The best way to keep fresh produce happy and not wilted or spoiled is to learn which foods should not be stored together. There is a right and wrong way to keep fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to ensure they stay fresh for as long as possible.
Eating fruits and vegetables is ideal for your health, but it leads to the largest amount of waste. How many times have you found wilted lettuce or produce that looks bad just days after purchasing it? The estimate is that Americans waste one pound of food per person per day, and one way to cut back on your waste is to learn how to keep foods fresh.
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It all comes down to something called ethylene. Let’s take a look a how this little chemical can ruin the foods around it.
Ethylene Leads to Quick Ripening
Ethylene is a gas hormone that certain fruits and vegetables emit during the ripening process. The amount of ethylene produced varies based on the type of tissue the vegetable or fruit has.
It’s believed that more ethylene comes from produce that grows higher on the plant. Fruits tend to have higher amounts, and they bloom and ripen on the trees above the ground.
Storing ethylene-producing food away from sensitive crops is essential, or the gas will cause sensitive foods to ripen and rot surprisingly fast. The easiest method is to keep ethylene producers on fruit bowls or the counter away from the ethylene sensitive crops, most often stored in the refrigerator.
Who knew that one naturally occurring gas could cause so many problems?
Ethylene Producing Foods
First, let’s take a look at the crops that produce this natural gas. Ethylene occurs to help ripen the fruits and vegetables; that’s natural.
Take a look at this list; these crops can be stored together but cannot be kept with any of the foods on the sensitive crop list.
Apples are one of the highest ethylene producers on the list, so they need to stay away from most of your other produce. The amount of ethylene and how it affects the apple is based on when the apple was harvested. When apples are picked before their peak, ethylene might cause the apple skin to scald and turn brown.
Apples store up to four weeks in a pantry, up to six weeks in the refrigerator, and eight months in the freezer. The safest way to store apples is in a bowl by themselves due to their high ethylene content.
Did you know that avocados don’t ripen on the tree? Ethylene production begins when the avocado is removed from the tree and gradually increases as it matures. The problem with avocados is that they have a short shelf life — most only last three to four days in the refrigerator.
Bananas release ethylene through the stem, so one of the best ways to keep bananas fresh and stop the effects on other nearby foods is to wrap the stems with plastic wrap. Their ethylene production begins quickly; exposure to carbon dioxide rapidly begins the process. That’s why many large-scale grocery stores have unique banana rooms!
Bananas only stay at your preferred ripeness for four days on the counter or in the refrigerator. They last for two to three months in the freezer.
Related Article: How to Dehydrate Banana Slices
4. Honey Dew
Most melons, aside from cantaloupe, are ethylene producers. The ripening process is slower pre-cut, so don’t buy pre-cut honeydew unless you can eat it immediately. It makes no sense why fruit trays and mixed fruit bowls include honeydew and cantaloupe together.
Honeydews and other melons are fruit when the rind is tender, and they stay ripe for one week in a pantry. They last up to two weeks in the refrigerator and one month in the freezer. However, if you cut it open, honeydew only lasts for two to four days.
Mangos don’t produce as much ethylene as other fruits, but it still uses this gas to ripen the fruit. These fruits stay fresh for up to five days on the counter or one week in the refrigerator. Mangos freeze well, lasting up to eight months.
When it comes to ripening and ethylene production, pears are similar to mangos; they ripen fast when exposed to warm temperatures. The best way to delay pear ripening is to keep them in a cold environment, which reduces ethylene production.
Pears only last two to four days in the pantry and up to six days in the refrigerator, but they last up to two months in the freezer.
7. Peaches & Plums
These two fruits are similar in their ripening and ethylene production. The riper the fruits are, the more ethylene that is produced. As the fruits ripen, ethylene production dramatically increases.
Peaches and plums only last three to four days on the counter or up to one week in the refrigerator. It also lasts two months in the freezer.
Most people never think about potatoes being an ethylene producer; both regular and sweet potatoes release small amounts of ethylene. When potatoes are chilled, damaged, or decaying, ethylene production quickens.
The biggest difference between potatoes and the other ethylene-producers on this list is that potatoes have a significantly longer shelf life. Pantry-stored potatoes last between one to two months but only last one to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Strawberries differ from other ethylene producers because you don’t pick them until they’re ripe. It’s not recommended to store strawberries in the pantry; the refrigerator is the best place to keep them. That’s tricky when you have ethylene-sensitive foods in the fridge as well. Store on a separate shelf away for up to one week.
Tomatoes don’t produce ethylene quickly, which is why they store well on your countertop for one week or longer. Too many people keep tomatoes in the refrigerator, but doing so affects the flavor while also harming sensitive crops.
If your tomatoes need to last longer, store them in the freezer for up to two months.
Ethylene Sensitive Crops
Now that you know the foods that generate ethylene, it’s time to look at the foods that should not be stored together. These crops all are sensitive to ethylene, so keep them far away from the ten above mentioned foods.
Exposure to too much ethylene causes asparagus spears to toughen up and eventually turn yellow. Asparagus stores well in the refrigerator, typically up to one week or five months in the fridge.
Exposing broccoli to ethylene producing vegetables reduces its life by 50%! The florets start to yellow, and since broccoli only stays fresh for up to five days in the refrigerator, that means broccoli has a very short life when stored improperly.
3. Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts create small amounts of ethylene, but they’re more sensitive than a producer. In the presence of ethylene, the sprouts turn yellow, and the leaves start to separate. Expect properly stored Brussels sprouts to last one week in the refrigerator.
Ethylene causes carrots to develop a bitter flavor. When properly stored, carrots last two to three weeks in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. Just make sure to keep them away from ethylene-producing foods to preserve their delicious flavor.
Like broccoli, cauliflower is a sensitive crop that starts to yellow and detach from the stalk when exposed to ethylene. Ensure you keep them away from the above-listed crops, especially tomatoes, which too many people put in the refrigerator. Expect properly stored cauliflower to last up to five days; heads stored next to ethylene might only last for two to three days.
Cucumbers turn yellow at a fast rate when near ethylene crops, and decay starts rapidly. It seems to be quickest around bananas, melons, and tomatoes. When stored properly, cucumbers only last one week in the refrigerator.
Some herbs, such as mint, parsley, oregano, and marjoram, are more sensitive to ethylene. Other ones, like sage, basil, and thyme, don’t mind being exposed to the gas. Sensitive herbs turn yellow, and leaves start to fall off of the stem. Fresh herbs last up to ten days in the fridge, so be sure to store them properly.
8. Lettuce and Other Leafy Greens
Leafy greens differ in their sensitivity level, but most are highly sensitive. Romaine and spinach begin to discolor and wilt when exposed to ethylene rapidly. It’s always best to keep them away from this gas for the best storage life.
All leafy greens have different storage lives depending on the type. Spinach lasts up to one week, but romaine lasts up to two weeks.
Are you surprised to see onions on this list when potatoes are an ethylene producing crop? Onions have a long shelf life, which is why many people keep potatoes and onions together, but it’s a bad idea.
Potatoes generate small amounts of ethylene, but since onions are sensitive, it causes them to sprout and produce fungi. To maximize onion’s long shelf life, keep them away from potatoes, and they’ll store two to three months in the pantry.
10. Pumpkins & Other Squashes
Pumpkins and squashes store well in root cellars, except for zucchini, but all are sensitive to ethylene-producing crops.
In a pantry, pumpkins store up to three months but last up to five months in cold temperatures. Winter squash is similar, lasting up to six months in proper storage, depending on the squash type. Zucchini only lasts for up to one week in the pantry or refrigerator.
Proper Storage Matters
Storing ethylene-producing crops away from ethylene sensitive foods is essential. Most sensitive foods are best stored in the refrigerator while producing crops store best on the counter or the pantry in their own bowls. When separated, all of your foods will last for their maximum potential, and you won’t need to waste so much food.
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