Storing Fresh Produce for the Longest Shelf Life
We made a few adjustments like switching to frozen broccoli and putting apples in the fridge. But the reality is we are buying most of our fresh product in bulk. We needed to figure out how to be able to enjoy it for as long as possible. In addition to the cost and waste of having it go bad, if we have to throw anything away it means we have to go without until the next time we don our masks and venture out.
Here are a few things we have learned through trial and error and others I learned the easy way – research!
Storing Fresh Produce - leafy greens
Kale is by far the longest lasting dark green we’ve found. If you have the whole leaves you can trim the bottom off and put it in a jar of water like you would fresh flowers. Wilted leaves will perk back to the fresh crunchiness. The same is true of Swiss Chard and beet greens.
Even after it has been chopped, submerging kale in cold water can bring it back to life as long as it’s not slimy.
Speaking of slimy – that is one of my huge pet peeves with spinach. It seems to go slimy overnight. Everything I’ve read says you should wash it when you first get it home, let it dry completely and then store it in a plastic bag with 20 pinprick holes in it. Why 20? That’s what a University of California at Davis study found to work best. (Who funds studying this stuff?)
But, while that is what they have found to work best in the lab, we have not had good luck with it. We store spinach in the fridge in the container we bought it in and just try to use it before it gets gross. I know that’s not super helpful advice, but there it is.
If you’ve seen my video on how to chop onions without crying, you know that putting them in the fridge helps. However, keeping onions in the fridge long-term can cause them to lose some of their nutrient value (full disclosure, I sometimes do it anyway). Ideally, onions (and garlic) should be stored in a dark, cool place. Dark to keep them from sprouting and cool to keep them from rotting.
If you are going to use them for cooking, you can also chop and freeze onions. Put them in an airtight container or a freezer bag to keep them from making your whole freezer smell like onions. They can be put into soups, stews, casseroles or however you cook onions directly from the freezer. No need to thaw.
The same is true of all types of peppers.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Potatoes of all kinds should be stored in a dark, cool place for the same reason that onions are. However, do NOT store them with onions. The chemicals that onions release will tell your potatoes to sprout no matter how dark it is.
If your potatoes start to spout you can either plant them or you can cut the sprouts out and eat them. If a potato has gotten soft, wrinkly, smells “off” (most people describe it as a mold or mildew type smell) or is dripping liquid, it is more than passed its prime. It is done. Put it in the compost.
Storing Fresh Produce - Avocados
I’m be straight with you. We have given up buying avocados for now. The big box store where we buy things in bulk has clearly started refrigerating their avocados when they first arrive and then putting them out on the floor for sale later. Once an avocado is chilled it will never ripen into that pretty, evenly green goodness we all wish for when we cut it open. Instead you’ll get brown grossness mixed with unripe green rock-like spots. Avocados are too expensive to play that game.
But, if you have a place that doesn’t refrigerate them and you are still buying them, here’s the plan. If you are going to eat it today or tomorrow, buy a ripe one. The skin should be dark (not bright green) and it should be firm but have a tiny bit of give (like a softball versus a baseball). Store it on your counter but don’t forget about it! If you do it will be bad by day three.
If you want to eat them in five to seven days buy them green and pretty hard (baseball hard. If they are rock hard it may take more than a week for them to ripen). Store them in a dark corner of your counter and check on them every couple of days. When they reach the “softball” stage, either eat them or move them to the fridge. The fridge will slow the ripening process and give you another couple of days.
Good luck and may the force be with you.
Things like thyme, rosemary and mint are pretty resilient and can be stored in just about any container in the fridge. Parsley and cilantro are a little more finicky. Store them in the fridge but keep an eye on them for getting slimy if you keep them for more than five-ish days. I’ve had better luck with curly parsley than with the flat variety.
Basil is by far the most delicate of the herb family. Ideally, you should grow it in an herb garden or a pot in a sunny kitchen window and cut it right before you use it. If that’s not an option, you can trim the ends and store it standing up in a couple of inches of water. But it won’t keep that way for long. It will either get slimy or it will root (if it roots, plant it).
Note – if you put mint of any kind in water to “perk” it up and you forget about it, it will 100% grow roots. DO NOT throw them in your compost. You should never put mint scraps in your compost. It is a weed. It will grow. It will take over. You have been warned. (If you want to grow mint, put it in a pot and don’t let the tendrils touch the ground outside the pot.)
Storing Fresh Fruit - bananas
Bananas are best stored on the counter away from any other produce because the gas they give off causes other things to rapidly ripen or sprout. Everyone has had the experience of buying bananas green and before you get through the whole bunch, they are really riper than you’d like.
When bananas reach your ideal level of ripeness, you can move them to the fridge to extend that sweet spot for a couple of days. However, the peel will turn black. If that is off-putting to you, don’t put them in the fridge.
The other option is to freeze them. Bananas freeze amazingly well at any point in their ripeness life. Peel them, slice them and then freeze them in a single layer on parchment paper. Once they are hard, move them to an airtight container. They are great for making banana bread, nice-cream, putting in your oatmeal or eating them in anyway you like.
I always tell myself I am going to freeze bananas are their peak but it never happens. Inevitably, they get too ripe to eat before I freeze them. At that point they are only good for banana bread or nice cream. But there are worse things in life.
Side note for gardeners – if you soak banana peels in water for a few days the resulting “tea” is an amazing potassium reach fertilizer for your house plants or your garden.
Fruits like clementines, oranges, lemons and limes will be fine on your counter for a week or ten days. Just be sure to store them loose (not in a plastic bag) so air can circulate around them. Look at them regularly and immediately remove any fruit that is soft or molding (note – do not sniff moldy fruit. If it visually has mold on it there is no reason to put those spores in your nose).
To make them last a bit longer, they can be stored in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Just don’t forget to eat them! Sometimes out of sight means out of mind.
To chop or not to chop, that is the question
There is nothing that makes making a salad easier than having everything already prepped and ready to throw together. I have been known to chop entire heads of cabbage, multiple crowns of broccoli and several onions just for the sake of ease.
But there is a down side. Every open cell is leaking nutrients. This is also true of the pre-cut veggies you grab from the store.
You have to make a choice. If you won’t eat them if they aren’t already chopped, then chop them. Some nutrients in your belly is better than none. However, if you will use them regardless of them being already chopped, wait and chop them right before you eat them to retain as much of the goodness as possible.
We hope that your family is healthy and making the best of things right now. Hopefully these tips will allow you to buy in bulk and keep things fresh as long as possible.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out our new webinar, The No BS Guide to Succeeding (Forever) on a Plant-Based Diet, you can watch it here.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.