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organic living journey how to properly store produce

The following is part of an Organic Journey guest post series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

First off, I want to thank all of you for your great comments.  Those of you that aren’t taking a minute to read the comments section are missing out on a real treasure.  I am learning tons from this community, and I am grateful for you.  I have a feeling that this week, I am going to learn the most yet!

Before we get started though, let me give you a quick budget update.  I spent $97 this week.  For this first month of tracking my spending, I am averaging about $91/week.  It is over my actual goal, and I haven’t made all the baby steps that I want to yet (like switching to organic cheese and butter).  My encouragement comes in that I am still in the early stages of learning, and I remember when I first started couponing.  I definitely spent more at the beginning of the learning curve.  So, I’ll press on, and continue to search for ways to cut costs.  Another little update, my husband has been inspired by my girls to start researching what it would take for us to have chickens.  A couple of calls to the county taught us that we don’t live on enough acreage and would have to apply for a variance.  Applying for that variance would cost over $400 with no guarantee that we would be approved.  That is enough for me to buy 133 dozen eggs from my farmer/neighbor!!  So yeah, no chickens for us unless our county changes the laws.

My biggest frustration in this journey, though, has been how fast my organic produce has gone bad.  After I wrote about buying less and wasting less, I have been more aware of what I am throwing away.  I have had two times that I bought organic broccoli where within days of having it home, it had little black spots all over it.  I have never had that happen with regular broccoli.  My organic cucumbers have spoiled quickly too.  All of this has led me to ask two questions.  One, what is the proper way to store my fresh produce, and two, are there EASY ways to make it last longer?  I figured that I am not the only person to live in ignorance about the best way to store squash!

Step One: Start with a Mold-Free Environment
When talking to my brilliant college roommate, she mentioned that my first problem could be that I have some mold growing in my veggie drawer.  No doubt, I have had my share of moldy veggies that I have simply thrown away that left no visible signs of mold in the drawer.  Well, that mold didn’t just disappear when I wiped out my shelf with a wet washcloth (and please, please don’t ask me how often I clean my fridge out).  She recommended using vinegar, but I abhor the smell of vinegar.  Almost as much as I hate cleaning out my fridge.  Then she told me that you can make your vinegar smell great by simply adding citrus peels to the vinegar.  Now that is doable!

Step Two:  Understand Your Refrigerator
I’m not going to lie, I don’t really understand my fruit and veggie drawers in my fridge.  I put the fruit in the fruit drawer and the veggies in the veggie drawer, but they have these dials that I can slide according to the humidity that I want.  Yeah, I’ve never touched them.  Here’s what I have learned.  Fruits typically require less humidity to prevent drying out and withering than veggies.  So, if you have two drawers, it is best to split up your fruits and veggies.  The other thing that I hate is that you have to experiment with your humidity settings in your fridge to figure it out.  A dear friend recommended putting a layer of paper towels (or you could use a dish towel) down on the bottom of the drawer.  When it gets wet, you’ll know that you erred too far on the humid side.  It is a fine balance between keeping things humid so they don’t wither and having too much humidity which causes things to deteriorate prematurely.  So yeah, it’s back to at home science experiments!  (Maybe I could make it a part of our school!!)

Step Three:  Sort your Produce
By the time I get home from the store with all three kiddos, I am normally just trying to get things tossed into the proper places as quickly as possible.  A few days later, when I open my bag of apples and discover that there is a rotten one in the midst, it has already had a chance to spread its nastiness to the rest of the bag.  Many stores will gladly refund your money if you discover that your produce is rotting when you get home.  I always feel more confident in my return if I have noticed the mold within the first day or two of having it home.  Then I know it is the store’s fault and not mine.

Step Four:  Rinse
Jenny has shared in the past how using a vinegar rinse will help kill bacteria and spores and even some contaminates too.  This might be a good step to try out before you put your fresh produce away if you are noticing something spoiling quickly (like my broccoli!)  The key to this working for you and not against you is to thoroughly dry your washed produce before you put it away in the fridge because too much humidity causes rapid deterioration.

Next week, I’m going to look at how to store different types of produce and explore if there are any other tricks to making our fruits and veggies last longer.

My baby step for this week, start a batch of citrus vinegar rinse and maybe even clean out my fridge!!

    • Alyssa L.

      My husband and I joined a CSA and have discovered that organic veggies do go bad faster.  This has only served to make me more suspicious of non-organic veggies and fruits — what do they put on those to make them last so long??

      I wanted to share two tips that have really worked for us: (1) My husband’s mom gave us one of these: http://www.thebluapple.com/.  We were skeptical, but decided to give it a try.  They really do seem to work.  Any veggies that are not in plastic bags or otherwise contained seem to last about twice as long. In particular, we kept expecting some whole (and organic) green peppers in our veggie drawer to go bad.  But, they didn’t and we were able to chop them up and eat them weeks later. I’m sold.

      (2) For leafy greens like lettuce, etc., moisture is the enemy.  We chop our lettuce, wash it in a salad spinner, and dry it.  Then, we roll out paper towels, spread the lettuce on the paper towels, and roll up the lettuce. Then, the whole roll (paper towel, lettuce, and all) goes in a plastic bag. Lettuce can last for weeks that way, even the organic lettuce we got from the CSA. 

      • amysanders

        i just now saw this comment and have spent the last 10 minutes reading about the blue apple.  super fascinating.  (and i love that a year’s supply is only $20!)  thanks for sharing!!

    • Rczwemke

      Wow….learning right along with you. This was great, Amy!

      • amysanders

        thanks, friend.  :)

    • I started washing my berries in vinegar wand was AMAZED at how much longer they lasted.  Also when there is a SUPER deal on fruit or veg I freeze some and keep some out. That keeps me from “wasting” too much.

    • lj

      I’m not a consultant or anything, but I’ve discovered Tupperware’s FridgeSmart.  My family is still small so we weren’t even able to use an entire head of lettuce before it spoiled.  I was really skeptical and they are expensive.  But I was give some as a gift and I can’t believe the difference!  Here’s some examples… I can now keep leaf lettuce for up to 4 weeks, cucumbers will last up to 2 weeks.  Also, freshly picked strawberries lasted a little over a week.  IMO, these containers were well worth the investment!  I was to the point that I wouldn’t buy much produce because it would spoil so fast.  

      • amysanders

        i have looked at these on-line.  do they do something with the ethylene gases being released or are they primarily just keeping the moisture levels right?

        • lj

          They help regulate the moisture.  I’m not sure about the gases.  The little ridges on the bottom of the container help keep the produce from sitting in the moisture.  As long as you follow the instructions on how many vents to keep open for whatever you’re storing, it should work.  This is printed on the side of the container, ie. lettuce is one vent closed and one open.  Some produce, like carrots need lots of moisture. I often filled my container with water and then added the carrots.  Now I have fridgesmart and I don’t worry about it.  Oh, and one other tip.  I personally like the square and rectangle shaped containers.  They fit in the fridge better.  The large one they have for lettuce takes up a lot of room.  I just peel the leaves off and lay them in the the rectangle one. Like I said, I was really skeptical.  I didn’t want to pay that much for something that may not work.  But I’m amazed and wish I had gotten them sooner.  I could’ve used the money I wasted throwing away produce to purchase them.

          • amysanders

            that is SUPER helpful.  do you mind if i quote you in an upcoming post?

    • april

      The ‘Green bags’ that are sold for fruits and veggies REALLY work!  I actually bought an off brand to try (wish I had bought more)…. and I can keep washed kale for 2 weeks in that bag!

      • amysanders

        can you reuse the bags?

        • april

          The box said you could reuse them 4 times……..not sure why only 4 times…….

          • amysanders

            maybe whatever that is in the bags that keeps those ethylene gases from doing their thing dissipates over time? 

      • amysanders

        can you reuse the bags?

    • lana

      I have had really good success with the Hefty brand of produce bags.  I cannot see that the Ziploc brand made any difference at all.  I put a paper towel in the bags with my produce to absorb moisture and that has made a huge difference.  I also occasionally buy the huge tub of organic salad greens at Sam’s and found that those keep twice as long by just keeping a paper towel on top of the greens.  If the towel in any of these gets very damp I just replace it.  

    • Tarafischer84

      Good article, Amy. I haven’t had a clue how to work the settings on the separate drawers but will take a look when I am putting away groceries this week. Looking forward to next week when you delve into the different types of produce. We are experimenting more with different veggies/fresh herbs and I hate having things go bad.

      • amysanders

        next week, it is veggies!!

    • Firedancer254

      To keeps bananas fresh longer just let them sit in the sun till they get the ripeness you like. Then put them in the fridge. The outside will still turn brown, but the banana inside stays fresh for weeks! Also, for potatoes, take them out of their plastic bag and put them in a brown paper bag, close it up, and put them in the fridge. They will last for months!

      • Realbecca

        When my bananas get a bit past that perfect ripeness, I cut them into chunks and freeze them. A few pieces in a smoothie gives an amazing, creamy texture. Or I blend about a cup of chunks with a TBS of milk & some peanut butter or cocoa powder (or both) for an amazing icecream-like treat. I’ve started buying bananas from a local produce store several times a week, just so we have enough left over to freeze :-)

    • Guest

      There are also several combinations that you should avoid, such as storing onions and potatoes close to one another.  They each give off gases that spoil the other, so store them in separate containers/drawers.

      • amysanders

        great tip!  i dive more into veggies next week and then the week after  we’ll explore how to store fruits.  :)

    • katkoupon

       I don’t really know what to put where in the fridge either. I have the regular drawers. I wash and dry my squash, zucchini, eggplants, cucumbers, green beans, and anything else that (I think) is washable, first thing. I store them in a dish pan lined with paper towels, that slips right onto a fridge shelf, so I just pull the whole thing out when I need veggies, and nothing gets lost. I always cook whatever is quickest to spoil. I snap the green bean ends and slice cucumbers so they are ready for snacks. They get gone quickly when I already have them prepped. I usually leave potatoes in a brown bag on the counter, and concentrate on eating the other stuff first since the potatoes seem to last longer. I use one of those Debbie Meyer green bags for bananas. I wash berries and grapes right before eating so they don’t mold. I also try to split my shopping days up. My CSA basket/farmer’s market is on Saturdays, so I hold off on Costco til later in the week when we start running low/out of fresh stuff. Thanks for sharing!

      • amysanders

        kat, every time you comment, i think that we would be good friends if we met each other in the “real” world.  ;)

      • amysanders

        kat, every time you comment, i think that we would be good friends if we met each other in the “real” world.  ;)

    • I’ve found that heads of leafy veggies last much, much longer than those same veggies already pre-cut into bags. I’ve had heads of romaine lettuce last for weeks & weeks when the leaves are left still attached to the core as an entire head & then I just peel off a few leaves at a time as needed for meals.

      Also, when you start to notice an item of produce starting to get a little past its prime, then immediately throw it into a freezer bag in the freezer. I keep one bag for fruit smoothie makings & one for veggies (soups, casseroles, etc).

      In fact, for the fruit bag, I even pour out the juice from canned fruit into it! All of the miscellaneous fruits & fruit juices that I have collected go into the blender together. If you have any yogurt, sour cream or milk that needs to get used up quickly, add it too for a creamy treat!

      • amysanders

        i have heard the trick about the soup bucket, but not a freezer bag for smoothies.  i love it!  thanks for sharing!

        •  You’re welcome! I love your articles.

          • amysanders

            ah, thanks!  the sour cream in smoothies totally threw me for a loop, but it makes sense that it would work.  i am loving all that i am learning in general in this journey and am loving this community that is teaching me soooo much!

          • amysanders

            ah, thanks!  the sour cream in smoothies totally threw me for a loop, but it makes sense that it would work.  i am loving all that i am learning in general in this journey and am loving this community that is teaching me soooo much!

            • Yes, and adding one of those dairy ingredients complements the flavor in a nice way if the smoothie happens to have
              several strong acidic ingredients together (i.e. pineapple, citrus, etc). It cuts the overall acidic taste down to a creamy, happy flavor. :)

    • Ljscraps

      After I rinse my berries in Vinegar and drying well, I use a reusable ” green bag”.  I also place my Salad mixed greens ( unwashed) in a green bag.  Raspberries normaly went bad by day three, after doing the above steps, I noticed my beries lasted well into week two, Strawberries last even longer.

    • Ljscraps

      After I rinse my berries in Vinegar and drying well, I use a reusable ” green bag”.  I also place my Salad mixed greens ( unwashed) in a green bag.  Raspberries normaly went bad by day three, after doing the above steps, I noticed my beries lasted well into week two, Strawberries last even longer.

    • Lisa

      I found that buying frozen organic broccoli at Costco was the best for us, instead of buying fresh. You get 4 lbs for $6 something, already washed & cut.  I was having a hard time finding good looking fresh organic broccoli around here in FL, where it is typically too hot to grow it here most of the year.  Maybe it was traveling too far before reaching the store shelves, so it wasn’t lasting too long after getting it home.  Just a thought.  Costco also has good prices on organic butter too.  Looking forward to learning from all the other posts here.  I want to try the vinegar rinse.  Great idea!

      • amysanders

        my problem is that i like the texture of cooked fresh broccoli over frozen.  kind of a broccoli snob in that way.  do you know how to cook frozen broccoli where it is still firm and not floppy?  teach me, please!  :) 

        • Amanda Lang

          put it in a pan with just a little coconut oil and sea salt (and parmesan/garlic if you like) — throw it in the oven for ~30 minutes

    • Davisangie

      Thanks Amy! I’m sure you’ve seen the “dirty dozen” list, but here it is anyway. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/ . It helped me not to feel pressure to buy all organic produce. And the things that are really expensive, I just don’t buy often. 

      • amysanders

        thanks!  i need to find a smaller printable list of this until i have it memorized!

    • Mwill2001

      Love this organic journey series.
      It is also the journey that I am on.

      A smart nutritionist taught me to wash fruit and vegetables in a sink of water with about 1 tbsp of bleach. Similar to washing in vinegar, it removes mold from the outdoors, so it does help.
      I also use the green bags and blue apples, but it is still a struggle to keep everything from spoiling.

      • Homeisthebeachnow

        Not to sound harsh by any means but if buying organic & you want no chemicals (pesticides) why wash fruit & veggies with bleach?

      • Chiefsangeleyes

        Agree  with below post! Bleach is a known carcinogen! Just use a little vinegar in the water instead of bleach

      • amysanders

        what are blue apples?

        • amysanders

          i just googled it.  fascinating!

    • Terri

      I always thought that broccoli (and eggplant) were two of the not-necessary-to-buy-organic veggies since they don’t require alot of pesticides in the first place to keep them looking nice.  In any case, since we don’t eat meat–with the accumulated pesticides from the animal feed lurking in the muscles of the animal–I buy organic some times and non-organic other times.  In the long run, I figure it’ll work out.

      • shaz

        Broccoli is sprayed with lots of pesticides. I lived near by where it is grown. Sprayed every day. i don’t know about eggplant.

      • Lisa

         Organic is not only about avoiding the pesticides.  In order to grow organic anything, the soil is key.  It is much richer in nutrients and live organisms, which allow the plants to grow stronger and resist bugs and disease.  This nutrient rich soil also increases the nutrient content in the fruit/veggie quite a bit compared to the tired soil used by conventional growers mono-cropping (growing the same plant over and over again in the same soil) with depletes the soil of vital nutrients for that particular species, guaranteeing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

        I say, if you can find organic for only a little bit more $ than conventionally grown, go for it.  It not only supports the organic movement and sends a message as to what you want to eat, but also you get better nutrition and better taste.  I agree that organic meats and dairy should be on the top of the list, if you have to choose, but frozen is a great way to go organic on other stuff too. Frozen item prices are usually cheaper than fresh, since there is less spoilage for the sellers, and the nutrient content is very close to fresh.

        • amysanders

          good perspective.  thanks!