It’s a new year and you may be deciding to eat healthier. With a constant barrage of nutrition information and new diets, it’s easy to be confused. Should you go vegan, raw, paleo? Eat meat? Eat grains? Eat dairy? While this is a personal journey and the answer is not the same for everyone, there is one simple answer that transcends the confusion: eat more organic fruits and vegetables. With good intentions, you head to Farm Fresh Market. You stock up on organic apples, pears, citrus, lettuce, kale, potatoes, onions, garlic, and you say to yourself: “Yes! This is the year!”
Two weeks later you’ve eaten half of the apples and pears, the rest are soft and unappealing on the kitchen table, your potatoes have started to shrivel, the onions are drying out, the kale and lettuce are slimy in plastic bags, the garlic is sprouting, and the oranges are molding. “Next year,” you think, “next year is the year.” It doesn’t have to be that way! You can add more organic fruits and veggies to your family’s diet today while saving the cost of spoiled food with a few simple storage and preparation tips.
An invisible, yet potent, factor when storing fresh produce is ethylene, a hydrocarbon gas that acts as an aging hormone in many plants. Some plants are high producers of ethylene, while some are very sensitive to the gas; knowing which is which and storing them separately will yield longevity for your organic produce. Use the diagram to the left to help you see which produce to keep separate. And always remove spoiled produce as soon as it starts to go bad to prevent the food around it from spoiling.
Apples can be left out for about a week. Put 4-5 apples out at a time for snacking, and store the rest in the refrigerator. Pears, melons, kiwis, peaches, and plums should be ripened on the counter and then placed in the refrigerator, loose or in a perforated bag. I recommend a washable mesh bag or you can poke holes in plastic bags. You can also store avocados and bananas in the refrigerator after they are ripe which lengthens their life considerably. The cold will blacken the banana skins but the flesh will still be great!
Potatoes should not be refrigerated because the cold converts the potato’s starch to sugar, altering the flavor. Potatoes store best in a cool, dark, dry area, as do sweet potatoes and yams. Placing potatoes in a mesh bag or a perforated plastic bag helps to retain moisture—no more shriveled potatoes! Onions should also be stored in a cool, dry, dark location, preferably not the refrigerator, as they’ll mold. Store these vegetables, along with winter squash, in a pantry, cupboard, or covered container that still allows air-flow. Garlic will mold in the refrigerator. Garlic is best stored at a moderate temperature and humidity, and drastic temperature changes will cause sprouting. Store garlic in a paper bag or breathable container on the counter or in the pantry.
Lettuce should be stored in the refrigerator crisper, away from apples and other ethylene producing fruits. If you wash the lettuce before storing, be sure to dry with a towel or in a salad spinner before storing in a plastic bag. Wrapping the head of lettuce with a paper or cloth towel will help extend the life.