Throwing away food is something most of us are guilty of. It’s wasteful, expensive, and frustrating. According to a report in the Guardian, Americans throw away an incredible 50% of fresh produce. This equates to one-third of all food. That’s 60 million tons of food and costs approximately $160 billion every year. The Environmental Protection Agency states that food waste is the largest contributor to US landfills.
On such a vast scale, that’s a startling but still abstract concept that’s hard to put into perspective as it relates to you and your family. So, in real terms, those statistics equate to an average family of four throwing away $1600 of fresh produce every year. Think about how much food $1600 buys. Or think about what you could do with an extra $1600 a year. It’s shocking to think that the average family throws away that much fresh produce and probably doesn’t even realize just how much they’re wasting – the odd pack of wilted celery or some limp broccoli doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but if you do that regularly, it soon adds up. To help you reduce how much money you waste of food you throw away, which in turn helps the planet and reduces your carbon footprint, we’ve put together a list of simple ways to make fresh food last longer.
1. Don’t Wash Before You Refrigerate
Washing fruit and vegetables before you store them is a bad idea. You’ll significantly reduce their life. They’ll wilt and discolour and ultimately start to decompose and be unusable faster. That’s because you’re adding moisture, which speeds up spoilage and decay.
2. Separate Fruits and Vegetables
Certain fruits, such as bananas and apples, produce a gas called ethylene which helps those fruits ripen faster. Unfortunately, many other fruits and most vegetables are sensitive to ethylene, and they’ll ripen too fast when exposed to it. Therefore, separating the ethylene emitters from your other items is one of the most effective ways of making your produce last longer with minimal effort.
Here’s a list of the most common ethylene-producing fruits. Note, they should not be stored with sensitive fruits and vegetables, but they can be stored together.
- Passion fruit
3. Keep Apples and Potatoes Together
Conversely, apples should be stored with potatoes. Although ethylene generally increases ripening, among many other physiological effects for most other fruits and veg, it actually prolongs the life of potatoes. The ethylene release from the apple inhibits the growth of sprouts on the potatoes, effectively keeping them fresher and usable for longer.
4. Cut Greens off Carrots and Beets
Carrot and beet tops look lovely and prove just how fresh your veg is, but they also suck nutrients from the roots they’re attached to. So make sure you cut them off – but don’t throw them away! Further reduce your waste by using beet and carrot tops. People pay a premium for bags of salad leaves containing young beet leaves. Grocery stores charge a premium for these, labelling them as “bistro salad leaves” or some similar nonsense. Reserve your beet leaves for salads, add them to stir fries or soups, use them with other leafy greens, or toss them in with some fried potatoes and bacon. There are plenty of ways to use beet leaves instead of composting them. As for carrot tops, use them in soups, smoothies, pesto, or hummus. If you’re not ready to use the tops immediately,stand the tops upright in a glass of water to keep them fresh for a few days.
5. Store Bread in Wax Wraps
Bread stored in plastic bags gets sweaty and starts to decay rapidly. Bread stored out in the open or in paper bags gets dry and stale quickly. Bread requires a certain degree of moisture, but too much or too little is bad. One of the best ways to store bread to keep it fresh for as long as possible is to wrap it in a beeswax wrap, like this sustainable and reusable set of 3. These wax wraps allow a little airflow but don’t hold moisture. They are essentially breathable, keeping bread in the optimal state for as long as possible.
6. Try Food Liners
Food liners are a pretty effective option. They are made from lightweight foam and promote airflow all around your produce, pulling away moisture, and therefore prolonging the shelflife. If you do go with these, opt for high-quality products like these reusable fridge liners from Dualplex, as these meet FDA food contact standards and are BPA, phalate, and PVC-free, and have anti-mold and anti-microbial properties. Simply trim each mat to size and line your refrigerator shelves and drawers with them, then place your fruits and vegetables on the top to retain their freshness.
7. Store Tomatoes the Right Way
You’ve undoubtedly heard “never put tomatoes in the fridge”, but storing tomatoes the right way actually goes a little deeper than that. It’s true that a refrigerator is too cold for tomatoes, but a counter top in the middle of summer, or in a busy kitchen all year round is too hot. The cold fridge can rob the tomatoes of flavor and ruin the texture, but a hot kitchen quickly leads to over ripeness and decay. So what’s the answer? Ideally, pick them right off the vine and use them immediately. But of course that’s not exactly practical for most of us. And what do you do when tomatoes aren’t in season?
Firstly, wherever you keep them, remove the stems and store tomatoes stem-side down. Why? Because where the stem connects to the fruit is the one place tomatoes can lose moisture, which leads to wrinkly, tasteless tomatoes. So store them bottom-up to reduce moisture loss and prolong their lives.
Never put an under-ripe tomato in the fridge. Because they haven’t reached their peak, they are more susceptible to cold damage, including blotching, flavor loss, and an unpleasant mealy texture. Leave them on the counter-top to fully ripen for a few days. Once they are deliciously ripe, you can refrigerate them, because the fridge halts ripening of tomatoes and so delays mold and decomposition. Ripe tomatoes can last in the fridge without suffering detectable flavor loss for three days, and even after this time, they’ll last, they just won’t be as flavorful. However long they’ve been in the fridge, bringing them back up to room temperature will restore much of the flavor, anyway.
8. Keep Leafy Greens on Paper Towels
Salad leaves and other leafy greens go bad quickly when exposed to moisture. Even small amounts of moisture causes greens to go bad. An easy trick is to simply place paper towels (or your super-absorbent fridge liner) underneath your greens to draw moisture away and keep them fresher for longer.
9. Keep Mushrooms in Brown Paper Bags
Mushrooms are another common item that often ends in food waste. They don’t do well with moisture or too much light. But they breathe, so too much dry air will dry them out and result in withered, wrinkled mushrooms, while too much moisture leads to decay. So, store mushrooms in a paper bag which is breathable and allows airflow.
10. Freeze Ginger
Ginger tends to sit around for ages and eventually lose its potency and flavor, then wrinkles and starts to rot. You buy a big lump of ginger root but only use a small piece at a time. Yes, you can dehydrate it, turn it into ginger root powder, or crystalize it. But all of those things take a lot of effort. Instead, peel the root and freeze it. Freezing requires minimal effort and preserves flavor and nutrients. Freezing ginger also makes it much easier to grate.
11. Store Onions in Pantyhose
This is one that every old-school vegetable gardener knows. Onions need good airflow to stay at their peak, and nobody wants a moldy onion. Storing onions in old pantyhose and hanging them up in a dry, dark place – a garage, airing cupboard, pantry, or shed are all great places. Drop an onion into the pantyhose, tie a knot, then add another onion, tie another knot, and so on. Stored this way, onions will stay fresh for many months.
12. Store Cheese in Cheese Cloth
Cheese is another food that needs to breathe. Sweaty cheese tastes nasty and quickly molds, so storing in plastic containers is a bad idea. Allowing cheese to be uncovered results in dry unusable cheese. Store cheese in cheese cloth or beeswax wraps to let it breathe, maintain its flavor, and reduce food waste.
13. Freeze Herbs With Olive Oil
Fresh herbs often go bad. Whether you grow them in the garden or buy bunches of freshly cut herbs, large amounts end up as food waste. Reduce your food waste and make sure you have fresh herbs all year round by freezing herbs in ice cube trays topped up with olive oil. Pack each cube space with as many herbs as you can, then top then up with olive oil.
14. Pre-Soak Berries
Berries are notorious for going bad quickly, and it’s largely because of bacteria or mold spores on the skin. A weak solution of one part vinegar to 10 parts water solves the problem and means you’ll end up wasting less food. Soak the berries in the solution for a few minutes, then place them on a clean kitchen towel to dry before refrigerating to keep them fresher for longer.
15. Don’t Be So Obsessed With Aesthetics
Humans seem to have been brainwashed into thinking that fresh food has to conform to certain standards of appearance. An apple must be perfectly plump and shiny – a slightly wrinkled apple just won’t do. A banana cannot be too straight or too curved. Carrots have to be of a certain size. It’s insane. Approximately 20% of all fresh produce is thrown away because of cosmetic reasons before it ever reaches a store. A wonky carrot still tastes the same. It’s just so wasteful. When we harvest our fruit and vegetable crops, it all gets used. Regardless of shape, size, or color, if it’s healthy, it gets eaten. My family are happy to eat ugly produce right alongside the pretty stuff. If you can’t grow your own food, you can get boxes of ugly food from specialist companies. Some grocery stores also offer imperfect produce at a discount, and you may be able to get some at a good price from markets or direct from growers, too.
As for veggies that are past their best – limp parsnips, wrinkled carrots, sprouting potatoes, and so on – they are all still usable. Don’t throw them out – stick them in a soup or a stew. And for fruit that’s no longer at its prime, make a smoothie, fruity ice cream, a crumble, or something else.
16. Wrap Veggie Stems in Aluminum Foil
Vegetables like broccoli or celery — anything with an exposed, cut stem lose moisture and quickly go limp and discolor. Wrapping the cut stem in a little bit of foil slows the moisture loss and keeps the vegetables fresher for longer. This is a quick and easy way to reduce food waste.
17. Get Rid of Plastic Packaging
Get rid of plastic — and not just because it’s terrible for the environment. Plastic isn’t breathable and makes fresh produce sweat. This creates the perfect storm for mold and decay. Even though we’d all love to shop for fresh produce plastic-free, we know that for most of us, it’s just not possible — many grocery stores still put produce in plastic bags, containers, or wraps. So, when you get home and unpack those groceries, strip them of all the plastic before you refrigerate or store. Transfer the naked produce to the appropriate place.
Remember, reducing your food waste can save you serious money. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t waste any food, but none of us are perfect. So, when you do find fresh produce (not meat) that you just can’t use or preserve, compost it. Then, even though you’re still throwing away money, you’re preventing that produce ending up in landfill, and you’ll end up with some beautiful, nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
Want more ways to be greener? Read our 50 ways to go green!
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