All About The Produce

produce

Nothing makes me crazier than produce that goes bad before I get to use it.  I go to the grocery store about every 2 weeks for my “big shopping” and stock up on enough produce to feed the 5 of us (including 3 growing kids). I recently got sucked into the whole member only warehouse club and started getting my fruits and vegetables there for the convenience. I have had to go back to return items that were bad, that were not viewable in the container, or they would go bad within days.

I started doing some research and found that families toss out an average of over 400 pounds of food each year and at least 1 pound of fruits and vegetables DAILY. This is CRAZY! I won’t get on a soap box about waste (not now anyways), but how can we afford to waste that kind of money?  I hear a lot about how organic food is too expensive and too hard to find.  Well folks, you do the math.  Let’s just say we throw out $2.00 a day x 365 days that is equal to $730.00.  That’s for produce alone.  What a shame!

With this I have changed my shopping habits and am now only buying produce weekly and mostly from our local farms or co-ops.  The source of where they are grown is not hidden, and is usually hand written on a sign, not stuck to the item.  I am also storing fruits and vegetables differently.  Yes, I didn’t realize there are really foods out there that shouldn’t touch! (Thought this was only something my 12 year old daughter was concerned about).

So how can we keep produce fresh longer? Buy local.  If it is coming in from another country, it probably is ripened by gasses and not to mention all the shipping.  Some produce puts out its own gasses.  Ethylene (the ripening agent) normally gives off high levels of gas, which speeds up the decay to ethylene sensitive foods.  They must be kept apart.  Mold grows fast and contaminates anything near it and should be tossed immediately.  You should keep your produce whole until it is going to be eaten; otherwise the broken cells cause microorganisms to grow.

Cold-sensitive fruits and veggies lose flavor and should be. stored on a counter, not in the fridge. Once they’re fully ripe, you can refrigerate them to help them last, but for best flavor, return them to room temp. You should never refrigerate potatoes, onions, winter squash or garlic. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry cabinet. They can last up to a month or more this way, but be sure to separate them so their flavors and smells don’t migrate.

These are gas releasers and need to be refrigerated:

• Apples
• Apricots
• Cantaloupe
• Figs
• Honeydew

These are gas releasers and should NOT be refrigerated:

• Avocados
• Bananas ~ unripe
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Pears
• Plums
• Tomatoes

These need to be kept away from all gas releasers:

• Bananas~ ripe
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Carrots
• Cauliflower
• Cucumbers
• Eggplant
• Lettuce and other leafy greens
• Parsley
• Peas
• Peppers
• Squash
• Sweet potatoes
• Watermelon

There are also some innovations to help extend the life of your fruits and veggies. Some products actually absorb ethylene and can be dropped into a crisper, such as the E.G.G. (for ethylene gas guardian), which is shaped like, you guessed it, an egg, and ExtraLife, a hockey puck-like disk. A variety of produce bags are also on the market, such as those by Evert-Fresh and BioFresh, which both absorb ethylene and create an atmosphere that inhibits respiration.

At least as important as how you store produce is when you buy it. Do all your other shopping first so that your berries and broccoli don’t get warm——and respire rapidly——while you’re picking up nonperishable items. Get the produce home and into the fridge as soon as possible. If you’ll be making several stops between the market and kitchen, put a cooler in the car. Shop farmers’ markets soon after they open: Just-harvested greens wilt rapidly once they’ve been in the sun for a few hours.

Even under optimal conditions, fragile raspberries will never last as long as thick-skinned oranges. Eat more perishable items first. And if you still find yourself with a bushel of ripe produce——and a business trip around the bend——improvise. Make a fruit pie, a potful of soup or a great big vat of tomato sauce, and throw it in the freezer. You’ll relish your foresight when you get home.

Fastest to Slowest Spoilers: What to Eat First

So we will enjoy our  fresh fruits and vegetables with just a single weekly trip to the farm or co op. The key is eating the more perishable produce early on. Use this guide, right——created with the help of Marita Cantwell, PhD, postharvest specialist at the University of California, Davis——based on a Sunday shopping trip. The timing suggestions are for ready-to-eat produce, so allow extra days for ripening if you’re buying, say, green bananas or not-quite-ripe pears. And remember, looks count. Appearance— —is the best clue to whether fruits and veggies are fresh to begin with.

EAT FIRST:  Sunday to Tuesday

• Artichokes
• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Basil
• Broccoli
• Cherries
• Corn
• Dill
• Green beans
• Mushrooms
• Mustard greens
• Strawberries
• Watercress

EAT NEXT: Wednesday to Friday

• Arugula
• Cucumbers
• Eggplant
• Grapes
• Lettuce
• Lime
• Mesclun
• Pineapple
• Zucchini

EAT 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

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