National Nutrition Month: Storing Fruits and Vegetables to Reduce Waste

For 'National Nutrition Month' in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages individuals to "Go Further with Food" by storing food properly to reduce waste and lower your grocery costs. Did you know that around 31 percent of all edible food is wasted in the U.S., and American households throw away nearly 28 percent of fruits and vegetables?  Fortunately, you can take steps to help prevent reduce these numbers!

Here are some tips to help you stretch your produce and dollars by storing fruits and vegetables properly:

With the exception of lettuce and greens (these should be washed with stems kept moist), don’t wash, cut or peel your produce until you are ready to eat it.  Many fruits and vegetables should be stored only at room temperature because refrigerator temperatures (usually 38° to 40°F) damage them or prevent them from ripening to good flavor and texture.  For example, when stored in the refrigerator, sweet potatoes take on off-flavors and a hard core when cooked after being refrigerated (store these instead in a cool, dark place like a pantry – the same goes for onions and garlic.)  Watermelons lose their flavor and deep red color if they are stored for longer than 3 days in the refrigerator.  Pink tomatoes ripen to a better taste and red color if they are left at room temperature.  They do not turn red in the refrigerator, and even red tomatoes kept in the refrigerator lose their flavor.  Other produce can be ripened on the counter, and then stored in the refrigerator.  After peeling or cutting produce, it should always be refrigerated.

The counter storage area should be away from direct sunlight to prevent produce from becoming too warm.  Fruits and vegetables that are recommended to be stored on the counter can typically be kept for at least a few days.  Do not place produce in sealed plastic bags on the counter because this slows ripening and may increase off-odors and decay due to accumulation of carbon dioxide and depletion of oxygen inside the sealed bag.  Ripening in a bowl or paper bag can be enhanced by placing one ripe apple with every 5 to 7 pieces of fruit to be ripened.  Apples produce ethylene gas that speeds up ripening.

Refrigerated fruits and vegetables should be kept in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawers of the refrigerator.  Separate fruits from vegetables (use one drawer for each group).  Some of the produce that should be stored in the refrigerator (instead of the counter top) includes berries, grapes, broccoli, celery, cucumbers, peppers, greens, cauliflower, and lettuce.  Use all refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days since longer storage results in loss of freshness and flavor.