next time, transform those carrot greens into a killer pesto. A little know-how and time can turn “scraps” into the foundation of a great meal.
Freezing and more
Even the best storage techniques won’t make produce last forever. When your greens start wilting or your bananas start browning, it’s time to get creative in the kitchen. Saute wrinkled apples to add to your oatmeal, grate soft zucchini for use in muffins and toss limp greens into an omelet or frittata.
Freezing is another option for preventing wasted produce, and it’s an excellent way to get summer flavors in the middle of winter. Corn soup, anyone? If you’re like me and love ice cream any time of year, blend frozen banana chunks into an ice cream-like treat.
Some things (like cucumbers, radishes or salad greens) simply don’t freeze well, so it’s best to gobble those up when fresh. But most veggies can be frozen and used later. Freeze steamed broccoli on a baking sheet, seal in a container and add it to next month’s stir-fry. Mix and freeze chopped onions, garlic, celery and carrots to use as a flavor base for stews and ground meats. Freeze mashed sweet potatoes for a Thanksgiving-like side dish any time of year.
Remember, a little planning goes a long way. While it may be tempting to scoop up armloads of fresh corn, if you don’t have a party planned or time to prepare it all for the freezer, resist cheap, in-season prices and buy only what you need for a meal.
No matter what you’re planning for dinner, I encourage you to stick with those reusable produce bags for shopping. Practice proper food storage techniques at home, and be sure to thank the friend who gifted you those produce bags.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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