Brace yourself for these stats: About 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted, according to research from the United States Department of Agriculture. That translates to 133 billion pounds of food annually. The dollar amount on that waste totals $161 billion a year.
Oof. By no means is that small potatoes.
Curious how you can help prevent food waste, and get your fruits and veggies to stay fresh for a longer time? We geek out on the topic of storage here at Closetbox. We’re experts when it comes to safely storing your belongings, and having our top-notch handlers get them back to you when you’re ready. But when it comes to kitchen storage — that’s where we’ve called in some health and food experts to relay their best storage tips.
Here’s 20 tips to get your produce to last longer.
- Check your refrigerator temperatures. You want your fridge no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, says Rebecca Lewis, a registered dietitian at HelloFresh, a healthy meal delivery service. Anything between 40 degrees and 140 degrees is an optimal temperature for bacteria to grow and is considered the “danger zone,” Lewis says.
- Avoid overloading your fridge. Does your refrigerator fill up to the brim after you go grocery shopping? That could be making it hard for the cool air to circulate, Lewis explains.
- Don’t leave the refrigerator door open for too long. “It has to work harder to get back to 40 degrees!” Lewis says.
- Not all produce goes in the fridge. There’s no need to store tomatoes, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, root veggies or winter squashes in the refrigerator, Lewis explains.
- Avoid storing your produce in the fridge doors. For produce that does go in the fridge (apples, apricots, melons, figs, kiwis, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, leafy greens, and mushrooms — to name a few!) don’t store them in the door of the refrigerator, Lewis says. “The temperature fluctuates the most here,” she says. Using the crisper or produce drawers for fruits and veggies helps them retain moisture.
- Separate your fruits and veggies. Keep fruits in a different crisper than the fruits, Lewis says. “Fruits give off ethylene gas that will cause the veggies to ripen faster,” she explains.
- Toss moldy food. Get rid of moldy food right away, Lewis warns. Those mold spores can spread to other fruits and veggies. Mold spreads quickly among produce.
- Leave foods in their original containers. Typically, the less you handle the produce, the better, Lewis says. If you take produce out of its original container, store it in a sealed container to remove as much air as possible.
- Hold off on washing your produce. Don’t wash your fruits and veggies until you’re ready to eat them, Lewis says. “Washing before you store can speed up how fast it spoils if the produce is left wet,” she says. When you do wash your produce, make sure it’s completely dry.
- Store some greens in glass. If you’ve got fresh herbs or leafy greens with stems (like swiss chard, kale or collards), store them in a glass container, and keep the stems in the water so they don’t dry out, Lewis says. Refresh the water every day or two, she suggests.
- Pay attention to the pits. Fruits with pits — peaches, nectarines, plums, mangos, cherries and avocados — should be placed in a closed bag on the countertop until they are ripe, Lewis says. Only then should they be refrigerated, she says.
- Keep root veggies in a dark place. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and winter squashes should stay out of the fridge, and instead should be stored in a cool, dark spot, Lewis says.
- Give onions some space. Onions shouldn’t go in the fridge, either. But, Lewis recommends keeping them away from other veggies. “They release ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening of other produce,” she says.
- Refrigerate (most) of your herbs. Herbs and leafy greens should be refrigerated right away. But know this exception: Basil should be kept out on the counter in a glass of water because it’s extremely temperature sensitive, Lewis says.
- Check for over-ripe fruit: Fruit flies are able to detect the yeast that fermenting fruit produces, even from great distances, according to the National Pest Management Association, a non-profit that educates on public health. To keep your produce pest-free, NPMA recommends storing food in airtight containers and disposing of garbage regularly in sealed trash receptacles. If you do keep fresh fruit on the counter, check it frequently to make sure it’s not over-ripened or decayed. A female fruit fly can lay an average of 500 eggs on the surface of fermenting fruit, NPMA says. Dispose of your fruit in outdoor trash cans and run your garbage disposal regularly, the organization suggests.
- Get creative with your ripe produce. If your fruit ripens, add it to smoothies, suggests Judy Barbe, registered dietitian, blogger at www.LiveBest.info and author of Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest. Freezing the fruit keeps it convenient. She suggests peeling ripe bananas before storing in sealable plastic bag. Another idea? Barbe suggests roasting fruits such as pineapples, pears, grapes or strawberries. You can broil grapefruit or oranges. Or, she says, you could cook fruit into a compote or jam. You can also infuse water with fruit to make a flavored water. Or, Barbe says, use it to make sangria by pairing the fruit with red or white wine.
- Re-consider the produce you’re buying. If you find yourself regularly throwing out produce, consider buying frozen or canned fruits and veggies, suggests Barbe.
- Make a tomato sauce. The tomato rush of August is coming. If you’ve got extra tomatoes from your garden, or brought home a big farmer’s market haul, you can put them to use in a sauce, suggests Katie Schur, a New England-based gardener who blogs at Picnic Perfect. Roast the tomatoes in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, she suggests. Then store them 1 cup at a time in freezer-safe sealable bags. “Later, when I’m ready to make a sauce, I grab one of the baggies from the freezer and let it defrost so that I can use that as my sauce starter,” she says. “To me, it tastes better than using a can of tomatoes.”
- Buy your produce as fresh as possible. “The less time produce spends in transit, the longer it will last in your fridge, and it will also taste better and have more nutrients,” says Michelle Becker, a certified nutrition coach for moms and babies. She suggests finding ways to buy local and in season. One of our favorite websites is EatTheSeasons, which will tell you what’s in season in your area.
- Keep your berries dry. Strawberries and blueberries need to be kept dry and in the fridge, says Becker. You can wash them first, she says, but pat dry them and store in a container with a paper towel to soak up any extra moisture.