Last Monday, Freakonomics had a post called How About Them (Wrapped) Apples? suggesting that packaging on foods is a good thing because "in addition to protecting food from its microbial surroundings, packaging significantly prolongs shelf life, which in turn improves the chances of the food actually being eaten." Later in the article, the author suggests that Americans waste half of all the food they buy.
The same day, Arduous took up the argument with the assertion, "If the waste trade-off is either the plastic bag for a bag of pre-washed lettuce, or an entire head of lettuce that rotted before you got to eating it, I would probably say to go with the bag of lettuce."
I have all sorts of opinions that I could toss into the discussion (none of them on the side of food packaging), but for me, one of the main issues seems to be that Americans don't know how to store produce. Why buy lettuce in a plastic bag when you can keep it crisp for just as long in your fridge without a bag? If you know how...
I bought this head of lettuce last Wednesday. On Monday when I took the picture, it was still in perfect condition. The carrots came in my CSA box last Thursday. By Monday, they were getting floppy, so I chopped them up and put them in a bowl of water. They crisped right back up.
How to Store Specific Vegetables
Cut the tops off of carrots and store in a container of water. Periodically change out the water. We generally buy carrots once a month, and they will last all month if stored this way.
Celery can be stored the same way.
Wrap lettuce in a damp cloth and store in a container with a lid.
Keep kale, collards, cabbage, and other greens wrapped in a damp cloth. The outer leaves will go bad first - simply peel them off and eat the inner leaves.
Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark place.
Onions should also be stored in a cool, dark place, preferably not touching. One tip I've seen is to store onions in old panty hose, twisting the hose in between onions to keep them from touching.
Cut the greens off of root vegetables. Store the greens separate from the vegetables.
Extra Random Tips
Most vegetables will last longer if you wrap them in a damp cloth.
Plan meals so you eat the most likely to spoil veggies first.
If you get fresh vegetables from a CSA or farmer's market, it's best to hold off on washing them until you're going to use them.
On the other hand, if you're more likely to choose fresh fruits and vegetables as a snack if you can grab and go, take 30 minutes after your shopping trip to peel, cut, and store your veggies. Put carrots and celery sticks in a bowl of water. Wrap cucumber slices and broccoli trees in a damp towel. Wash fruit and put it in an easy to access bowl on the counter.
If That's Not Enough
Fake Plastic Fish recently linked to a huge document about how to store fruits and vegetables without plastic: HowTo: Store Fruits and Vegetables - Tips and tricks to extend the life of your produce without plastic (at the bottom of the post)
What tips do you have for storing fruits and vegetables?