Real Food Real World….Ever wonder why some foods spoil faster in your refrigerator, and all you can do it throw them away?…here are some answers as to how you could saves a lot of money on your food bill this year.

The results of a year-long study, made public in 2002, found that families in the US tossed out an average of 470 pounds of food per year—about 14 percent of all food brought into the home—at an annual cost of $600. Adjusting for inflation, in 2011 and 2012, that total is nearly $900 to $1150 in food thrown away per family, per year. Of that grand total of waste, one-quarter of it was fresh produce being discarded. Nationally, we dump over $43 billion worth of food every year.  

The refrigerator acts as a trap for the ethylene gas given off by the generating varieties, allowing it to build up to damaging levels. Although it’s not hazardous to humans, the ethylene gas leads to the early aging and rotting of your produce. While the cold in the fridge does slow down the emission of gas from most produce, it can speed it up for others. Most sensitive to ethylene gas are the leafy vegetables, even if the gas is present in very low quantities. Lettuce begins to decay quickly when exposed to ethylene gas at low temperatures—even in your refrigerator. Put spinach or kale in the same crisper bin as peaches or apples and the greens will turn yellow and limp in just a few days. Other foods that are sensitive to ethylene gas, such as fresh peas and bananas, will spoil quickly if they are stored in the same areas as avocados, melons, and apples, which are quick ethylene producers.


Most fruits and vegetables generate ethylene gas while they ripen. This gas is a very active plant hormone.  Ethene (or ethylene) gas is what commercial fruit packers use to artificially ripen tomatoes, strawberries and some fruit. If you mix fruits and veggies that either emit or are sensitive to ethylene gas, much of your fresh produce will age and decay faster than normal. This will seriously impact your monthly grocery bill, which is high enough already.   Bananas naturally give off ethene, so putting bananas in the fruit bowl with other fruit will cause the others to age faster–good if they were a bit green; bad if they were ripe. You also shouldn’t put a fresh flower arrangement too near the bananas, because the flowers will wilt sooner. 

Use the lists given below so that you can keep specific fruits and veggies apart and help cut costs in your family’s food budget by making your fresh produce last longer.

These Create Ethylene Gas:  Apples, apricots, avocados, ripening bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, citrus fruit (not grapefruit), cranberries, figs, guavas, grapes, green onions, honeydew, ripe kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, plantains, plums, prunes, quinces, tomatoes and watermelon.

These Become Damaged by Ethylene Gas:  Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, cut flowers, eggplant, endive, escarole, florist greens, green beans, kale, kiwi fruit, leafy greens, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, potted plants, romaine lettuce spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, watercress and yams.


Refrigerator or Counter Top Storage?

The refrigerator is not the best place for many food items. For example, a potato will convert its starch to sugar if stored too cold; an eggplant develops brown spots if stored in the refrigerator. Bananas will develop black skin and do not gain desired sweetness. Sweet potatoes will taste funny and develop a hard core when cooked after being refrigerated. Watermelons lose their flavor and deep red color if they are stored for longer than three days in the refrigerator. These, and others, do better if stored in the pantry or on the kitchen counter.

Some others that should not be stored in the refrigerator include dry onions, garlic, grapefruit, lemons, limes, winter squashes, oranges, mangoes, and jicama. They do best stored at room temperature.

 Cold-sensitive fruits and vegetables lose flavor and moisture when stored unripe in the refrigerator. Keep them on the counter or in an area without direct sunlight. Once they are fully ripe, they can be put back into the fridge without serious consequences. However, return them to room temperature for maximum flavor when you’re ready to eat them.

Refrigerated fruits and vegetables should be kept in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawers of the refrigerator. You can either purchase perforated plastic bags or easily make your own. Poke small holes with a sharp object in non-perforated plastic bags (about 20 holes per medium-size bag).

Separate fruits from vegetables (use one drawer for each group) to minimize the damaging effects of ethylene. While people do waste food, a large portion of that waste is accidental, brought about by not knowing how to properly store and use produce.

 Organize Your Fridge!   Leafy vegetables are very sensitive to ethylene, even in very low quantities. Lettuce, for example, begins to decay when exposed to ethylene gas at low temperatures, even in your refrigerator.

Products sensitive to ethylene gas, such as broccoli and bananas, will spoil quickly if stored in the same areas as avocados, melons, and apples, which are ethylene producers.  Keep your veggies apart and make your food last longer. 

Best of Cooking!               Denise

  Denise Murray, now a 15-year resident of Forest Park. (Lived on the North shore of Chicago for 3 years prior, and a Southwestern before that) comes to us with over 33 years working in Food Service....