Food safety is a big concern of mine, perhaps because I worked in the restaurant industry for many years. I’ll have all those rules and regulations ingrained in my brain forever! There’s nothing that bugs me more than seeing perfectly good produce go in the garbage because it’s been allowed to spoil. If you’re like most people, you likely buy way more than you can eat in a week… you have a big fruit bowl on your kitchen counter filled with a variety of different fruits… you throw all your veggies in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Are you nodding your head? The following are some tips that I hope you’ll find useful.
- Don’t buy more than your family can eat. Many vegetables can last for weeks if properly stored, but most start going bad after a few days.
- Buy in season. Prices are better, and so is quality, since the produce most likely doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your grocery store.
- Don’t buy produce just because it’s on sale! Asparagus may be super cheap this week, but if no one in your family likes it, there’s no point in stocking up.
- Don’t buy in bulk… unless you’re prepared to freeze, can, or preserve the produce in some way before it spoils.
- Even buying apples, lemons, onions, oranges, and potatoes in bags isn’t always the best option. The price may be good, but if you don’t use the entire 5 pounds of potatoes, it’s a waste and you’re not saving any money. Buying individually is a better option, and affords you the opportunity to try a few new things… one of this, one of that!
- Avocados are almost always sold underripe. Don’t let this keep you from buying this delicious fruit! Speed the ripening process by placing them in a brown paper bag when you get home. Even better? Add an apple or banana to it.
- Consider joining a CSA (community supported agriculture). You’ll be supporting a local farm, all while trying new fruits and veggies that you might not usually buy at the grocery store. Use LocalHarvest (www.localharvest.org) to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food near you.
- Certain types of fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be stored together. There are ones that release high levels of ethylene gas – a ripening agent – that will speed the decay of ethylene-sensitive produce. Ethylene producers include: apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew melon, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.
- If you’re keeping your produce in a plastic bag, make sure that you poke holes in it. You don’t want moisture and ethylene gas to build up.
- Not everything should be stored in the fridge! Garlic, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes, for instance. Tomatoes, in particular, develop a strange texture when they’re refrigerated… and the moisture in the fridge encourages potatoes to sprout. I keep garlic away from everything else, as its smell tends to migrate.
- Drain excess liquid from produce before storing in the refrigerator. Rubbermaid Produce Saver containers work very well.
- Mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator, to keep moisture from building up. Their texture will change and they’ll get slimy… ugh.
- To store fresh herbs, cut off the end of their stems, just like you do with flowers. Place them stem first in a glass of water, then cover with a plastic bag and store in the fridge. Snip off leaves as needed. Basil usually spoils super fast, and this method didn’t seem to help significantly. Try not to buy more of it than you can use in a few days. Other herbs can last for weeks! Asparagus also benefits from being stored this way.
- If you’re leaving your fruit out on the kitchen counter, make sure it’s out of direct sunlight.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before preparing produce, or any other food, for that matter. Hint: singing “Happy Birthday” twice takes around 20 seconds.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with cool running water. Should you wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store? That’s up to personal preference, but I don’t wash mine until I’m about to use it. You have to dry it thoroughly before storing it in the fridge, to avoid spoilage, and that’s just an extra step I don’t have time for.
- Don’t cross-contaminate! Consider buying and using color-coded cutting boards. Green for fruits and vegetables, red for raw meat, yellow for poultry, blue for seafood, etc.
- Melons should be washed well before cutting, scrubbed with a brush even, because bacteria from the outside can be spread to the inside by the knife.
- Cut away bruised parts first. Bacteria tends to thrive in these areas, as well as the outer leaves of heads of lettuce and cabbage.
- If you cut up extra fruit and veggies, refrigerate the leftovers and use within a couple of days.
Do you have any advice to add? I’d suggest you start your own vegetable garden, but I’m no help with that. I’m a terrible gardener. All I can grow is mint. In fact, I can’t seem to get rid of it.
I’ve got a $25 Kroger gift card burning a hole in my pocket… but the closest location to me is 100 miles away! Could you use it? Be sure you’re subscribe to my blog (either by feed reader or email) and leave a comment on this post telling me so. I’ll pick a winner at random next Sunday, May 2nd.