At times like this when instant noodles, canned food, and pre-cooked meals dominate the cupboards of our pantries, many of us are also looking for ways to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into our diets. With the ban on dine-in at restaurants and our avoidance of excessive trips to the supermarkets, many of us have turned to online delivery and bulk shopping to stock up on groceries that will probably last us for more than a week or two.
With two weeks worth of fresh produce in our shopping bags, how then can we ensure that they remain at their optimal quality when they are ready to be consumed? We’ve taken advice from our mothers, grandmothers, chefs, and our best friend Google, we present you eight tips you need to know to ensure that your fruits and vegetables are kept fresh for a longer period of time!
1. Check the temperature of your refrigerator
Singapore’s hot and humid weather is one key factor in causing food stored in the open to go bad faster. That’s why it is important to refrigerate fresh produce properly the moment we bring them home from the supermarket. However, chucking your items in the fridge alone is not enough. In order for them to maximise their usable lifespan, your refrigerator’s temperature should be set between 0°C to 4°C, and the freezer’s temperature should be below -18°C.
Refrigeration helps in slowing down bacteria growth which happens most rapidly between 5°C and 60°C—a temperature known as the ‘Temperature Danger Zone’. Thus, it is of utmost importance to maintain the correct temperature of our refrigerator to keep food safe and prevent foodborne illnesses.
2. Utilize your refrigerator’s compartments
As we move along with the times, home appliances like refrigerators are also evolving to suit our increasingly busy lifestyle. From a single-door mechanism, it has advanced to a double-door machine installed with modern technologies and complex compartmentalisations within. If you are one to organise your food items in your fridge according to specific compartments, good for you. If you are not, it’s time to reorganise as the placement of your food on the right shelves will indeed help in extending its lifespan.
Refrigerators tend to work differently with varying airflow circulation patterns. As such, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions as they would have the temperature and moisture levels planned out to best suit the particular food item.
Here are some additional tips to ensure that your fridge is kept cool and help save some penny off you utility bills:
- Let food cool before putting it in the fridge. This prevents sudden heat transmission within the area of your fridge that might cause bacteria growth in other food items around it.
- Limit the number of times you open the door. Opening the door allows cold air to escape and warm air to enter, resulting in extra energy usage for the fridge to bring its overall temperature back to its optimal point.
- Leave room for air circulation. Overpacking your fridge with food items would prevent air from constantly circulating to regulate the temperature within. This will then require more energy to maintain the temperature and naturally lead to an increase in utility cost.
3. Not all your fruits and vegetables are friends
After understanding our refrigerators better, let’s move on to our main call for concern—fruits and vegetables. Many a time, we are wasting food because they tend to ripen and rot faster than we can consume. Storing them the right way is all that makes a difference.
To determine how to store our fresh produces, we must be able to identify ethylene-producing items from ethylene-sensitive items. But first, what is ethylene? Ethylene is a natural gas released by produces as they ripen. Climatic fruits such as avocados, bananas, kiwis, and mangoes release them in larger quantities and this might pre-maturely ripen ethylene-sensitive items such as leafy greens, carrots, and broccoli. As such, it is important to keep such items stored separately to prevent them from spoiling at a faster rate.
4. Refrigerate at the right time
Many times, we keep our fruits out on the counters at room temperature so that they can ripen. Items like avocados are easy to control as we are able to selectively purchase them according to their maturity. But what about bananas?
Instead of disposing of the bananas that are still perfectly edible beyond its darkened skin, you can also transfer them to the refrigerator as its cold temperature will lower the Ethylene action, decreasing the rate of ripening. The same can be done to other climatic fruits such as papayas and pineapples. By refrigerating them at the right time, it will buy you an additional three to four days before they start to show signs of spoilage.
For ease of reference, here is a list to help you determine where exactly to store your produce!
5. Cut and freeze
Although the ripening process can be slowed down in the fridge, you will need to freeze your produce in order to bring it to a complete halt. After allowing your fruits to reach its desired state of ripeness, peel its skin and cut into pieces if necessary. Thereafter, pack them into separate resealable plastic bags or freezer-safe containers and they will store safely from three months to a year depending on their type.
Non-leafy vegetables like bell peppers, green beans, broccoli and brussel sprouts can also be frozen just like fruits. They are, however, required to be blanched in boiling water for two to three minutes and rinsed with cold water to stop its cooking process in order to prevent them from getting freezer burns.
6. Wash your produce at the right time
While the habit of washing fruits and vegetables is a good one, do hold back your urge to wash them before putting them in the refrigerator. Storing washed vegetables and fruits in the fridge adds extra moisture to the produce, accelerating in their deterioration.
If washing is really necessary, make use of tools like the salad spinner and paper towels to ensure that the produce is properly dried before refrigerating. Nonetheless, we can get around washing berries by rinsing them in a diluted vinegar bath with vinegar to water ratio of 1:3. This vinegar bath helps destroy bacteria and mould spores on the berries ensuring that they are safe to eat.
7. Storing leafy greens
Leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce should be consumed within one to two days of purchase to ensure they remain fresh and that consumers are getting as much of its nutrients as possible.
The best way to store and extend the lifespan of these greens is to wrap the unwashed vegetables in a paper towel or newspaper (like how they do it in wet markets) so that they can absorb any excess moisture. After that, they should be stored in plastic bags and placed in the right compartments of our refrigerator.
Bagged salads can also be kept longer by transferring the leaves into a bowl or storage container with a paper towel placed on top before tightly wrapping it with cling wrap to prevent air from entering. Do remember to remove any rotting leaves as they will create unnecessary moisture in the bag!
A little tip for you salad lovers. If your greens are looking a little dull and wilted, due to the cold temperature of your fridge, fret not as you can easily refresh them with an icy cold bath. Simply place rinse them in a tub of ice water and they will look fresh within a minute or two.
8. Herbs in a jar
What do you do with leftover fresh herbs from the western meal you whipped up for dinner? Don’t throw them away as fresh stalks of parsley, cilantro, and other herbs can last for weeks if you keep them standing up in a glass jar filled with some water stored in the fridge.
It’s best to cover the jar with a plastic bag secured with a band. Thereafter, all you need to do is remember to change the water every now and then to keep your herbs fresh and ready to be used anytime you want.
Here you have it; eight tips to prolong the lifespan of your fruits and vegetables. With all this information at hand, no longer will you be afraid to buy a little more fresh produce than you require. Just remember to store them at the right place, at the right time and there won’t be any need to worry about food wastages!