Spoiled Rotten? – Keeping the Fresh in Fresh Foods

imagesCAL7HVQII don’t know how your summer is going, but at our house  we are absolutely inundated with an abundance of fresh organic produce.

We joined a CSA  (Community Supported Agriculture) during the Spring, so we receive a big box of beautiful food every week. We also have friends, more ambitious than we are, who grow great amounts of food, and are happy to share with us.  Then, at this time of year, there are always a few grocery store items that are irresistible, such as those gorgeous cherries from different parts of the country.  Can you relate to this issue?

I hate to name it as a problem, because, well, it’s nice to have an abundance of fresh, whole foods around, right?  The problem is that that it’s tough to view all that beautiful food on the counter, and know in my heart that I can’t possibly prepare or eat all the food, and that there’s a high probability that some of it will go to waste.

If you’re with me here, we are at least not alone in this dilemma.  The typical American family throws out nearly 500 pounds of food a year – a substantial waste of food and money. Some households forfeit as much as 25% of their fresh foods to the compost heap or trash because it just doesn’t get eaten before it goes bad.

We can fix this! 

At least we can, with a little attentiveness, discipline, and strategy, conserve money and maximize the best use of our fruits and vegetables by eating them rather than having to pitch them.

Start with Planning

Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping, factoring in all the food sources other than the farmer’s markets or grocery stores. Buy only what’s on the shopping list for the meals that you’ve planned. Prepare and eat the produce with the shortest shelf- life first, and start a compost pile for the live scraps, or know someone who would appreciate having them for their garden.

Be Careful with Food Storage

Some fruits emit ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas that speeds ripening and can lead to the premature decay of nearby ethylene-sensitive vegetables.  For example, an apple or peach stored with spinach or kale will hasten the yellowing process on those gorgeous greens. On the other hand, the ethylene can be used to your advantage. To speed-ripen a peach, for example, put it in a closed paper bag with a ripe banana. The first trick is to separate produce that emits ethylene from produce that’s sensitive to it.

Watch the Temperature and Placement

Cold-sensitive fruits and vegetables lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures.   Store them on the counter, not in the refrigerator.  Once they are ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator, but for the best flavor, let them come back to room temperature.

Refrigeration is usually the best thing for most produce, because it slows its respiration or breathing process but keeping it “trapped” in a plastic bag will suffocate it, thus hastening decay.

Refrigerate these gas releasers: apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, honeydew

Don’t refrigerate these gas releasers: avocados, bananas (unripe), nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes

Keep these away from all gas releasers: bananas (ripe), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, dark leafy greens, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, watermelon.

Timing is Important

When you buy your produce is as important as how you store it.  When shopping, gather all your other items first, then get the fruits and vegetables. This will help cut down the “warming” effect.

When you unpack your groceries, take care of the fresh things first, getting what needs to be refrigerated there as quickly as possible.  A cooler in the car can be very helpful if you know you have several stops to make between the produce place and home.

If you shop at farmers’ markets, do it as early in the day as you can. Just-harvested greens wilt rapidly once they’ve been in the sun for a few hours.

First Things First

Eating the most perishable foods first will minimize the amount of food that spoils by the end of the week. The following guide, developed my Marita Cantwell, PhD, postharvest specialist at the University of California, Davis. It is based on a Sunday shopping trip, and the timing suggestions are for ready-to-eat produce. You may need to allow extra days for ripening, for things like green bananas and not-quite-ripe-pears.

First:  Sunday to Tuesday

Artichokes, asparagus, avocados bananas, basil broccoli cherries, corn, dill, green beans, mushrooms, mustard greens, strawberries, watercress

Next : Wednesday to Friday

Arugula, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, lettuce, lime, mesclun, pineapple, zucchini

Last: Weekend

Apricots, bell peppers blueberries, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, grapefruit, leeks, lemons, mint, oranges, oregano, parsley, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, tomatoes, watermelon

And Beyond:

Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, winter, squash

More fresh foods longer – for everyone  Enjoy!

Would you like to receive my bi-monthly newsletters, with recipes & strategies for feeling your best?

Post a comment