University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
WASTE NOT YOUR
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Research done in the past by the
University of Arizona, in cooperation with the United States
Agriculture, found that on average families throw out up to a
quarter of their
fruits and vegetables due to spoilage.
By knowing a few facts about proper storage, and following a few
practices, you can minimize how much of your produce spoils before
you eat or
use it. This can save quite a bit of
The Arizona study from 2002 found
that the amount of produce that spoiled in an average home before it
amounted to 470 pounds a year, about 14 percent of all food brought
home, which amounted to throwing away about 600 dollars a year—a
today adjusted for inflation. You can
lessen this loss greatly by purchasing or picking at the right
storing certain fruits and vegetables together, storing them
properly (not all
like it cool), and using some before others.
In regards to purchasing, there are
a couple main points. Most stores have
the produce as you enter, so you buy it before all else, lengthening
it is not cool and moist. Instead, pick
the produce last after you’ve chosen the non-perishable goods. Then
get the produce home as soon as
possible. Plan other errands before this
shopping, or carry a cooler (especially if warm outside) in your
vehicle if not
going directly home.
pick or purchase at the right stage and in good condition. Apples
or peaches without bruises,
firm oranges, dark green spinach, bananas that are slightly green
and not all
the way yellow with brown spots-- these are all examples of good
produce. Such details, including
harvesting from your garden, are covered in more depth in books and
sites such as from Cornell University (www.gardening.cornell.edu).
While it is tempting to store
produce in air-tight bags, don’t. As
produce ripens it respires or breathes.
Storing any in tight plastic bags stops this, causing them to
and speeding up decay.
Some fruits and vegetables, as they
ripen, emit ethylene—a gas that is odorless and colorless, but that
ripening of other sensitive crops. That
is why spinach will turn yellow in only a couple of days if in the
crisper along with an apple. So keep
such ethylene releasers apples, cantaloupe, and honeydew separate.
Don’t refrigerate other ethylene
producers at all, including avocado, unripe bananas, peaches and
pears, plums, and tomatoes. If fully
ripe you may store these cool, but return to room temperature for
Other crops not to refrigerate
include potatoes, onions, winter squash, and garlic. Cold (not
freezing) delays ripening and
spoiling of many crops, but not these.
These are cold sensitive, and can lose flavor and moisture when too
cold, or their smells can taint other produce.
Keep in a cool, dry space that may stay between 50 and 60 degrees
(F). They may store a month or more with
proper conditions. A special note on
potatoes: keep them away from light, as in a paper bag, to prevent
greening and becoming inedible. The University of California at
Davis has a
simple guide on where to store what
Finally, after you’ve bought or
picked fruits and vegetables, use the ones first that spoil most
quickly. But don’t bruise or break their skins, such
as pulling stems off, before ready to use as decay
microorganisms will enter and begin their work.
In the first one to three days, eat or use asparagus, ripe
avocados, ripe bananas, broccoli, cherries, corn, green beans,
mustard or similar greens, and strawberries.
in days 3 to 5 from purchase, use cucumbers, eggplant, grapes,
similar greens, pineapple, and summer squash such as zucchini. By 5
to 7 days from purchase, plan to use
many other crops such as bell and similar peppers, blueberries,
sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, oranges, parsley, peaches, pears,
tomatoes, and watermelon. Under proper
conditions several crops will store and can be used much later after
including apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions,
and winter squash.
In spite of your best efforts at
purchase, storage, and use, you still may have some produce left.
Rather than let it spoil or throw it out,
have a “plan B”. Mine is to either
freeze or can if room and time, or I have some recipes such as
soups or stews that can use up much leftover produce. I then freeze
the finished product, what we
don’t eat, making future meals quick and easy with a simple thawing