Best Ways to Store Your Vegetables and Waste Less

How to store vegetables to keep them fresh longer

We’ve been talking a lot about food waste lately, which costs Canadian households an average of $1,500 each year.   We’ve also discussed ways to reduce food waste, particularly from produce.

Do you know that one thing that can significantly impact the shelf life of vegetables is how you store them?   Keeping your vegetables fresh for longer can save you money, as you will be throwing less of them away.

Follow these tips when putting your vegetables away and you may be pleasantly surprised by how long they will last, so that you can eat them, instead of feeding them to the compost or garbage.

 

Get to Know Your Refrigerator

Cold air is heavier than warmer air, and sinks. This means the bottom of the fridge is the coldest area.  The bottom shelf is a great place for things that really need to stay cold, like meat and dairy.  It’s not a good spot for delicate items like berries and lettuce.

The warmest part of the fridge is the door area, as it is quickly exposed to room temperature air every time someone opens the fridge. Given that, although many fridges have a compartment for eggs in the door, that is not a good place to store them.  They should be kept on a shelf in the main part of the fridge.

An important thing to understand is the humidity settings on your crisper drawers. Crisper drawers usually have a small lever that regulates the openings of the vents at the top of the drawer.

  • High humidity: A more humid environment is great for vegetables that wilt like lettuce, spinach, and celery. Use the lever to close the vents. In many fridges, there will be an image of vegetables, or “more humid” symbols for that setting.
  • Low humidity: Some fruit, such as apples and bananas, give off ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process. If those are left in a drawer with closed vents, the contents will ripen so quickly that the contents of the drawer may rot. It is desirable to have open vents for fruits and vegetables that rot rather than wilt. The drawer will often have a fruit or “less humid” symbol for that setting.

 

How to Store Vegetables

Anything that has an elastic or tie wrap

Fresh vegetables

Many herbs and vegetables, from green onions to cilantro to carrots, have some type of tie wrap or elastic around them. When you get these items home, remove the wraps and elastics.  While convenient for keeping bunches together, those wraps place extra pressure on delicate parts and cause bruising to leaves and stems.  This bruised spot is often the first place a vegetable or herb will start to turn slimy or rot.  Getting rid of wraps and elastics takes only a few moments, but can add days to the life of the item.

 

Mixed salad greens

Mixed salad greens from the farmer’s market or in a CSA box often come in zip closure bags. There is often a lot of moisture in the bag, especially if the greens are washed. Remove the greens from the plastic bag and use a clean tea towel to pat dry as much as possible.  The excess water is your enemy here, as it will cause the greens to wilt and rot quickly.

I get the best results by placing the greens in a clamshell container (the kind mixed greens come in at the grocery store). I line the bottom of the clamshell with paper towel, add some greens, place another paper towel layer in the middle and add the rest of the greens.  One more paper towel goes on the top.  The paper towel will absorb some of the excess water.  The closed container can be placed in the open shelf section of the fridge.  Replace the paper towels after a few days if you still have greens.

If you don’t have clamshells, the method I have found with the second best result is to use a large size zip top bag with short slits cut into the bottom and sides of the bag. The slits let excess moisture escape.  Place a paper towel layer between the greens and the bag, again, to absorb water, and place the bag paper towel side down in the fridge.

 

Head lettuce and cooking greens

Swiss Chard

Head lettuces and cooking greens such as kale, chard and beet greens should also be protected from excess moisture. Choose a plastic bag that is large enough to cover the greens, all the way to the tip. I like to use thin plastic produce bags.  If the ends of the bunch of greens are exposed directly to the cold air in the fridge, they tend to wilt, so cover them well.   Place a layer of paper towel between the greens and the bag to absorb excess moisture.  Place the paper towel side down.  Replace with fresh paper towel after a few days.

If you can fit the head lettuce in the crisper drawer, do so. The cooking greens are usually too long to fit my crisper drawers, so they go in the main part of the fridge.  Try to avoid the bottom shelf if you can, as the bottom is the coldest part of the fridge.

 

Spinach

How to store spinach

The best way to store your spinach depends on the form of spinach you have.

If your spinach comes in a bunch, treat it like a bouquet of flowers. Wash and pat dry your spinach.  If it has roots, keep them.  Add about an inch of water to a jar.  Place the spinach in the jar, with the roots or bottom of the stems in the water, and the leaves above the jar.  Place a bag loosely over the top of the spinach, and place on shelf in fridge.  This will create an environment with enough moisture to keep the spinach fresh, while also keeping the leaves dry enough to not turn slimy.

If your spinach is loose spinach, store in the same way you would mixed salad greens, with a paper towel in a plastic clamshell container or in a vented plastic bag.

 

Vegetables with greens still attached

Radishes with greens still attached

Root vegetables from the farmer’s market, and sometimes those from the grocery store, often have the greens still attached. Consider these to be a bonus, as most vegetable greens are edible, so you have a 2-in-1 deal here.

To keep your vegetables as great tasting as possible, remove the greens when you first bring them home, before they even go in the fridge. The green tops continue to draw moisture and sugars from the root vegetable, so if left on, you won’t get maximum flavour.

Break the greens off, remove any tie wrap, and store the greens in a plastic bag, like other cooking greens. Better yet, prepare the greens on the same day.  The greens from radishes, carrots, and beets are all edible, but they are highly perishable.  They should be eaten within two days.

 

Cilantro and other delicate herbs

How to store cilantro to keep it fresh for weeks

Cilantro takes a bit of extra effort up front, but once done, you will have fresh, clean cilantro that should last several weeks in your fridge.

When you first get home, thoroughly wash and pat dry your cilantro. If the roots are still present, keep them.  They will help keep your cilantro fresh even longer.  Find a container that is tall enough to accommodate the cilantro if it is upright and that has a lid.  Add about 1” of water to container, place cilantro in container keeping the leaves above the water, and put lid on container.  Place the container in the fridge. Change the water every couple of days, and pick out any pieces of cilantro that are starting to yellow.  The cilantro should stay fresh for about three to four weeks.  The bonus?  It’s already washed, so when you need cilantro, take it out of the container and you are ready to go.

 

Asparagus

How to keep asparagus fresh

Use a tall container to keep asparagus upright. It does not need a lid.  Add about one inch of water to container.  Change water every day or two.  Your asparagus can remain fresh for almost a week this way, but you will probably want to eat it within the first few days.

 

Potatoes, onions and garlic

Best storage for each of these is similar, but they should not be stored together. Place them in a dark, cool, dry cupboard or a dark, cool spot in the basement if you have one.  They should not go in the fridge.  Do not store them in plastic bags.  Potatoes can be placed in a paper bag that has some ventilation, but avoid exposing them to light.  Light will cause potatoes to sprout and turn soft.  Onions and garlic can be loose in a cupboard that has reasonable air flow.  Keep them away for sources of heat like the oven or the dishwasher.  If they are in the same cupboard, store the onions and garlic on different shelves.

Avoid using closed plastic onion or garlic keepers. The lack of air flow and moisture that is created will cause the onions and garlic to sprout.

 

Tomatoes

tomatoes

Keep tomatoes in a bowl on the counter or the kitchen table unless your home is very hot. Note that storing them at room temperature means they will continue to ripen, so use them soon after buying.  Storing tomatoes in the cool refrigerator will cause them to become mealy.

 

Do you use any of these methods when storing your produce? Do you have other storage methods that work well?  Please share with us in the comments.

 

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