Keeping produce fresh is easier if you understand that keeping certain products together could speed up ripening — but also quicker rotting. Scientists say ethylene is the culprit. Ethylene is a gas produced by some fresh vegetables and fruits that speeds up the ripening of other products stored with them. Keeping ethylene producing produce with ethylene sensitive products can cause food waste.
Ethylene producing fresh produce
The following products produce ethylene and speed up the ripening of any fruits or vegetables stored with them:
Avocados, apples, bananas, cantaloupes, pears, peppers and tomatoes.
Ethylene sensitive fresh produce
Storing the following ethylene sensitive produce with the ethylene producers will speed their ripening. This could be handy if you want to ripen something faster, but keeping them separate could prevent waste: They are mangoes, peaches, grapes, asparagus, celery, eggplants, onions and cucumbers.
For example, keeping your tomatoes and cucumbers together can cause the loss of spoiled cucumbers. Similarly, putting pears and peaches in the same fruit basket might ripen your peaches quicker. However, chances are they’ll spoil if you do not keep an eye on them.
Keep your greens fresh for longer
If you rinse spinach and lettuce varieties like romaine, bibb, red leaf in cold water, they will remain fresh for longer. However, you must remove any discolored or wilted leaves and use paper towels or a salad spinner to remove as much water as possible from the leaves you keep. Refrigerate the greens in zip-lock bags or sealed containers.
Handy tip: Keep a zip-lock bag for usable kitchen scraps in the freezer. If the wilted leaves are usable, pop them in the bag with other veggie scraps, and use them to make vegetable stock when you have enough.
The wax layer protects fresh produce
Vegetables and fruits that grow in warmer climates have natural coats of wax. It helps to prevent bruising that can lead to premature rotting. The waxy coat also prevents shrinking. However, produce grown in colder areas might get artificial wax coatings. Apples, nectarines, lemons, oranges, bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and potatoes could have waxy coats. To keep them fresher for longer, leave the wax until just before you use the products.
Berries love low temperatures
Although berries of all kinds are associated with hot summer days, they keep their freshness best if kept between 40 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries at the last moment. While they sit in the fridge, any moisture present will make them mushy and encourage mold formation.
Carrots and their greens are best separated
Carrots certainly look pretty with their green tops. However, the greens steal freshness and nutrients from the carrot. After removing the green tops, your carrots will remain fresh for a few weeks, provided they are packed loosely in either a crisper drawer or a plastic bag.
Handy tip: Don’t get rid of the greens. They are perfect for making chimichurri, pesto or even a salad topping.
Wrap celery to keep it fresh
Celery contains a lot of moisture and goes limp as it loses water. Therefore, wrap them tightly in foil and store them in the refrigerator. Also, keep in mind that they are ethylene sensitive.
Lemons stay fresher if bagged
Keeping those lovely bright yellow lemons on the kitchen counter may look pretty, but they will keep fresher longer in the fridge. Seal them in bags, removing as much air as possible, and they’ll remain fresh and juicy for a month or more.
Bananas last best if kept cool
Humid air in a warm kitchen is a foolproof recipe for spoiled bananas. They last longer in the refrigerator. Don’t mind their skins going black in the fridge. Peel them, and you will find perfectly ripened bananas. Also, you can even refrigerate them before they have ripened, as they will get ripe in time. Remember, they produce ethylene.
Moisture spoils mushrooms
Mushrooms are fungi that like cool, dark, well-ventilated conditions. Remove them from the store’s plastic wrapper as soon as possible because it traps moisture that causes rot. Keep them in an open container, or better yet, a brown paper bag that is left open at the top. Keep mushrooms dry, and only rinse them when you are ready to cook them.
Ginger can last for 3 months
Ginger is one of those things that you never use up before it turns moldy. Or is it? It can last in the fridge for a week or two, but for up to three months in the freezer. Slice, grate or chop the ginger and freeze it in a freezer bag or tightly wrapped in foil. It does not want air.
Handy tip: Freeze the grated or chopped ginger in an ice cube container and then put the frozen cubes in a bag. This makes it easier to use if you can just grab one or two cubes as needed.
Onions need to breathe dry air
Never keep fresh onions in a sealed bag. Without circulating air, onions rot quickly. Keep them in a mesh bag, or even in the legs of clean pantyhose, hung on a hook in your pantry. Keep in mind that they are ethylene sensitive.
Handy tip: When you chop onions, always chop one or two extra. Freeze the extra in ice cube trays and the cubes in zip-lock bags — handy when you’re short of time to prepare a meal. You can use the frozen onion cubes straight from the freezer. (I do the same with bell peppers and mushrooms if they’re getting close to expiry See more here.)
Treat your fresh herbs like flowers
Place parsley, cilantro and mint in a jar filled with water, and keep the jar in the fridge. Other, more tender herbs with soft stems also keep longer in jars with water, but they might prefer room temperature instead of the refrigerator.
One last note
The factors that spoil fresh produce include light, temperature, air and time. Other aspects you can control are the growth of microorganisms like mold, yeast and bacteria. Wipe down the inside of your refrigerator with a vinegar and water solution at frequent intervals to avoid waste.