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March, 2008

  • By Mark Mulcahy

If you are a regular Melissa’s organic produce shopper you know you are buying the best organic produce to be found, which I’m sure keeps you coming back for more. But even the best produce can break down sooner than expected if it isn’t handled correctly at home.

Veggie Sweet Peppers
If you are a regular Melissa’s organic produce shopper you know you are buying the best organic produce to be found, which I’m sure keeps you coming back for more. But even the best produce can break down sooner than expected if it isn’t handled correctly at home.

Have you ever found yellowing broccoli or wilted lettuce in your refrigerator? How about a too-ripe banana or a moldy orange in your fruit bowl? Most of us would probably answer yes. Most of us may not give it much thought once it’s put in the garbage or compost bin. Perhaps we should.

According to a 2002 report by researchers at the University of Arizona, families tossed out an average of 470 pounds of food per year, worth about $43 billion – mostly because it had gone bad. If you break it down, that equates to:

  • More than half a pound of fruit and veggies every day
  • About 14 percent of all food brought into the home
  • An annual cost of about $600 per family
Now that was six years ago; just think how much is being tossed today with our busier lives and with national surveys showing that folks are buying more fresh fruits and vegetables.So what’s the solution?

I looked around and found some great information on produce storage from UC Davis. First, knowing how to store your Melissa’s organic produce can make a huge difference in its life. For longer life, keep your produce whole – don't even rip the stem out of an apple until you eat it. “As soon as you start pulling fruits and vegetables apart,” says Barry Swanson, a food scientist at Washington State University, “you've broken cells, and micro-organisms start to grow.” Second, it’s important to keep fruit and veggies at the right temperature. Cold-sensitive fruit and veggies lose flavor and moisture at low temperatures. Produce such as Melissa’s organic mangoes, avocados, tomatoes, nectarines and peaches fall into this category. So with summer fruit season coming on, perhaps now is the time to change some of your habits. These fruits and veggies should be stored on the table or countertop, not in the refrigerator. Once they’ve ripened, you can put them in the refrigerator for a couple of days to help them last.

When you’re ready to eat them, take them out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature for the best flavor experience. A common rule is to never refrigerate Melissa’s organic potatoes, onions, winter squash or garlic. You may already know that they are best kept in a cool, dark, dry place, But did you know you should keep them separated so their flavors and smells don’t mingle or migrate? Follow this simple rule and they can last up to a month or more. There is an exception to this rule with organic potatoes in the late winter or early spring; you see, the organic potatoes we are eating now are most likely to have been in storage the past several months. So it is best to store them in the fridge to keep them from sprouting, as organic potatoes are not allowed to have sprout inhibitors applied to them post-harvest as conventional potatoes can. If you do this, once again, bring the potatoes to room temperature before eating them, as the cold will turn their starch to sugar and make them taste kind of sweet. At room temperature their familiar flavor will return.

Another important step in keeping things fresh is in understanding the effects of ethylene gas. Nearly all fruits emit some ethylene gas. Ethylene gas speeds ripening and can lead to early cell breakdown. You won’t see or smell ethylene but it is there. If your produce breaks down in just a few days, chances are you are storing fruits and vegetables incorrectly. As a rule it’s best to keep them separated. Here are some tips from UC Davis on monitoring your ethylene exposure when storing fruits and vegetables.

If you are buying Melissa’s organic Apples, Apricots, Cantaloupe, Figs, or Honeydew melons, know that these do release ethylene but go ahead and put them in the refrigerator, as the cold will not hurt them. If you are buying Melissa’s organic Avocados, Bananas, (unripe) Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Plums, and Tomatoes know that these do release ethylene as well but leave them on the counter, as these are cold sensitive. Lastly, if you are buying Melissa’s organic Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Lettuce and other leafy greens, Parsley, Peas, Peppers, Squash and Sweet Potatoes, you’ll want to keep these away from all ethylene producing produce in the refrigerator, as the ethylene will wilt, yellow, or break them down faster. It’s always best to keep your refrigerated fruits and vegetables in separate areas to eliminate exposure to ethylene.

Now it is important to note that ethylene gas is not all bad. If you are trying to ripen some Melissa’s soft fruit like peaches, plums or nectarines, you can put them in a brown paper bag alone or with an apple and it will ripen your fruit faster. As you can see, paying attention to how you store your Melissa’s organic produce and monitoring the ripeness can have positive results. Though it may be a little more effort, it will be worth your time. Lastly, have an eating plan. Eat your more perishable items first and save your heartier items for later in the week. Or better yet, plan some meals around the produce you buy. Every little step you take can give you more produce to enjoy and help to keep more money in your wallet.

And after all, you can count on Melissa’s doing everything on our part to make sure you get the best produce for your family, and we want you to get the most value for your dollar and to enjoy everything that you buy.

Here are some more tips that may be of help as the weather warms up:

Storage tips for Summer Produce
  • Do not refrigerate tomatoes! They will retain their flavor and ripen correctly at room temperature. Once they are ripe, use within 3 days.
  • For best flavor, "ripen" cantaloupes at a room temperature of approximately 70 degrees for two to four days. Once they have reached desired softness, store them in the refrigerator where they can keep up to 10 to 14 days.
  • Store fresh basil wrapped in a paper towel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to keep the leaves dry and protect them from becoming black or wilted.
  • Store celery in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Keep celery away from apples, onions and pears, as it will absorb their odors.
  • As with peaches and nectarines, allow your plums to ripen and soften at home at room temperature. Don’t put your plums in the refrigerator until they’re as ripe as you want them. To quicken the ripening process, put your soft fruit in a brown paper bag with an apple.
  • Bulb onions can be stored loose in a paper or mesh bag in a cool, dry location for up to two weeks.
  • Because corn is highly perishable, it should be refrigerated immediately after you buy it. Cook corn as soon as possible after it is picked or purchased.
  • Green beans are best used immediately, but can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to five days.
  • Store zucchini in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to four to five days, and do not wash until just before you are ready to use it. At the first sign of wilting, use immediately.
  • Blueberries are best used immediately, but can be stored (in a single layer) in a moisture proof container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Wash your berries just before serving them. To freeze blueberries, place fresh berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze them right in the container – be sure not to wash them before freezing. Once frozen, transfer to a resealable plastic bag and store.