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Tips for Storing Produce

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:52pm


Christinia posted a comment the other day with a request for tips on storing produce. As one has cleaned out her fair share of brown, goopy produce bins over the years, I am more than happy to share my acquired knowledge on the subject.



Friends, the answer is simple and straightforward: keeping produce drawer slime at bay comes down to one issue: proper storage.



I know, ho-hum, yawn... But like the dermatologist who states again and again that sunscreen is essential, I stand by my statement, because it’s true.



Keep in mind that while I tout this, I do it begrudgingly. After getting home from the grocery store, especially when the visit involves toting and entertaining an adorable but highly energetic toddler, I want nothing more than to shove the my goods into the refrigerator, slam the door, and forget about it.



But my frugal side overpowers my grumpy side nine times out of ten. Those few extra minutes spent stowing fruits and vegetable in their proper place really does make the difference between produce perfection and stinky slime in the days to come.



(That being said, if you cannot deal with the storage issue as soon as you get home, consider my in-between solution: shove your purchases into the refrigerator, and then set the oven timer for an hour or two hours. When you hear the ding, you’ll likely be in a better state of mind to handle and store your bounty).



But it’s not all about the packaging in the storage equation: natural gases also play a part (I only happened to come across this in a take-away pamphlet from the natural foods Co-op years ago). Here’s the scoop: some foods should be kept apart from others because they release ethylene, a natural gas that can cause items near them to become spotted or soft.



Some common ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables include the following: apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes. Fruits and vegetables especially sensitive to the effects of ethylene include: apples, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, lettuces and other greens, potatoes, summer squash, and watermelons.

Now, on to some produce specifics.



Rather than being all-inclusive, I’m touching on some of the most common items found in my (and, most likely, yours) produce bin:



Lettuces

I love the ready-to-go, pre-washed, pre-packed salads as much as anyone, but when it comes to taste, value, and longevity, whole heads of lettuce are best by far, as they are likely to be fresher and, consequently, more nutritious.



Storage: Wrap lettuce in damp paper towels and seal in a plastic bag. (The exception is mesclun, which should be stored in an unsealed plastic bag.) Put bagged lettuce in the crisper, which will keep it moist and cold.

Life expectancy: 7 to 10 days.



Spinach

Storage: Place in a plastic bag (if it didn’t come in one) and refrigerate.

Life expectancy: About 3 days.



Arugula

Storage: Put the leaves in a plastic bag (if they aren’t already in one) and refrigerate.Life expectancy: About 3 days.



Bell Peppers

Storage: Store, unwashed, in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper.

Life expectancy: Up to 1 week.



Cabbage

Storage: Wrap the entire head in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Life expectancy: Up to 2 weeks.



Carrots

Storage: Remove any greens, then place the carrots in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper.

Life expectancy: 2 to 4 weeks.



Grapes

Storage: Keep in a resealable plastic bag in the back of the refrigerator. If you wash grapes before storing, they will spoil in about a week.

Life expectancy: 2 to 3 weeks.



Green Onions

Storage: Keep in the crisper, unwashed, in a plastic bag.

Life expectancy: 1 week.



Spinach

Storage: Place in a plastic bag (if it didn’t come in one) and refrigerate.

Life expectancy: 3 days.



Tomatoes

Storage: Store at room temperature on a countertop, stem-side up. Make sure they’re out of direct sunlight, and never put them in the refrigerator, which will ruin the flavor and the texture.

Life expectancy: 2 to 5 days.
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