Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Store Produce without Packaging

Produce storage tips from the Conscious Shopper

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.

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?


Olivia said...

Just a note: storing cut vegs in water will leach nutrients so water should then be used as stock or baked into bread or other baked goods so vitamins are not thrown out.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Erin, this is priceless! Thank you--this is absolutley info I will use. I'm one of those people who all-too-often loses the produce to rot, and nine times out of ten it used to do its rotting INSIDE the plastic produce bag I bought it in. Oddly (or not!) since switching to mesh bags a lot of problems have gone away, but your suggestions will help us a lot! Thanks--

Jenni @ My Web of Life said...

I cannot tell you how helpful this post is! Thank you!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Olivia - Great point. I often use the carrot or celery water when I'm making broth, but I hadn't thought of using it in bread. Love that idea.

Church Lady Chronic-ails said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
concretenprimroses said...

I learned from my mom to also put radishes (cleaned up and ready to eat) in water.
Great tips!

Beate said...

Thank you so much for this list! I also wrap my lettuce in a damp towel and it lasts over a week, did not know about the carrots, though. Another tip - store apples away from other fruit and veggies since they emit Ethylen which will cause other fruits and veggies to ripen faster.

Kellie said...

Great post Erin!

If we're going to throw something (food or plastic) away anyway, I'd much rather throw a rotten head of lettuce into my compost heap than a plastic bag into the landfill.

We store asparagus standing up in the fridge with the bottoms in a bowl of water. Also, store bananas away from your other produce. Keeping bananas close to all your other fruit will make it go bad much faster.

Lisa Sharp said...

Putting potatoes in a paper bag helps keep them good. I just use one that my in-laws had, since I don't get any.

Also I have an award for you on my blog-

Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish said...

Thanks for the link! My favorite tip of all is immersing carrots and celery in water. We've been doing it for years and they stay crispy for many weeks. Not that it takes us that long to eat them.

Glad you responded to that Freekonomics article. It pissed me off.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Beth - Me too - I fumed to my husband about it for days. They got so many things wrong in that article.

JessTrev said...

like Kellie says, asparagus + fresh herbs if you're buying not growing, do well standing up in a cup of water. I freeze a lot of extra herbs as well -- and make veggie broth from peelings and such, so if something is a little past prime but not rotting, I throw it in my freezer bag for the next broth batch. Love this post....

Anonymous said...

This is great, just a little bit of water on a cloth can make a huge difference in the quality of your produce- you just have to remember to do it right after you get home. We use foil to wrap our celery and have found that it stays really crisp this way for weeks and you don't lose nutrients by soaking them in water. Even better, you can reuse the foil every time you buy celery preventing you from producing more waste.

Amanda said...

Great tips, thanks! I'm going to try the carrots/celery in water. Then, to use up all the leftover veg I always make a quick pureed veg soup at the end of the week - just boil the veg in stock, season, whizz with immersion blender (the best kitchen gadget!) and maybe drizzle in some cream if you're feeling naughty. Yum!

Country Girl in the City said...

Great tips. I've found that the store in water trick also works for olives and fresh mozzarella, as long as you keep remembering to change the water.

@Jenn the Greenmom - I too have discovered that produce seems to keep longer in mesh produce bags. Glad to know it's not all in my head.

Jen said...

Great tip about lettuce! I store onions, potatoes and carrots in our garage because it is cool and dark. They have been lasting forever.

Levinson Axelrod said...

Great tips. Thanks a lot for the advice. They're very helpful.

Sean Rippin said...

When you put the carrots or celery in a bowl of water is it one with a top? and do you mean to store them in the fridge that way?

Sean Rippin said...

when you said to cut up the carrots/celery, do you put them in a bowl with a top??

and also do you store them in your fridge?

really appreciate your help :)


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