At the grocery store, you fill your cart with fresh fruits and veggies with every intention of using them. But before you know it, it’s a week later and you’re throwing half of those fruits and veggies in the trash.
You’re not alone. The U.S. wastes a whopping $160 billion in food each year—about 1,249 calories per person per day—and a large chunk of that is fresh produce, according to a USDA report.
It’s hard to find the right balance: You want to make sure you have plenty of fresh fruits and veggies on hand so you don’t have to run to the store every time you want a salad or smoothie, but you also don’t want to toss your food (and your money) out the window when they go bad a few days later.
Luckily, there are ways to cut back on food waste by extending the life of your produce.
Store Fresh Produce Properly
Some fruits and veggies belong on the counter, others belong in the fridge. “Cherries, berries, cut-up fruit, grapes, apricots, green beans, beets, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, lettuce mushrooms, greens, sprouts, and apples (after 7 days) should be kept in the fridge,” says Erin M. Shyong, RD, CDE. “At room temperature, they will spoil quickly. Refrigerating them will help preserve your produce and control enzymatic reactions from occurring too early.”
“Avocado, bananas, melons, papaya, pumpkin, tomatoes, and apples (less than 7 days) can be stored on the counter,” says Shyong. “Refrigerating these foods would actually cause damage to the fruit due to the cold and prevent them from ripening appropriately. Keeping them out on the counter will ensure they ripen at the correct speed, optimizing flavor and texture.”
You also want to make sure to keep your fruits and veggies separate. “Ethylene is a gas given off by different plants such as bananas, pears, kiwis, peaches, and pears,” says Shyong. “It’s naturally produced as foods ripen, however many fruits and vegetables as sensitive to ethylene, which may speed up their own ripening processes [and lead to] early rotting.” When in doubt, this USDA guide or Foodkeeper app can help.
Preserve What You Can’t Use Right Away
One great way to preserve fruits and veggies is through freezing. “Freezing works due to the high water content of fruits and veggies which, when frozen, halts the enzymatic reaction that causes food deterioration,” says Shyong. So instead of tossing those brown bananas in the trash, chop them up, toss them in the freezer, and use them later to whip up some smoothies.
Another great option for repurposing your fresh produce? Drying. “Drying fruit and veggies is a great way to retain many nutrients and allow for a much longer shelf life,” says Shyong. “Dried fruit—such as apples, cranberries, raisins, and apricots—are easy on-the-go fruit that add not only some great flavor to your salad or trail mix, but also have a high fiber content to help keep you full throughout the day.”
If you don’t have a dehydrator on hand, you can dry your produce in your oven. When stored in an airtight container, dried fruits and veggies can last as long as six months.
Incorporate Them Into More Meals
If you notice your fresh fruits and veggies are starting to take a turn for the worse, it might be time to do a little work in the kitchen. Tossing fresh produce into a recipe—instead of into the trash—is a great way to reduce food waste.
“If you have a few apples or pears on hand, boil them until they are soft and then mash/puree/blend until you get a sauce like consistency,” says Shyong. “Then, add to a dip or salad dressing for a high fiber meal. Not sure what to do with carrots, celery, or onions? Make a quick soup stock. Cook them and add to a pot of water with your favorite herbs and spices; let simmer for about 45 minutes and strain out any solids. Freeze your stock and you’ve got it ready for the next batch of soup you want to make.”
Fresh produce gets a bad rap for spoiling quicker than you can use it. But with these tips, you have everything you need to make fresh fruits and veggies last longer—and keep your food waste to a minimum.