Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Clean and Store your Produce to make it Last Longer

This method is something I have been doing for years now, and I can't say enough about it.  Knowing how to properly store your produce items is key to prolonging trips to the grocery store, cutting down on meal prep, and most importantly, not throwing away money on food that goes bad. 

I am a big believer in organization.  The same holds true when it comes to my food.  Grocery shopping days require an hour or so of my time afterwards getting everything cleaned and put away properly.  This ensures that meal prep throughout the rest of the week/weeks is easier and quick.

Cleaning Produce
Before I put any produce "away", I wash it first.  I do this for 2 reasons:

1) It is clean and ready to eat.
If my toddler waddles over to the fruit baskets and decides he wants an apple, he most definitely will not be washing it first.  And so I like to have everything available for snacking or meals washed and ready - this saves me a lot of time at every meal.

2) It makes it last longer.  
The cleaning solution I use kills mold spores and bacteria, prolonging the shelf life of the food.
It also makes me visually inspect everything (think of the rotten potato that starts corrupting all of the other good potatoes in the bag...)

How to Clean Produce
All you need is a sink full of water and some vinegar.
Add your fruits and veggies and let them "bathe" for 10 minutes.
Drain the water, and give them a rinse.  Then lay them out to dry.

I will admit that I was really hesitant about this at first - I was sure that my fruits and veggies would come out of their bath with a vinegar aftertaste.  This is absolutely not true.  You do not get the slightest hint of vinegar.  
What you do get, is produce that is clean, free of mold and bacteria, and has a prolonged shelf life.

Vinegar Wash

 The amount of vinegar will depend on how much water your sink will hold and how dirty your produce is.  On average, fill your sink 2/3 full will cool water, and add 1 cup of vinegar (for a regular sized sink).  I usually add 1 1/2 - 2 cups of vinegar, since my sink is larger.

Fill sink with produce, and let soak in water for 10 minutes.

If apples are noticeably coated in waxy material, I will leave them in the vinegar soak for 20-30 minutes.

Delicate items like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are better to wash by themselves in a large bowl to avoid smashing.  You can also put them in a strainer and put them right in the sink with everything else.

Drain water.
If you don't believe that this cleaning process will work, just take your fruit out of the water and see what you are left with.

Rinse Produce.

I use my faucet with the spray feature, and just lightly spray everything down.  You may need to do this a couple of times depending on how many layers of produce you had in the sink.

For small berries, I use a strainer or my hands to remove them from the bowl.  I'll wash out the bowl and fill it back up with clean water, then return berries to rinse them instead of spraying them off.


It is important to dry your produce before you put it away.  Water can increase mold production, especially where the vine or stem contacts the fruit (as in grapes or strawberries).

I lay everything out on a towel and let it dry for a few hours while I do anything else.

I will almost always hull my strawberries before or after they are cleaned.  Water on the stem is the biggest cause of them going bad, so I have found that they store much longer this way.  That, and they are ready to eat at a moments notice.

I leave my grapes on the vine, but I leave them out until they are completely dry, turning them over several times during the drying process.

What to Clean
With this method, I have had success with cleaning almost everything.  There are a few exceptions.
These are the things that I have found work well and store longer:

berries, cherries, grapes, apples, pears, plums, mangos, avocados, melons, citrus (especially if you plan to use zest), etc.

green beans, snap peas, asparagus, celery, cucumbers, peppers, squash, lettuce/greens/herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.  

Leafy greens and herbs are put through a salad spinner to remove excess water before sitting out to dry.

What I don't clean:
tomatoes, bananas, kiwi, carrots/root vegetables

How to Store Clean Produce
How you store your produce once it has been cleaned can also help prolong the shelf life.
For most fruits that need to be refrigerated, I prefer using the plastic clamshell containers that strawberries come in.

Once fruit is washed, I line the bottom of the container with paper towels, and load the fruit on top.  The towel will absorb any extra water/moisture, which will keep your fruit dry, and lasting longer.

I store all of my berries and grapes in the fridge repackaged in these clamshell containers.  Berries will last over a least a week, and grapes will last longer than 2.

This same method works particularly well with celery and asparagus as well, prolonging the shelf life to over 1 month.

For greens and other vegetables, I follow the same idea, only using ziplock bags instead of the containers.

The paper towels will absorb the moisture, which will promote mold growth if allowed to stay on the food.
Lettuce and cilantro, as pictured above, will both last several weeks if stored this way.  I will either seal the bag completely leaving plenty of air inside, or leave a portion of the top unsealed to allow air in.  I will occasionally swap out the paper towels for new ones if they are completely damp.

I use this method for:
broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, lettuce/greens, beans, snap peas

Bell Peppers, cucumbers, melons, apples, pears and citrus are stored as is - no bagging or packaging.  I rarely keep these items in the fridge (aside from peppers and cucumbers), but I do store anything more than what we will eat in a week down in my cold storage (basement).

If you have a problem with food going bad before you can eat it, I highly recommend giving this a try!  I think you will be surprised at how much longer it will last, not to mention how easy it makes meal prep!  If anyone else has some good produce storing tips I would love to hear about it!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your methods. It will come in handy while juicing.