We throw out a quarter of our produce because it goes bad before we can eat it.
This does not have to be the case if you store it effectively. Temperature and location of storage make all the difference. When stored incorrectly, produce ripens quickly and can lose its flavor and quality.
Here are some guidelines so you know what should be refrigerated and what can be stored on the counter out of direct sun in a well-ventilated area.
Do not wash fruits or vegetables – and keep them whole (uncut) – until ready for use.
Sort and dispose of any item that has turned bad to prevent contamination of others.
To enjoy the best flavor, use the items that deteriorate more quickly first (for example, berries before melon).
Fruits and vegetables should never be stored together. Designate a fruit drawer and a separate drawer for vegetables in the fridge and on the counter. Produce (typically fruits) give off a ripening agent (ethylene gas) that can cause rotting or yellowing of other produce within a couple of days. Conversely, if you have produce that isn’t ripe, this can help speed ripening. Put items into a paper bag with one ethylene-producing item, close the top and check it daily.
Cold-sensitive fruits lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures. Most vegetables and fruits do best when stored at room temperature in a well-ventilated area. Refrigerate only after the fruit or vegetable has ripened to help slow the progression. Bananas turn black and flavor is diminished when stored in the fridge. Tomatoes and watermelons lose flavor and their deep red color if stored in the fridge for more than a couple of days. Sweet potatoes develop an off flavor and hard core when refrigerated. Potatoes, onion, garlic and winter squash should never be stored in the fridge. They can be stored, instead, in a cool, dry, dark area (40 to 45 degrees).
After fruit has ripened and increased in sugar content and color, it can be stored in the fridge for one to three days to preserve a little longer. The University of California, Davis, says fruit needs to “breathe.” Cooler temperatures slow the breathing. But storing fruits or vegetables in air-tight bags stops all breathing (increasing carbon dioxide and depleting oxygen) that slows ripening. Air-tight bags will advance the decay process and increase foul odors.
Most vegetables do best stored in separate crisper drawer, especially in produce bags. They should be stored separately from each other. Before storing, trim any leafy ends and remove binding. Pack vegetables loosely in the bags. Fruits and vegetables should be stored in perforated plastic produce bags to help retain moisture and release the carbon dioxide. Produce storage bags are very effective in prolonging the life of an item.
Bell peppers, grapes, all citrus, berries, cantaloupe and honeydew should be refrigerated, while items such as avocados, bananas, stone fruits and tomatoes should not be refrigerated.
When ready to use the item, scrub it with a vegetable brush under cool running water. This has been found to be the most effective and safest method. Soaking increases cross-contamination and is not recommended. Ready-to-eat, prewashed, packaged produce also should be washed under cool running water.
This should help you enjoy the recommended 2½ cups of produce daily.
email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.