Waste Less: 5 Tips to Keep your Produce Fresh
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Farm Cart is not only a source of convenient and delicious local food, but also a resource for what to do with your food. In addition to the recipes I print and post every week, I also wanted to share a few things I do to help keep produce fresh until I'm ready to use it:
Separate stems from roots or bulbs before storing them. Living plants continually draw water from their roots into their leaves, where it essentially evaporates. When a plant is harvested, this transpiration doesn't stop, which can quickly leave both the roots and the leaves wilted and unappetizing. Although the loss of water will still happen after separating, cutting the stems from the roots helps slow this process down. So if the stems and leaves are still attached to your carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, etc, give the stems a quick chop close to the root end before you put them away.
Keep greens, roots, stems, and pods in something that can hold in moisture while also being breathable. I cringe to have to say it, but I typically use plastic bags to keep things fresh, like greens (lettuce, kale, herbs), roots (carrots, beets, radishes), stems (celery, asparagus), and pods (beans, peas). Plastic bags or plastic alternatives help keep the air around the produce humid, resulting in less moisture loss. Left in the open, even in the fridge, many veggies lose moisture very quickly because the air around them pulls moisture out of them. Loosely wrapping them in plastic or compostable produce bags, or even in silicone or plastic zip-top bags that aren't fully sealed, will help maintain humidity around things that typically wilt, while also allowing them to breathe just a bit. Airtight containers are not usually ideal for fresh, uncut produce. Some people swear by the humidity control on their crisper drawers, but I find these unreliable, especially if the drawer is too full or too empty. So, the first thing I do with most fresh veggies is stick them in a plastic bag (I do wash and reuse these to the end of their life, for what it's worth).
If you have wilted vegetables, try soaking them in a cold water bath before you give up on them. Especially if the item is still relatively fresh, chances are it can be "brought back to life" with a cold soak. Wilting is both a response to and a defense from water loss, especially in leaves. A cold water soak might allow the plant cells to plump up again if they're not too dried out, keeping your produce looking, feeling, and tasting fresh a little bit longer. Just be sure to dry greens well, like in a salad spinner, if they're going back in the fridge. Balance is always key...too much moisture on the surface can encourage bacteria growth and speed up spoilage.
Not everything stays fresh in the fridge: potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, whole melons, berries, stone fruits, basil, and tropical fruits like avocados, pineapple, and mango might do better out of the fridge, at least until they're cut up. There are various reasons for this, depending on the kind of plant. Onions, garlic, and potatoes want to be in cool, dark, dry places with good air circulation - your refrigerator is too cold and humid for long-term storage. Tender fruits and tropical plants on the other hand can be sensitive to cold temperatures, turning mealy and possibly losing flavor and nutrients. There's not 100% agreement on whether this is actually true, and some say the fridge can actually help prolong the shelf life of ripe fruits by a few days, so you'll have to gauge that by your own experience. Fruits definitely do give off a lot of ethylene gas, though, which speeds up ripening. In enclosed spaces, they ripen even faster. This is why unripe fruits can be put in paper bags to ripen. But an already ripe fruit will turn to overripe, and ripen everything around it, if kept in bags or crisper drawers. Kept on the counter in a bowl or basket ensures there's enough air circulation to disperse the ethylene gas.
How you dispose of produce past its prime makes a difference. We all have to toss some produce sometimes, even if it's just the inedible bits at the end. How you let go of it matters, though. Composting your produce waste ensures that it stays in the natural nutrient cycle, feeding future generations of plants while contributing less methane to the atmosphere than landfilled produce waste. We're excited to be working on a partnership with Happy Trash Can to help our customers access convenient curbside composting services for their food waste and compostable containers (yes! even those!). Details will be announced soon. Stay tuned!
Do you have other useful produce-saving tips? Or a completely different take on these? I'd love to learn from you, as well!