Fruits that produce Ethylene gas is a naturally-occurring colorless, non-flammable gas. It is given off by unmanaged and ripening fruits. Plants normally produce ethylene gas to aid the ripening process of the fruits and vegetables that they produce but when plants are not properly stored, there can be too much ethylene gas in the air. This can cause your fruit-bearing plants and trees like bananas, pears, strawberries, avocados, apples, kiwis and pomegranates to ripen prematurely before you want them to.
How To Store Fresh Produce, Maximize Shelf Life, and Minimize Food Waste
According to IFIC’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, 57% of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about food waste. Of those who are very or somewhat concerned, one of the most common actions they say they take to reduce food waste is trying to better store items in an effort to reduce spoilage. In this article, we’ll explore how to properly store several types of fresh produce so you can tackle two challenges at once: maximizing shelf life and minimizing waste.
Reducing spoilage: The basics
The condition of the produce when it is purchased, the temperature at which it must be stored, the humidity and airflow levels of the storage space, and whether or not the food produces ethylene gas or is ethylene-sensitive are the most crucial factors to take into account when maximizing our produce’s shelf life.
Produce that is susceptible to ethylene gas ripens and spoils more quickly, making it more likely that it will do so sooner. Not sure if your favorite fruits and veggies are ethylene-sensitive or -producing? We’ve got you covered and have advice on how to store them, so don’t worry!
Apples, peaches, and pears
Pick pears, apples, and peaches that are firm and have no obvious bruising. The best way to keep apples in the refrigerator is in a plastic bag or other airtight container. If your refrigerator has a crisper drawer, it’s preferable to store apples inside of it with other non-ethylene-sensitive fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries because apples release ethylene gas when stored. In contrast, unripe pears and peaches should be kept at room temperature until they are ripe, at which point they can be placed in the refrigerator (but separated from produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas because they also produce it).
A good place to store them outside of the refrigerator is on the kitchen counter. If stored properly, apples can last for several weeks, pears up to two weeks, and peaches typically last around a week. Because peaches are particularly prone to bruising, store them separately, not stacked on top of one another.
Asparagus and celery
Pick celery and asparagus that are firm, have a deep color, and don’t appear to have any bruising. Trim the bottoms off the asparagus, then arrange the spears bottom-up in a glass with approximately an inch of water. Place the asparagus in the refrigerator, where it can keep for up to a week, after covering the glass with a plastic bag (ideally reusable!) (note that asparagus is ethylene-sensitive, so store it away from ethylene-producing produce).
Celery stems need to be maintained intact, taken out of any plastic wrappers they may have come in, and wrapped in aluminum foil (but not too tightly!). Celery produces ethylene, so it thrives in the crisper drawer with a high humidity setting; when stored correctly, it can last for a few weeks.
According to the time you intend to eat them, choose your avocados. Use your fingertips to feel the hardness of the avocados to determine whether they are ripe. Avocados that are ripe will give slightly when squeezed and have a hue that is closer to black.
Choose a hard, green avocado and keep it on the counter for a few days until it is ripe if you intend to eat avocados later in the week. Ripe avocados should be kept on the counter if you want to eat them within a day or two, or in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life. Be aware that avocados produce ethylene.
Pick berries that are firm, vibrant in color, and free of visible bruises or mold. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries should be kept in a container with some ventilation in a low-humidity area of the refrigerator. Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries can all benefit from a short one-minute vinegar soak to get rid of any potential mold and increase their shelf life.
After the vinegar bath, be sure to rinse the berries with water and thoroughly dry them (because berries hate moisture too) before storing in the refrigerator. Raspberries can be rinsed with normal water shortly before eating in place of the vinegar rinse and should be stored the same way as other berries.
Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
Pick heads of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli that are firm, not wet or soggy, and don’t appear to have any bruising. Uncut cabbage heads can be stored in the refrigerator without a bag or container, but sliced cabbage heads need to be stored in an airtight container or bag. From the beginning, broccoli and cauliflower should be stored in the refrigerator in a tight container.
Because all of these veggies are susceptible to ethylene, keep them away from foods that create ethylene, such as onions, bananas, apples, and pears. In the refrigerator, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can all last up to two weeks; cabbage can survive up to three weeks.
Citrus fruit (orange varieties, grapefruit, lemons, and limes)
Pick citrus fruit that seems firm and doesn’t have any obvious dents or bruising. The shelf life of citrus fruits can be extended by storing them in the refrigerator after roughly a week at room temperature. Lemons and limes must be kept away from ethylene-producing plants since oranges and grapefruits are not ethylene-sensitive.
Cucumbers, zucchini, and squash
Pick squash, zucchini, and cucumbers that are firm, not dripping wet or too moist, and free of obvious bruises. When not in use, all of these vegetables should be kept in the refrigerator and not washed. Squash, zucchini, and cucumbers should be kept out of reach of ethylene producers since they are ethylene-sensitive. When properly stored, they can all survive one to two weeks and like the high-humidity area of the refrigerator.
Garlic, shallots, and onions
Choose shallots, garlic, and onions that are firm, spotless, and have dry outer peel. Onions, shallots, and garlic should not be kept in the refrigerator. Instead, keep them in a room with lots of airflow that’s cold and dark. The ideal way to keep this kind of food is in a container without a lid, even though they may be bought in plastic perforated bags.
All should be kept in low humidity, away from produce that is sensitive to ethylene gas, such as potatoes, and at room temperature. Shouldots and onions can last up to two months when properly stored, while garlic has a shelf life of about three weeks. After being sliced, put any leftover garlic, shallots, or onions in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap or an airtight container.
Pick leafy greens that don’t look moist or wilted. Greens should be kept in the refrigerator unwashed until you’re ready to use because too much moisture will cause them to wilt sooner. Greens should be kept in a zip-top plastic bag or other airtight container. Even with proper storage, certain greens simply last longer than others. While kale, endive, escarole, and iceberg lettuces can last longer, romaine lettuce and green leaf lettuce can only be kept for up to a week.
Sweet potatoes and potatoes
Pick sweet potatoes and potatoes that are firm and have little to no bruising. Potatoes shouldn’t be kept in the fridge. Instead, they ought to be kept in a cool, dark location with plenty of humidity and air movement. If you bought your potatoes in a perforated bag, it’s better to take the potatoes out and store them in an open container.
During warmer months, potatoes grow and rot. Some of the starch turns to sugar at refrigerator temperatures, which causes the potatoes to brown too quickly. Potatoes are ethylene-sensitive, so keep them away from foods that produce ethylene. Sweet potatoes normally last one to two weeks, whereas potatoes typically last approximately a week longer.
Pick tomatoes that seem firm, vibrant, and free of bruises. Tomatoes can be kept at room temperature if they are underripe and will continue to ripen if they are exposed to sunlight. Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life, but once ripe, they are best consumed at room temperature.
As tomatoes emit a moderate amount of ethylene, it is preferable to keep them separately from produce that is susceptible to ethylene. Tomatoes can last one to two weeks, depending on where they are in the ripening process.
Keep Fruit Fresher, Longer: The Role of Ethylene in Storing Produce
Have you ever questioned why the green bananas you purchase from the grocery store become yellow before quickly developing brown spots and changing from firm to squishy in texture? All of this is a typical component of the ripening process. Bananas must be controlled in some way during the ripening phase in order for consumers to be able to acquire a high-quality product given the distance they travel from the point of harvest to our local grocery markets.
With locally cultivated vegetables, the same ripening process takes place. The amount of ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas that regulates the ripening process, is controlled by large commercial produce vendors in storage rooms.
A naturally occurring plant hormone called ethylene controls how quickly plants grow and develop as well as their rate of growth. When you place a ripe apple in a bag of unripe pears to speed up the ripening process, you are taking advantage of this natural, colorless gas.
Vegetable leaves become yellow and drop, fruit softens and gets sweeter, and eventually, ethylene causes plant cells to disintegrate. The adage “one rotten fruit destroys the whole barrel” comes to mind.
Compared to other foods, some are more ethylene sensitive. Since many veggies are particularly susceptible to this gas, we keep them away from some fruits in the refrigerator, either in a different crisper drawer or an airtight plastic container. Many vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, kale, lettuce and greens, mushrooms, onions, parsley and herbs, peas, peppers, summer squash, and sweet potatoes are ethylene sensitive, though there are no hard and fast rules for identifying them.
Fruits vary in how sensitive they are to ethylene. Some fruits ripen after being harvested and release more ethylene as they do so. Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, mangoes, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, pears, peaches and nectarines, plums, and tomatoes are examples of what are known as climacteric fruits.
When food is picked, you want to keep them away from it since it is ripe. Non-climacteric fruits are those that do not ripen after harvest and are susceptible to ethylene. These include strawberries, melons, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, and raspberries. Citrus fruits come in a variety. The majority of ethylene-sensitive fruits should be stored separately from those that produce ethylene.
Make the Best of Blueberries
Utilize the separate produce drawers in your refrigerator by designating one for ethylene-producing fruits and one for vegetables. Since many of these are already delicate, you can keep them in a perforated basket until you’re ready to wash and use them. Store ethylene-sensitive fruits aside from others that produce ethylene.
You may have noticed advertisements for products that eliminate ethylene from produce stored in the refrigerator. They are marketed as removers, blockers, scavengers, absorbers, and scrubbers, among other names. There’s a good chance that you’ve bought food in containers that have been treated to absorb ethylene gas.
Granules in boxes, balls, or sachets as well as produce bags known as “green bags” are products that are sold in stores. These products are not being recommended here; rather, they are being mentioned to let you know about them in case you decide to use them as an additional means of reducing ethylene and delaying fruit ripening.
Which fruits and vegetables should and shouldn’t be stored together
You purchased all of your food at a grocery store or farmer’s market and took it home. The time has come to unpack.
The work looks simple enough, but it would be better if you gave it at least a little thought. What you store where, and when, matters in part because of ethylene, a plant hormone that is responsible for ripening and can, over time or under the right circumstances, shorten shelf life and cause spoilage, says Laura Strawn, an associate professor and extension specialist at Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science & Technology. 89Comments
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Through Becky Krystal Staff writer at Voraciously and food reporter Becky Krystal. She worked as a general assignment reporter in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for a number of years before moving to The Washington Post in 2007 to work for TV Week and Sunday Source. She also worked in the Travel section for five years during her time at The Post.
How to Store Produce so It Stays Fresh Longer
In general, when you purchase produce, you know what to anticipate. Those green bananas can become brown and mushy in a week, but your grapes might not even notice a change. However, the items you store together can affect how quickly your food ripens. Ethylene gas is produced by some fruits and vegetables to aid in the ripening process. Furthermore, storing ethylene-producing produce next to ethylene-sensitive produce can cause overripening to occur more quickly.
A naturally occurring phytohormone linked to fruit ripening is ethylene. According to chef and registered dietitian Abbie Gellman, RD, “it causes rapid ripening for some food and deterioration for others.”
Common fruits and vegetables that release ethylene include apples, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, green onions, kiwi, pears, potatoes, tomatoes, and potatoes, according to the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Apples, asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, collard greens, cucumber, eggplant, grapes, honeydew kiwi, lemons, lettuce, limes, mangoes, onions, peaches, pears, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon are a few examples of foods that are susceptible to ethylene.
There may be some similarities between those lists. Create can both produce and be sensitive to ethylene gas, according to registered dietitian Michelle Zive, PhD, RD, who is also a co-author of the NASM-CNC course materials. “Because of this, it is frequently possible to preserve these vegetables without refrigeration on the counter. In actuality, produce like avocados ripen on the counter, and you must store them in the refrigerator once they are ripe and not in use.”
Produce that releases ethylene should be stored separately.
The majority of produce that releases ethylene should never be kept in the refrigerator; instead, Gellman advises leaving it out on the counter. “This might assist keep them apart from those things that are ethylene sensitive.” In addition to preventing them from rotting other produce, leaving these products out on the counter makes it easier to notice what you already have, which can help you avoid wasting food.
You’re aware of the tip to hasten the ripening of an avocado or banana by placing it in a paper bag? You shouldn’t use bags for long-term storage since they allow ethylene gas to be trapped, which is why that strategy works.
There are a few fruits and vegetables that are resistant to ethylene, including blueberries, cherries, snap beans, garlic, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, and yucca, if you enjoy keeping a large bowl of various fruits and vegetables on the counter.
Knowing how to correctly store produce will prevent you from ruining your priceless fruits and vegetables, which is particularly important given that we visit stores less regularly and don’t always have access to fresh produce. If your produce does become overripe, hold off on throwing it away. There are several things you can do with overripe vegetables (i.e., produce that is soft but not moldy).