How to Store Produce Part 1
May 1, 2018
Reduce produce spoilage with proper food storage–here’s how…
As summer approaches, I’ve got food on the brain… more specifically, farm-fresh food, Michigan-grown food, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and everything not so available during the winter months. This happens to me each spring, actually, and I tend to get charged, overzealous even, about vegetables, which means I buy too much and devote long weekend days marathon-chopping what I overbought. Then I’m left trying to figure out how to best preserve my abundance of gorgeous vegetables. Fortunately, we can both learn from my mistakes.
Know your Refrigerator
Your refrigerator has cold, less cold, and coldest spots. Get to know them, and establish where your various foods should best be stored.
Crisper drawers are best used for produce and some even include moisture settings, which prolong the life of your food by preventing it from dehydrating. For more information on proper humidity settings, here’s a great guide on Kitchn.com. Use high humidity settings for leafy greens and ethylene-sensitive foods (see more below). Use low-humidity settings for high-ethylene foods such as apples and pears. Leaving the vent open (reducing the humidity) helps gases escape.
The lower shelf is usually the coldest spot in your refrigerator, making it the best place to store meats (if you are a carnivore). Also eggs should be stored here (as opposed to that neat custom place the manufacturer might have built into your door).
The top shelf usually has the most consistent temperature, so dairy products and things that need to be eaten quickly are best stored there. Leftovers, which will likely have less usable life, store best in the back of the shelves, although don’t forget they are there.
Temperature-wise, the door is the least consistent, as it receives a blast of room temperature every time you open it. While many refrigerator doors are now designed to store milk cartons, this is not necessarily the best location.
To Vent or Not to Vent
The above is a basic guide for food venting, but reading a bit more about ethylene gas will give you even more understanding about the role of humidity in food storage. No vented drawers? Try using vented food storage containers and, of course, you may find using both drawers and vented containers to be useful in your soon-to-be optimized refrigerator. Don’t fret if this all seems complicated, because I’m including a couple of simple tips to get you started, and a couple of good resource links for those of you who want to know even more about produce storage.
Ethylene Gas-Producing Foods
Some vegetables and fruits produce ethylene gases, which accelerate the ripening speed of certain other produce (or cause premature spoilage). Try to isolate your ethylene gas-producing produce from your ethylene-sensitive produce to keep food fresh.
If you’ve ever noticed your lettuce spotting or your cucumbers and broccoli going yellow, this is likely due to ethylene gases. The topic of ethylene gas and how it ripens produce can be a broad and complicated one, but in general, here are a few tips:
- Keep lettuce and other leafy foods away from fruits (especially bananas, peaches, and apples.
- Isolate your ethylene-producing ripe foods from other high ethylene foods to prolong life.
- If you can’t remember which foods are which, make yourself a cheat sheet and hang it on the refrigerator. Paper memories are an acceptable way to cheat in everyday life.
- Avocados (Ripe)
- Bananas (Ripe)
- Green Onions
- Honeydew Melons
- Kiwis (Ripe)
- Passion Fruits
- Tomatoes (Ripe)
- Green beans
- Honeydew Melon
- Leafy Greens
- Summer Squash
Note that some foods have low ethylene transmission until they become ripe, and the degree of gas production varies from food to food. Most produce emits at least a little ethylene as it ripens. The list of foods that don’t release any ethylene is actually very short but includes: sweet peppers, onions, corn, artichoke and garlic. Our lists above are, by no means, comprehensive. For a more detailed table of ethylene-producing-and-sensitive foods, check out the My Kitchen Garden website, as it is quite comprehensive, with lots of great information about food storage.
If the whole issue of ethylene gas overwhelms you, try simply keeping your fruits and vegetables in separate drawers as a very basic produce-longevity plan.
Some vegetables lose their flavor if stored in the refrigerator, including tomatoes, potatoes and onions (plus other foods can absorb onion smell if stored together). Store these vegetables in a cool, dry place, but feel free to set your tomatoes in the sun if they need ripening.
Most unripe fruits are best stored on the counter. Once they get ripe, however, you will want to eat, cook, freeze, can, or otherwise use them. Note that, sometimes, at the point of ripeness, refrigeration may be appropriate to preserve them a bit. Be aware also that banana skins will turn brown when refrigerated but are still good to eat.
Bananas, by the way, are best stored suspended to prevent bruising. Bananas hangers come in a variety of styles to suit your taste and décor. Multi-tiered, hanging fruit baskets are another space-efficient way to store fruit and some non or pre-refrigerated vegetables, such as avocados.
Separate onions from potatoes because they both release moisture that tends to accelerate spoilage. Also, do not refrigerate them unless you have sliced or partially used them.
Conversely, storing potatoes with apples can reduce sprouting, which is a good thing, unless you aim to plant them.
Storage Containers and Frig Bins
Storage containers for food range from sealed glass containers, to open, vented refrigerator bins, to vented plastic produce containers, to plastic bags. Which do you need for your food?
After many spills that took hours of cleaning up, I decided that the best way to organize my refrigerator was with clear plastic refrigerator bins. Along with corralling fruits, vegetables, condiments and other foods, when accidents happen, I just pull out the container and rinse it in the sink (as opposed to cleaning three shelves of tamari mess from the tipped bottle incident). Frig bins are probably the best investment I’ve ever made for food storage. Clear fridge bins are great for visibility, but frosted plastic bins with handles make access to your food quick and easy.
Vented food storage containers are a step up in food storage when it comes to freshness. The Progressive food storage containers include two-way vents, ribbed bottoms for moisture control, and removable drip trays for water removal. The hard lid is designed for easy stacking which makes efficient use of your refrigerator real estate. A couple of different sizes are available.
Dedicated food storage products such as the cheese slice container and bacon holder help to keep your food organized and separated. Larger food bins geared towards standard packaging sizes of food products (such as snacks) make it really easy to instantly locate your food. If you’re like me, I find that if everything has a designated place, I’m much more likely to follow some rules and keep things organized. Maintaining organization is often the hardest part of organizing our lives, so why not make it easier?
Our refrigerator storage product page will, most likely, get your creative juices flowing for your future refrigerator organization/spring cleaning project. Below are some useful links to some of my favorite products for produce storage and organizing. Be sure to check back to our blog for Part II of Produce Storage, which will include tips for freezing produce. You might even want to subscribe to our blog for email notifications.
Vented Produce Storage Products
- Berry Keeper
- Lettuce Keeper
- Large Produce Keeper
- Medium Produce Keeper
- OXO Produce Keeper
- Produce Bags
- Collapsible Colander
- Collapsible Sink Colander
- Large 6.5 Quart Colander
- ExtraLife Produce Saver
- Produce Bin with Handle
- Vegetable Bin with Handle
- Plastic Food Containers
- Canning Supplies
- Glass Food Storage
- Compost Pail