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Keep a cap on fruit and vegetable spoilage

Fresh produce is among the foods consumers waste the most

“This would be a good followup article,” my husband said with a grin.

I pondered his suggestion as I grabbed a grocery cart.

A while back, I wrote about a grocery shopping trip I took with our son. I was providing a “kitchen warming” gift for him after he moved into his own place. I stocked his cupboards, refrigerator and freezer with a variety of foods that he chose during our shopping trip.

I was amazed at the healthful choices he made. I should have had him be my guest writer that week, or perhaps our personal chef.

More than a year had passed. Was he still on the right track with eating?

“I mainly need fruits and vegetables,” our son noted as we entered the grocery store recently. My husband glanced in my direction with raised eyebrows. I nodded.

He placed peppers, tomatoes, carrots, raspberries, potatoes, grapes, bananas and mushrooms in the cart.

He had filled the cart with the amount of fruits and vegetables I might buy for a family of four to last for several days.

“Are you sure you are going to eat all the fresh fruits and vegetables before they spoil?” I asked.

“Yes, I’ll eat them, Mom,” he responded as he looked at some avocados. He thought they were a little pricy at this time of the year, so he didn’t add any to the cart.

I was fine with his choices. Fruits and vegetables typically are the food groups most lacking in most diets. Only about one in 10 adults meets the daily 4-1/2-cup recommendation. All forms of fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, canned, frozen or dried, count toward the total.

Eating more fruits and vegetables can lower our risk for chronic disease, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. They’re naturally low in calories and high in fibre.

Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables also are the foods most commonly wasted. Our son grew up in a family who tries to avoid wasting food. Throwing away food is like throwing money in the trash.

Try these questions about fresh fruit and vegetable storage:

  • Why should you avoid storing fruits and vegetables, such as apples and broccoli, in the same refrigerator drawer?
  • Where should you store fresh tomatoes?
  • What’s the best way to clean fruits and vegetables?
  • Should you rinse your weekly supply of fruits and vegetables before refrigerating? Why or why not?
  • You check the strawberries you purchased a few days ago and notice they are mouldy. Should you cut away the bad parts and use the rest?
  • Why do “baby carrots” sometimes turn whitish?
  • Let’s say you bought a lot of tomatoes, apples, carrots, peppers and other vegetables, and you have an unexpected trip that will take you away for many days. What should you do?

Here are the answers:

  • Keep fruits such as apples, pears and plums away from vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and broccoli. Many fruits release ethylene gas naturally. In fruits, ethylene promotes ripening, but it can promote colour changes or spoilage in ethylene-sensitive vegetables. However, if you use your fruits and vegetables quickly, you probably won’t have an issue with spoilage.
  • Fresh tomatoes should be stored at room temperature to maintain their flavour and quality. However, cut tomatoes (and any other cut fruit or vegetable) should be covered and kept in the refrigerator for safety. Use within a few days.
  • Use plenty of running water to clean vegetables and fruits. You should use a vegetable brush on fruits with “netted” skin, such as cantaloupe. Do not use soap.
  • For best quality and longest storage life, rinse fruits and vegetables just prior to eating them.
  • Throw away mouldy strawberries.
  • Baby carrots may “dry out” and become whitish. They are safe to eat. They will rehydrate in soups and stews. However, if baby carrots are slimy and soft, do not eat them.
  • You could give your extra fruits and vegetables to a friend, or you could freeze, dry or can them. See ‘Field to Fork’ on the NDSU website for information about storing and preserving various fruits and vegetables, and growing them, too.

Here’s a recipe and nutrition analysis courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It features a variety of fresh vegetables and is ready in 30 minutes or less. Each serving has two cups of vegetables. I think my son had almost all the ingredients for this colourful, tasty recipe.


Chicken Ratatouille

  • 1 tbsp. oil, such as olive,sunflower or canola
  • 4 medium chicken breast halves,without skin, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 7-inch zucchini, unpeeled andthinly sliced
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and cutinto 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium green pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 (16-oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • Black pepper

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add chicken and sauté about three minutes. Add zucchini, eggplant, onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, basil, parsley and pepper.

Continue to cook for five minutes or until chicken is tender.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 32 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 8 g fibre and 240 milligrams sodium.

Chicken ratatouille is a great and tasty way to get more vegetables into your diet.
photo: happy_lark/iStock/Getty Images

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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