How To Store Produce Without Plastic
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. Every year in Europe and North America, 95-115 kg of food is wasted per capita. Juicy crops, like fruits and vegetables, tubers and roots have the highest wastage rates of any food. They are full of water, susceptible to molds and similar microorganisms, which makes their shelf life shorter compared to other groceries.
We have managed to prolong shelf life of many foods with different kind of plastic packaging, but at great cost. Landfills, oceans and rivers are now filled with plastic waste, mostly constituting of single-use plastic packaging. Switching to more sustainable methods of food storage isn’t just better for the environment, it’s also healthier. Multiple studies have shown that plastic releases toxic chemicals into food and beverages – a process called plastic leaching. Chronic ingestion of such chemicals can cause serious health problems.
To avoid the use of plastic in your home and waste as little food as possible, here are some tips and tricks on how to store produce without plastic. Keep in mind that you’ll need glass (or metal) and cardboard containers, as well as some towels and cloth bags.
Do not buy too much food
This is an obvious one, but it’s often forgotten. When shopping for groceries, consider what groceries should be bought when. Groceries with long shelf life, like meat, cheese, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods can be bought in a bulk. If properly stored, they can last for a few weeks retaining much of their nutrients. When it comes to fruits, vegetables, tubers, root crops and similar foods, they should be bought in smaller amounts, but more frequently. Nutritional value of fresh fruits and vegetables declines as soon as they are picked, so it’s better if you can buy them locally and eat them in a few days.
To optimally use groceries that you already have, try plan your meals according to their shelf life.
Ethylene and ripening
Ethylene is a naturally occurring plant hormone responsible for fruit ripening and senescence of vegetative tissues. Majority of big agricultural producers pick fruits and vegetables before they are ripe, to ensure that their product can travel long distances without spoiling. When they get to their destination, fruits are artificially treated with ethylene gas to force ripening. This way of handling food transportation is one of the main reasons why some fruits have little to no taste – they didn’t have enough time to mature naturally and produce proper amounts of vitamins, phenols and other nutritive organic compounds. This is why it’s best if you can buy locally produced fruits and vegetables, in their season.
Some plants and their fruits naturally produce ethylene, but in different amounts, depending on the species or specific variety. To keep your fruits and vegetables as fresh as possible, it is important to know which ones are sensitive to ethylene and which are ethylene producers. Ethylene-sensitive crops are prone to quick spoiling when exposed to ethylene, so you should keep them separated from ethylene producers. You can also mix ethylene producers with unripe fruits, to speed up the ripening. Some plants are both producers and ethylene-sensitive; for longer storage, keep them in their own container.
Ethylene-sensitive foods: asparagus, avocados, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, green beans, herbs, kiwi, leeks, lettuce, mangoes, mushrooms, okra, papayas, peaches, pears, hot peppers, plums, prunes, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, sprouts, sweet potatoes, turnips, watermelon.
Ethylene producers: apples, apricots, ripe avocados, bananas, guavas, ripe kiwi, melons, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, quinces, ripe tomatoes.
No ethylene emission and not sensitive: cherries, chicory, coconuts, corn, cranberries, garlic, ginger, onions, sweet artichoke, sweet peppers, pomegranates, rhubarb.
How to store vegetables without plastic
It’s best if you can buy vegetables without wrapping (plastic, rubber bands). If that isn’t possible, be sure to remove the wrapping before storage.
Each type of vegetable has different demands when it comes to storage conditions. This list contains instructions on proper storing based on the specific type of vegetable.
Asparagus – At storage temperature of 0-2oC, asparagus can last for 2-3 weeks. If you want to keep it outside the fridge, place the stems loosely, upright in a glass or bowl with water – this way they can last for about a week. Change the water after 2-3 days.
Avocados – They can last 2-4 weeks at 4-12oC. If you want to keep them at room temperature, place them in a paper bag.
Beans (green) – Should be stored in an open or loosely closed container with a damp cloth over it, at 5-7oC. If they are not going to be eaten within a week, it is best to freeze them.
Cabbage – It can last around 4 weeks at 0oC and up to a week on a cool counter. If it’s not refrigerated, it starts losing moisture within a few days.
Carrots – Store them in a cloth bag or in the crisper drawer. You can store peeled carrots in a glass container filled with water, just make sure you change the water every two days.
Cauliflower – It can last up to 2 weeks in a closed glass container in the fridge.
Cucumbers – They can be stored for about 10 days wrapped in a moist towel in the fridge.
Eggplants – They last for one week at 7-10oC. They can be also left out in a cool room without washing them beforehand, as the extra moisture shortens their shelf life.
Garlic – It is best to keep it in a dry, cool place with little to no light.
Lettuce – It first needs to be washed thoroughly, then dried and placed in a cloth bag or a container – this way it can last for a week or so. It’s best to keep it in the crisper drawer.
Melons – They can last around 10 days at 0-4oC in an open container.
Okra – It can last for 7-10 days at 7-10oC. It doesn’t like humidity, so keep it in a dry towel in an airtight container.
Onion – It’s best if it’s stored in a cool, dry place with little to no light. For optimal air circulation, try not to stack them together.
Peppers – Peppers can last around two weeks in the crisper drawer. Do not wash them before storage, because moisture shortens their shelf life.
Potatoes – White potatoes can last for a few months in a cool, dry room with little to no light. Sweet potatoes can last around a month longer in similar conditions.
Radishes – place them in a cloth bag in the refrigerator. They can last up to two weeks.
Tomatoes – Green tomatoes should be stored in a cool room, because refrigeration can interfere with their ripening, resulting in tasteless, mealy tomatoes. Depending on how green they are, they can last 1-3 weeks at room temperature. They should be eaten or used as soon as they are ripe; if you cannot use them right away, keep them in the fridge. Ripe tomatoes can only last for a few days in the crisper drawer, so make sure you eat them as soon as possible.
Watermelons – If they are not cut, they can last for weeks in the fridge. To get the most nutrients out of watermelons it is recommended to keep them in a cool room and eat them as soon as possible. Keep them in the fridge only for a few hours before serving (if you want to eat them cold), or if they are cut.
How to store fruit without plastic
Apples – Keep them in a cool room, or on a cool counter, separated from ethylene-sensitive fruits. This way they can last up to two weeks, but if you want to store them longer, put them in a cardboard box in the fridge.
Bananas – Keep them at room temperature, away from other fruits, as they produce a lot of ethylene.
Berries – Do not wash them before storage, they are extremely sensitive to moisture. Try not to stack them together, keep them loose in a paper bag and put in the fridge. They can only last for 2-3 days, so it’s best to eat them the same day they’re bought.
Cherries – Do not wash until ready to eat, because extra moisture shortens their shelf life. Keep them refrigerated in a glass airtight container. Same as berries, it is best to eat them the day they’re bought.
Citrus fruits – They can be kept in a cool room or in the fridge. Keep them in an open container, as good air circulation prevents quick spoiling. They can last for couple of weeks if properly stored.
Figs – They really do not like humidity, so it’s best to keep them refrigerated loosely in a paper bag or on a plate. Do not stack them together to keep the conditions as dry as possible. This way they can last up to a week.
Grapes – Avoid extra moisture and put them in a cloth bag in the fridge. You can store them that way up to five days, as they are very prone to spoiling.
Pears – Store them on a cool counter until they are ripe, then move them to the fridge. Ripe pears can last for several days refrigerated.
Pomegranates – Store them in a cool room or on a cool counter. Best storage for seeds is to put them in a glass container, where they can last for a few days.
Stone fruits – Leave them at room temperature if they are not ripe. When ripe move them in the fridge. Ripe apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines can last for several days refrigerated.