How to Store Produce to Reduce Food Waste

March 16, 2017
By: Anna Pashkova, ACSM EP-C

How to store produce properly to prevent food waste

Do you find yourself reaching into your refrigerator for a much-anticipated fruit or veggie only to find it's already gone bad? Or maybe you've become hesitant to buy fresh produce for fear of wasting your money by throwing it out before you're ready to use it. While planning ahead for cooking is always helpful, utilizing a few produce storage strategies may help extend the life of your fruits and vegetables and prevent some extra frustration.

Not only will reducing food waste at home save you money, but the Environmental Protection Agency also recognizes other benefits of reducing food waste, such as the reduction of methane emissions from landfills and conservation of energy and resources.

How to Store Produce

Storing your produce properly will help maintain its integrity and flavor much longer. Generally, fruits and vegetables should be stored out of direct sunlight and away from any additional sources of heat if they're stored on the countertop.

If storing food inside of the refrigerator, make sure the temperature is set below 40 degrees F. Some fruits and vegetables are best when left on the counter to ripen and then placed in the refrigerator to extend its peak ripeness. It’s best to store fruits and vegetables away from each other due to the ethylene that's given off by some fruit (apples, especially). This ethylene is responsible for causing produce to spoil faster. On the other hand, if you’re looking to speed up the process of ripening, like for an avocado, you can take advantage of the ethylene properties of apples by storing your apples with the avocados.

How to store produce properly to prevent food waste

Tips to Prevent Food Waste

  • Wash berries only right before eating to prevent mold growth.
  • Cut the tops off of carrots and beets prior to storage.
  • Store produce you’ve had the longest toward the front of the refrigerator to encourage eating them first (this applies to leftovers too!).
  • If you want to prep fresh produce for easier cooking or snacking later, store them in clear storage containers in the refrigerator. Mason jars and glass containers are great, if using plastic choose BPA-free.
  • Store half-used salad fixins like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers in reusable storage containers for your next salad.
  • Take advantage of the freezer if you need long-term storage.

Speaking of the freezer, frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option for quick healthy meals. Frozen produce I always have on hand include: peas, corn, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower and mixed fruit for smoothies.

While on the topic of reducing food waste, consider investing in both reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags to reduce plastic bag waste. Keep these bags near the front door or in the glovebox of your car will get you into the habit of automatically reaching for them when taking a trip to the grocery store. If you happen to forget, choose paper instead of plastic at the checkout line.

There are many more resources and tips online for more produce storage tips and tricks. For example, check out these storage tips from Washington’s Green Grocer for storing vegetables and fruits without plastic.