High up on a list of things that suck is shelling out your hard-earned money on fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs only to throw them out a week or so later.
While it would be nice to buy ingredients for meals right before you prepare and consume them, life tends not to work out that way for most people. The fairly common scenario, therefore, is that you’ll go the store and stock up on produce for the week, very likely with every intention of not letting anything go to waste. Next thing you know, your spinach goes yellow, your oregano goes brown and your strawberries go full-on science experiment.
So what gives when one week your spinach stays nice and fresh and the next week it goes yellow in just a few days? The answer may be that you stored it next to some apples or peaches. Fruits and vegetables ripen at different rates. Some fruits produce higher levels of ethylene gas than others. Ethylene gas is a ripening agent, and if it comes in contact with ethylene-sensitive vegetables, premature decay leads to a trash bag full of stuff you should have eaten.
So the main trick is to keep incompatible fridge mates away from one another. Apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs and honeydew melon all release ethylene gas. Store them in your fridge, and keep them away from your veggies and berries.
Many people keep nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes on their counters rather than in the fridge. If you would rather refrigerate these gas releasers, just keep them away from sensitive veggies. Avocados and bananas, also gas releasers, should never be refrigerated unless they are already ripe and you are trying to make them hold out for a day or two longer.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and watermelon are all ethylene-sensitive, so keep them away from those apples and other gas releasers.
The answer to keeping incompatible fruits and veggies and herbs away from one another is not to stick everything in sealed plastic bags. Cutting off your produce’s air supply will leave it all out of life. You don’t want it to breathe too much, especially if it’s a gas releaser, but you don’t want it to stop breathing altogether, or you’ll end up with science experiments contained in sealed plastic baggies.
Apples, pears, nectarines, beets and cauliflower can be free in your fridge. Artichokes, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, spinach, kale and carrots should be stored in perforated plastic bags — which helps them retain some moisture. Some folks say lettuce should likewise be kept in a perforated bag, while others suggest washing and drying it and then storing it in a plastic container, upside-down and then placing a few layers of paper towels on top before lidding shut. The paper towels absorb excess moisture.
Asparagus can get a bit tricky because ideally you want to cut an inch off the bottoms and submerge in water in your fridge. If you forget, try to eat them earlier in the week so you don’t end up feeding them to your trash bin at the end of the week. Ideally, herbs should get similar treatment. Wash and dry them (as dry as you can get them), snip off the ends and submerge them in water, covering them with a plastic bag, and pop them in the refrigerator. Or consider growing your own herb garden.
Whole garlic — that is, not peeled or cut in any way — potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions should go in a dry, cool and dark place that gets decent ventilation. Tomatoes don’t need a dark place, per se, but many foodies say that refrigerating them renders them flavorless.
While blueberries are a bit sturdier, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries are quite delicate. They should be kept in the coldest part of your fridge. Don’t wash them until you are ready to eat them. Moisture helps mold proliferate, and it will spread faster than you can say “I was going to have those with yogurt today.”