Interested in eating healthy, following the season and including more produce into daily diet but too often, too much wilted-at-best, molded-at-worst greens end up in the trash? Food waste is a real issue and fresh produce is one big contributor to the problem. It is both disheartening to see good food go to waste (not to mention our hard-earned money) and demotivating in our efforts to maintain a healthy daily diet. Here are a few tips gathered from experience that may help with keeping mainstream vegetables, herbs and fruit fresh longer once they relocate from the store to our fridge.
1- Make sure nothing touches the sides of the fridge
First thing first: Fresh produce is fragile and easily gets damaged, so it is critical for herbs, fruit and vegetables (the actual products of whatever they are stored in) to not touch the inside of the fridge. If they do, they’ll freeze, partly or even fully depending on how much and how long they have been in contact with it. It’ll damage their integrity (bye bye flavors) and create the ideal environment for mold to grow. This isn’t as easy to avoid as it may seem because reaching an overall balance with unevenly shaped produce in a limited space can turn into an artistic juggling act. Even with some items stored in containers, things still move around as we take some out and put others in the fridge. If it happens, using the products immediately is key because they’ll get mushy and start rotting soon. Loading up the fridge with groceries and pushing them towards the back of the fridge to make room in the front is a particularly tricky step. The entire inside perimeter of the fridge can freeze fresh produce in no time, including through thick containers. Leafy greens will be the fastest to deteriorate since that they’re the most fragile, delicate products. So it is important to make sure there’s no contact resulting from the transfer and organization of the food inside the fridge. Simply pass your arm around from side to back to back to make sure there’s enough of a distance between products/containers and the fridge.
2- Keep herbs in a jar with a little water or in an inflated plastic bag
Fresh herbs are vey fragile. If they come in a ventilated plastic box, keep them there: it’s usually for small amount of herbs so there’s enough time to use them up before they start wilting or molding. Bigger quantities often come in vibrant fresh bunches. A good way to keep that pretty arrangement fresh longer is to store it in the fridge as a bouquet of flowers, in a jar with a little water at the bottom. Sometimes, particularly when in season, we get more herbs in one bunch than any other time in the year. Unless we use more of them faster, it’ll take longer to go through the whole bunch and a good way to keep them fresh longer is to place them in a plastic bag, but the trick is to inflate it before closing it so the herbs do not touch the bag all around and are not stuck all together inside of it. Another useful tip, is to remove the excess water from the inside of the bag with a kitchen cloth each time we open it to take some out, so the storage environment stays relatively dry. It’ll delay molding and can easily help a big bunch stay fresh for 2 weeks. Also herbs should only be washed when ready for use (see tip #4).
3- Remove green leafy tops
For tomatoes, strawberries, any fruit or vegetables with non-edible (or better said, not commonly eaten) green tops, it is better to remove these before storing the products in the fridge. It may sound counter-intuitive but after testing both ways, the tops appeared to be the first place where mold (developing as dark spots) starts growing. Maybe because humidity gets trapped under the leaves with no easy way out. So taking the time to remove them as products get put away in the fridge is a worthwhile additional step.
4- Don’t wash / brush produce before storing
As a general rule, it is better not to wash or brush produce before we need it. It would be great to do most of the prep work upfront and store clean items in the fridge, but humidity is not our friend in a cool, already humid environment: mold loves and thrives on it. With leafy greens and herbs in particular, anything with folded, closely connected leaves or wrinkly parts (chards, spinach, kale, parsley, coriander, oregano, dill, even green onions…), it is a big no no simply because it is nearly impossible to fully dry them up. Tiny drops of water get trapped in between leaves and lead the way to mold. The same rule of caution applies to fragile products like pears, apricots, peaches, plums (for all, skin gets brown almost immediately), eggplants and all types of berries. With stronger, leafless products (carrots, zucchinis, radishes, celery, apples, tomatoes…), it is possible to clean/brush more than needed at once, dry well, and hold for a few days in the fridge without any problems. But do experiment and see how it works out since every fridge is set up differently.
5- Line drawers with fabric cloth
Definitely helpful, the veggie and fruit drawers at the bottom of the fridge since they’re meant to provide more protection against humidity. As an added measure, lining them with fabric kitchen cloth helps to absorb additional humidity. And fully wrapping products in a cloth is another good tip, especially the ones we have cleaned ahead of time (see #4). Naturally made commercial products can help with extending produce life too, like Fresh Paper from Fenugreen: recyclable, biodegradable, compostable and made from organic ingredients, these little sheets used as liner claim to to keep produce fresh two to four times longer. Might be worth a try?
6- Store in glass containers with lids or keep in aerated plastic bags
Containers are great because they’re stackable and help optimize the space available in the fridge. Glass is preferred for eco-friendly and health reasons, especially when storing cut open produce (that leftover tomato piece). The less contact between our foods and plastic, the better. Avoiding plastic altogether in the kitchen is the best way to avoid scratched plastic leaching chemicals into our food. Now, not to preach in favor of plastic, at all, but some purposely designed punctured plastic bags (letting the right amount of air in to prevent molding) are helpful, as long as the products stored inside are still whole. Take fragile items like bell peppers for example. They are often sold, placed one next to the other in long aerated plastic bags to limit contact among themselves. In such cases and again, as long as the vegetables are kept whole, it can make sense to keep them in there because a container may lead to more contact and bruising. Logistically speaking, a few items (take the fragile ones for example, if they have smart appropriate packaging) left in original plastic packages may also help fill smaller spaces available between stacked containers, for an overall well-organized fridge. Back to glass containers, these are great for whole and leftover produce and they make it easy to wipe out the excess water accumulating on glass over time. Glass containers with glass lids are hard to find and a good way to work with what we have vs buying new is to use regular glass plates as lids on different sizes of salad bowls and regular bowls. Perfect to get that stacking going and stable!
What should be added to this list, any tips on how to keep fresh products as long as possible and minimize produce waste? Any produce specific tips to extend longevity? Any storage location comments on keep in the fridge vs. keep outside of the fridge for specific items?