Produce Planning Pays Off
By Mark Mulcahy
I was visiting my Mom recently and noticed she wrapped her Romaine lettuce in a slightly damp paper towel and placed it in a plastic bag before putting it in the crisper drawer of her frig. I asked why she did this and she mentioned it kept it fresher longer. So I tried it at home and sure enough my Romaine lasted several days longer than usual.
Another thing I noticed was that she stored many different produce items in her crisping drawers which could be lessening the shelf life of some items, such as having fruit stored in the same bin as her broccoli. This got me thinking about how many of us lose or waste produce every year from either a lack of basic produce knowledge or perhaps even habits we’ve learned from our childhood that we continue without question.
Here are a couple of tips that can help you get the most out of your Melissa’s organic produce this year from Sustainable Table as well as a few of my own.
1. Shop carefully:
By simply planning your meals in advance and sticking to your shopping list you can save money, time and eat healthier food. If you only buy what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and prevent waste. If you do find a special Melissa’s organic mango or tangerine at the store that you weren’t planning on buying, trade it out for something on your list.
2. Chop it up:
Prepping and chopping fresh fruits and veggies as soon as you bring them home can help you save time cooking during the workweek and encourage you to use up all your ingredients. This works great for some organic veggies like celery, carrots, broccoli or fruit like organic oranges or melon but berries are best if washed and prepped just before using them.
3. Make a Stoup pot: One way to get the most from your produce scraps is to create a stoup pot that you store in the freezer and then make broth to use for soups and stews once its full. Produce items that work well for the stoup pot are celery ends and leaves, leek or onion ends, carrot ends, potato peels, etc.
4. Learn how to maximize the shelf life of produce:
First things first - It’s important to keep fruits and veggies at the right temperature. Cold-sensitive fruits 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. Cold-sensitive fruits and veggies should be stored on the counter, not in the refrigerator. Once they're ripened, you can put them in the refrigerator for a couple of days to help them last.
When you’re ready to eat them, return them to room temperature to ensure the best flavor. A common rule is to never refrigerate Melissa’s organic potatoes, onions, winter squash or garlic. They are best kept in a cool, dark, dry cabinet, and they can last up to a month or more. But keep them separated so their flavors and smells don't migrate. There is an exception to this with organic potatoes in the late winter or early spring, when we are eating potatoes that have been in storage. It is best to store them in the fridge to keep them from sprouting.
Secondly - Another important step in keeping things fresh is in understanding ethylene gas. Nearly all fruits emit some ethylene gas. Ethylene gas speeds ripening and can lead to premature spoilage. You won’t see or smell it but it is being released. 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 on monitoring your ethylene exposure.
REFRIGERATE THESE FRUITS:
Apples, Apricots, Cantaloupe, Figs, Honeydew melon, as the cold will not hurt them.
DON'T REFRIGERATE THESE FRUITS:
Avocados, Bananas (unripe) Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Tomatoes, as these are cold-sensitive.
KEEP THESE VEGETABLES AWAY FROM ALL FRUITS:
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Lettuce and other leafy greens, Parsley, Peas, Peppers, Squash and Sweet Potatoes.
It’s best to keep your refrigerated fruits and vegetables in separate areas to eliminate exposure to ethylene. As you can see, paying attention to how you buy and store your 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 Melissa's produce items first and save your heartier items for later in the week. Every little step you take can give you more Melissa's organic produce to enjoy and keep more money in your wallet. Now that's a resolution that truly pays off.