Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Save $$$ With Proper Produce Storage

DID YOU EVER WONDER why most modern refrigerators have two vegetable bins? It's not to keep your beer cans separate from your soda cans. I came across an interesting article on ethylene gas and proper food storage on vegan food blogger Kittee's website. I've heard about it before, and it was interesting to note that I already separate my food based on this.

Any amount of folk wisdom plus experience and observation will result in proper food storage, to a certain level, along with a sense of which fruit will ripen once picked and what will simply rot.

Certainly, I have picked up my share of tips at the farmer's market -- a tiny Chinese woman at the Heart of the City farmer's market told me the best way to preserve the giant bags of oranges is to spread them out on a baking sheet, with a towel underneath, so there is plenty of air between them, and eat the softest or ripest oranges first. Works great for other produce, too -- I do this with apples, peaches and apricots in the refrigerator.

Kittee's guide motivated me to do a bit of digging and found a great chart on how ethylene gas affects your produce. I also found a very comprehensive and useful guide to proper food storage on the website of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

Without further adieu, here's my guide to what should go into your two produce bins in the fridge, based on which fruits or veggies produce ethylene gas and which fruits or veggies will rot when exposed to too much of it (yes, even in low temperatures in the refrigerator).

Drawer 1: Fruit Drawer (Ethylene producers)
Carambola (star fruit)
Green onions
Kiwi fruit
Drawer 2: Potatoes, Onions, Garlic and Ethylene Sensitive Produce, including:
Asparagus (gets tough)
Unripe kiwi fruit
Beans - green & wax (sensitive to cold, causes russeting)
Belgian Endive
Berries (will get moldy)
Brussels sprouts
Carrots (will get bitter)
Greens, lettuces
Squash - winter/dark skinned
Sweet potatoes

Exceptions & Notes:
  • Potatoes, onions & garlic will sprout when exposed to too much ethylene, but have otherwise low sensitivity to it, hence the traditional co-mingling of potatoes, onions and garlic in the same drawer.
  • Some unripe fruit -- like kiwis, bananas, avocados -- are very ethylene sensitive and can be ripened in a paper bag with an apple
  • Cherries store with stems to prolong shelf life
  • Grapes absorb odors from leeks & green onions, get moldy from Ethylene
  • Rhubarb will absorb odors from avocado & green onions
  • Peaches, pears, passion fruit & tomatoes produce and are very sensitive to ethylene - store the ripe fruit in a single layer in the refrigerator

Don't spend money on silly bags and indicators -- just buy what you need, use what you buy, and keep an eye on how you store things together in the fridge. You know, like companion planting -- this is companion food storage.

BONUS: If you have a big kitchen and lots of storage space with different places that keep stuff at different temperatures, check out this link to the UC Davis Vegetable Research & Information Center Guide to Harvesting & Storing.

FIVE Food Storage Spaces for Optimal (not tiny apartment kitchen) Storage:
  • 2 crisper drawers in your fridge
  • 45-55 degree/85-95% relative humidity space
  • 50-60 degree cool dark place (basement, garage)
  • 65-70 degree room temperature area out of direct light


carolyn said...

I go by the rule of one for fruits, the other for vegetables, which is basically how your list divides up. In fact, some fridges even label the drawers.

Seems unusual to store uncut potatoes, onions and garlic in the fridge though. David Lebovitz even posted recently wondering about why one would store garlic there. A cool, dark, dry place is what I thought was recommended.


Jenn said...

In my house, the refrigerator is the only cool, dark, dry place. Same with my last apartment. I have no cabinet space (as you may remember) and that's why they go in the fridge.

Leaving garlic out results in insta-sprouting or rot. I think it's because I always have so much fruit in my kitchen.

I think the mushroom kit must be sensitive to ethylenes, I got a replacement and put it in the second bedroom, away from the kitchen, houseplants and the like and it did much better. I got eight mushrooms this time (instead of 3).

jd said...

This is a fantastic post! I'm definitely bookmarking it for future reference.

Thanks :)