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Tips for Keeping Produce Fresher Longer

Tips for Keeping Produce Fresher Longer
by Debbie Wolfe, CKC Writer

Korean cooking features all kinds of fresh produce. During much of the year,I have a garden where I can harvest vegetables the same day that I plan to cook them. However, during the winter I need to purchase produce at a grocery store. For specialty Asian produce, I have to travel about 45 minutes to a Korean store. Since I have to travel that far, I tend to stock up on produce to last me a couple of weeks. How do I keep them fresh? Here are a few tips I have learned to get the most out of my fresh produce purchases.

Clean Your Fridge

Begin by tossing out your old, unusable produce. It happens to the best of us; you buy some tasty strawberries and forgot they were in your crisper. Old, rotten fruits and vegetables will cause your fresh produce to ripen faster. If you haven’t eaten it by now, just toss it.

Wipe down your crispers or the drawer you will use to store the produce. If you make this a weekly or even a monthly habit, it will be easy to remember to do before the next shopping trip. The goal is to be able to see your produce. Being able to see what you have will help you remember to use it.

Buy the Freshest Produce

Get the freshest produce you can afford. Inspect it for any visible blemishes. If you plan to eat or cook it the day of purchase, take advantage of the produce that’s marked down due to ripeness. However, if your goal is to stock up for the next couple of weeks, skip the over-ripe stuff.

Ethylene Gas

The reason why some produce ripens faster than others is ethylene gas. Ethylene is a natural hormone plants make to aid in ripening. Some plants produce more than others. It triggers cells to deteriorate, fruit to soften and become sweeter, leaves to droop, and seeds or buds to sprout. Plants continue to produce this gas once they are picked. They key is recognizing which ones are high producers, and keep them separate from your other produce.

High Ethylene Producers

Store these fruits and vegetables separate from others:

bananas (ripe)
green onions
passion fruit

Ethylene Sensitive Produce

These fruits and vegetables are particularly sensitive to ethylene gas; store them away from any of the produce listed above:

bananas (unripe)
Brussels sprouts
green beans
leafy greens
sweet potatoes

A general rule of thumb is not to store fruits and vegetables together. However, you can also use ethylene gas to your advantage. Got some under-ripe peaches? Put them in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana or apple. The ethylene gas will expedite the ripening of the peaches.

How to Store Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables like lettuce, collards, chard, kale, and spinach have a short shelf life. They should be stored in a refrigerator. It’s better to store them unwashed. If you want to wash them before storage, make sure they are thoroughly dry before you refrigerate them. If the extra moisture is not completely removed from the leaves, they will rot faster. A salad spinner is a great tool to use to get rid of excess moisture.

Hearty leafy greens like Napa and/or green cabbage store well under refrigeration. Just keep them in the crisper, out of plastic produce bags. All produce needs air circulation, so skip the bags or use perforated bags. I’ll explain more about storage containers below.

Celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms and corn (in their husks) can be stored in the refrigerator. Do not pre-wash these vegetables.

You can store cucumbers, eggplants and peppers at room temperature. You can also refrigerate them once they ripen for one to three days, as long as you use them immediately after you remove them from the fridge. In general, just keep them in a basket on the counter.

Store potatoes, onions and garlic in a cool, dry place, separately. It’s better to keep them in a breathable container like a basket. If the potatoes come in a plastic bag, remove them to prevent moisture build up. Onions and garlic can stay in their mesh bags.

Other root veggies like radishes can be kept refrigerated or in a cool and dry part of your home until you are ready to use them.

How to Store Fruit

Keep fruit whole for storage. If you buy pre-cut fruit, then they absolutely need to be refrigerated. Most fruit can be stored at room temperature, but they will last a bit longer if refrigerated.

Stone fruits like peaches and nectarines are almost always sold under-ripe. Store them on the counter in a brown paper bag to speed up ripening.

Cantaloupe, honeydew and other melons can be stored loosely (unbagged) in the fridge. Store watermelons unrefrigerated in a cool, dry place.

Citrus can be stored at room temperature if it will be eaten within a week. To extend its shelf life, you can refrigerate them in their mesh bags.

Keep green bananas on the counter until ripened. If they ripen faster than you can eat them, pop the ripened bananas in the freezer (skin and all) and use them later for banana bread or smoothies.

Berries (all types) should only be washed when you are ready to eat them. Store them in the fridge in dry, covered containers.

Grapes and cherries are best kept in the breathable bags they are sold in, and only washed when you are ready to eat them.

Tomatoes (yes, they are a fruit!) need to be stored at room temperature. Refrigeration will cause them to rot faster. Keep them in a bowl on the counter.

Storage Containers

Proper storage containers are key to extending the life of fresh produce. The best containers will be able to “breathe,” preventing moisture from becoming trapped next to the surface of the vegetable or fruit. There are special types of produce bags that absorb ethylene and create an atmosphere that inhibits excessive moisture buildup. I suggest using no bags or a perforated bag to allow the produce to breathe.

Another option is the Crazy Korean Cooking fermentation and storage container.These containers are excellent for storing produce. The inner vacuum plate sucks the air out and keeps vegetables and fruit fresh much longer. Plus, it is a multi-purpose container. The fermentation and storage container induces probiotic fermentation of kimchi and sauerkraut and keeps them fresh for an extended period of time.

The next time you are out shopping for fresh produce, keep these tips in mind. They can help you get the most out your fresh fruit and vegetables and save you money.

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