Vegetable Victory: How to Best Preserve Produce

You know you need vegetables and you know you need plenty of ’em. But what you can’t figure out is how to prevent your fridge full of fresh, healthy produce from turning into a vegetable drawer full of mush!

Here are some tips you can use to preserve your produce:

* When selecting produce, make every attempt to select items that are near ripening, that have no bruises or brown spots and that do not appear wilted. If you must select produce with imperfections, be sure to either eat the damaged items first or, if you intend to store them, remove any damaged parts to prevent the spread of microbes that can speed deterioration.

* Although fruits and vegetables are often lumped under the same “produce” umbrella, the reality is, they don’t really get along that well, especially when it comes to ethylene. Turns out fruits are generally ethylene producers, while vegetables are ethylene sensitive, meaning that being in the company of fruits will make them spoil even quicker. There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule. Asparagus and tomatoes, for example, are two vegetables (well, sort of) that actually produce ethylene, while watermelon is somewhat of a cross-over artist and is one fruit that is actually very ethylene sensitive. The bottom line? To prevent upsetting the applecart (get it?) its best to keep your fruits and vegetables separated at all times.

* Every fruit and vegetable has an optimum temperature that can promote ripening while also staving off deterioration. Broccoli, lettuce and mushrooms, for example, need to be stored in a refrigerator, preferably at a temperature of between 34 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Avocados, eggplants, onions, squash and other root vegetables, meanwhile, are best left at room temperature.

* Rule of thumb: Fruits should be kept in a dry environment, and therefore should not be washed prior to refrigeration. Vegetables, on the other hand, require just the opposite, with vegetables keeping the longest when stored in plastic bags or other containers that help retain moisture and thus boost freshness.

* Most vegetables will keep best when stored in the crisper drawers at the bottom of the fridge. Not only are these draws the coldest spot in the fridge – what with that whole law of physics, cold air sinks thing – but the drawers can also be set to preserve moisture. Need motivation to stock up on more produce? The crisper drawers actually work best when they are two-thirds full.

* When storing leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce, it is best to wash the leaves, wrap them in paper towels and then store them in an airtight container to preserve moisture. To prevent browning due to over-moisture, replace the paper towels every other day or so.

* Too much produce? Freezing is a great option for preserving the nutrient content of fresh produce. However, in order to freeze vegetables successfully, you must first blanch them, a process whereby you partially cook them for a few minutes – either in boiling water or in a microwave – and then prepare them for freezing. For best results, blanched produce should be frozen within two hours.

Do you have any special tricks to handle an abundance of rapidly decomposing produce?

mike 1630 Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

When Do Foods Really Go Bad?

13 Simple, Timeless Kitchen Hacks

10 Great Uses for Vinegar

Baby carrots aren’t the innocent juvenile veggie you thought they were.

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