Reducing food waste – storing fruit and veg

Fruit and veg can be expensive and often you don’t get to use them before they become limp, soft or frankly smelly! Learn how to store them to extend their shelf life and save money.

Reducing food waste – storing fruit and veg

Fruit and vegetable food waste accounts for a massive percentage of our overall food waste so is an area we can make an impact in reducing waste. Lots of energy and carbon emissions go into producing fruit and vegetables. By not wasting produce we are also reducing our individual carbon footprint.

I started to look at information in how to properly store my fresh produce as I was tired of it becoming limp or soft after only a day or so. One of the things I decided was to shop more often and buy less.  Meal planning and buying only what you need for the next week and then cooking ahead also helps to have food that is higher in nutritional value as it is fresher. Fruit and vegetables also lose flavour at low temperatures so not storing for too long will ensure tastier produce!

Buying produce in season is a good way to ensure it lasts longer

Buying from local farmers market and buying what is in season, will help you to have fruit and veg that is really fresh and will supply optimum nutritional value. Keep in mind that most fruit you buy from the supermarket has probably been in cold storage already, sometimes for up to a year.

It’s not hard to extend the life of your fresh produce if you just follow some simple rules. Buying good quality produce is also key. Leafy greens should be a nice rich colour and not have any limp or yellowing leaves. Root vegetables such as potatoes, swedes and beetroot should be heavy for their size, firm and not have blemishes or soft spots.

Buying in smaller quantities and using as soon as possible after purchase is the best way to ensure you are eating good quality fruit and vegetables.

Generally when storing fruit and vegetables it is best to keep them whole as much as possible and also dont wash them until you are going to use them.

If you have salad leaves or other pre washed items, dry them off and store in sealed containers. Stacking in between paper towels helps to keep moisture at bay. Particularly lettuce which will become slimy if moist.

For vegetables such as beetroot where you have green stalks, you will need to cut them off prior to storing. You can use these leaves in cooking, so using more of the vegetable and wasting less.

Store fruit and vegetables in breathable produce bags so they are able to absorb moisture and air. When kept in sealed bags, fruits and vegetables break down quicker. 

The main requirements for optimal storage

The three main things to consider when storing fruit and  vegetables are: ethylene gas emitters; temperature and airflow.

1. Ethylene Gas

Some fruit and vegetables produce a gas called ethylene. This is what causes fruit and vegetables to ripen. Some produce higher levels than others and if stored with ethylene sensitive fruit and vegetables will accelerate their ripening and cause them to spoil quickly. Knowing which to store separately is important to get the most out of your produce.

Its important to know what produce emits ethylene gas and what produce is sensitive to this gas. Then keep these items separate.

Knowing what foods to keep separate when storing will help to reduce spoilage. Some foods emitting ethylene are also sensitive to it, so again, keep them separate from other ethylene emitters.

Click here to download a copy

2. Temperature

It’s important to know what to store in the fridge and what is better stored at room temperature. Produce that does better on the counter are tomatoes or fruit that needs to ripen. It also includes produce such as potatoes which need to be stored in a dark dry area.

3. Airflow

One effective way to reduce spoilage is to ensure you are not storing fruit and vegetables too close together which causes a build up of the ethylene gas and accelerates spoilage. Fruit and vegetables also go through a natural process of oxidation so having more airflow reduces the speed at which this occurs. Keep items either in the crisper with the appropriate level of humidity or in closed containers. Some items need to have a good airflow to ensure they are not becoming damp and mouldy. Avoid stacking. Air circulation and the absence of pressure can extend the life of your produce.

Storing in plastic bags causes premature spoilage. Even if the bananas, potatoes, or onions you bought came in a perforated plastic bag, they’ll last longer if you take them out and let them breathe. Obviously though, it is much better for general waste reduction to avoid buying produce in single use plastic bags and to take your own reusable produce bags! I would also recommend avoiding buying oranges or other fruit in netting bags. These often find their way into the ocean and cause a lot of harm to marine life and animals on the beaches. Again, buy fruit loose and use your own reusable bags. Check out our produce bags.

The specifics of fruit and veg storage to avoid food waste

This gives you the general guidelines for prolonging the life of your produce, but you may find you have to also use trial and error with some vegetables or fruit if they are uncommon ones.

Instead of throwing out spoiled fruit and vegetables, which is really throwing your money away, find out how to store fruits and veggies so they last longer.

Eat food that will spoil sooner first such as berries, leafy greens, lettuce etc.

Fresh herbs: cut off the ends and place in a jar or glass in water, like you would cut flowers. You can keep them fresh longer this way, and you can just cut off what you need to use. To store fresh herbs longer, you can wash and dry them, and cut into small pieces and freeze in small containers or zip lock bags.

Store in the fridge:

  • Apples, apricots, rockmelon, and honeydew are best kept in the fridge to keep them fresh longer. But store separate from greens! The ethylene emitted will wilt them. 
  • Store berries in the fridge and wash gently before eating or using. They wont last long and tend to go mouldy quickly. Eat them soon after buying them or freeze them for longer storage.
  • Grapes have a tendency to go mouldy due to moisture build-up. Remove grapes from the bag or container, wash and gently pat dry. Place on a paper towel in an open container in the fridge. 
  • Store mushrooms in the fridge in a sealed container or paper bag. Don’t wash them, but either peel the skins or rub onto paper towels to clean prior to eating.
  • Place peppers in a paper or breathable produce bag and store in the crisper in the fridge. They’ll stay crisp for a couple of weeks. 
  • It’s a good idea to wash fresh lettuce but don’t refrigerate damp as they will go soggy. After rinsing, pat dry, wrap in paper towel, and store in an open container in the fridge. If you have prewashed greens, remove from the plastic bag and dry with paper or cloth towels. Store in a vented container or in the crisper between sheets of paper towels.
  • Use vented containers which act like a crisper compartment to keep things that normally would do well wrapped in plastic. I store silver-beat, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce in these containers. You don’t need to wash these vegetables until you are going to use them. Tupperware have a good range of vented containers in different sizes and recycle their plastic now, so it is better than having single use plastic bags to store produce in. I have had mine for many years and they will last for many more. They keep the produce fresh and fairly crisp for up to a couple of weeks.
  • You can line crisper drawers with paper towels to absorb excess moisture which will also prolong the life of your veggies.
  • Some vegetables such as carrots, celery, asparagus, radish, and green onion maintain their freshness even longer by being submerged in water. Take the time to cut up your vegetables, and then store them in a covered container full of fresh water in the fridge. Change the water every few days to prolong the freshness.
Infographic from – Food Construed

Infographic from Food Construed – Storing fruit and vegetables ( downloadable copy is higher quality)

What to leave out of the fridge

Leave some produce out of the fridge. Ethylene emitters, such as avocados, bananas, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, pears, and plumbs, are best kept on the counter and can be stored in the fridge once ripe to lengthen shelf life. Store separately to keep them from ripening too quickly. 

Keep stone fruit on the counter until fully ripe and then pop in the fridge to keep it sweet longer. 

Prolong the life of bananas by separating them from the bunch, which slows the ripening process. 

Storing potatoes, onions, and garlic in cool, dark spots elongates life for up to a month.

For further reading, check out the blog on reducing food waste


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