At the last Water Conference sponsored by the Irrigation Association I was interested to hear Peter Williams, Chief Technology Officer, from IBM Big Green Innovation speak about water. Peter quickly grabbed everyone’s attention when he pointed out 40% of the food grown in the United States goes uneaten. This food is fruits and vegetables that take so much water to grow. For those of us in the water conservation business our heads were quickly trying to calculate how much water was being wasted as a result of the uneaten food. Storing fruits and vegetables properly will cut down on food and water waste.
Farm to fork to landfill
Americans are throwing out about $165 billion in food each year. It turns out there is waste created all along the process. It starts right at the farms where lots of food is grown but not harvested because there’s too much or it doesn’t meet quality standards or there are no workers to harvest the food. Then mainly due to high standards for food, much of our fruits and vegetables are culled and thrown out, so we lose some in the processing and distribution process as well. However, the major place waste occurs is in the home. At grocery stores we are encouraged with quantity discounts and excellent marketing to buy more than we can eat. We don’t know how to properly store fruits and vegetables, or we are just not interested in learning because food is still too cheap and plentiful to worry about saving. Sound familiar? The food waste alone is sad, but if you also consider the water waste as a result of the food going uneaten you will drive yourself bananas.
How To Store Fruits and Vegetables at Home
The good news is with a little time and education we can keep foods fresh longer and waste less by learning how to properly store fruits and vegetables. It takes just a little extra thought to ensure your fruits and vegetables for a reasonable amount of time so you can enjoy them fully – and more importantly save water as a result of not wasting food.
There are really three places you should be storing your fruits and veggies. In the refrigerator, on the counter, or in a cool dry place. If you are storing them in the refrigerator you have some choices to make there as well. Will they be stored in a plastic bag, paper bag or open. When you store food in bags it increases the amount of humidity it is exposed to and the greater the likelihood of mold.
It’s best to wait to wash your fruits and vegetables until just before you use them. It’s difficult to completely dry them and any moisture helps promote mold.
Below are some items you will want to store in the refrigerator:
- Artichokes, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupes, celery, cherries, grapes, green beans, lima beans, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, okra, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, yellow squash and zucchini
These items you want to ripen before they are put in the refrigerator. They emit ethylene and will ripen your other fruits too quickly:
- Avocados, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and kiwi
It’s great to keep herbs and asparagus the same way you do flowers – in water. They will stay fresh for days and with the cost of both of those items you will greatly benefit.
Definitely don’t wash these until right before you use them. Store these in the refrigerator and keep them in a plastic bag:
- Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, chard, corn, cranberries, green onions, lettuce, peas and radishes
Remember berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries shouldn’t be washed until you are ready to eat them. You should store them in the refrigerator, but make sure air can circulate around them.
Definitely store these items on the counter top, out of the sun:
- Apples, bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, grapefruit, jicama, lemons, limes, mangoes, oranges, papayas, peppers, pineapple, pomegranates, watermelon
Store these items in a cool, dry, place:
- Acorn squash, butternut squash, garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, shallots, spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, winter squash
I keep this list handy on my iPhone and review it when I get home from the store. (You can also download a handy reference sheet from our Facebook page.) If you do the same, after a few weeks you’ll easily remember know how to store produce properly and you’ll be happy to see how much longer it can last. If we all work together to reduce food waste, we will continue to win our battle to save water.