Stop the rot: How to make fresh produce last longer

Is your veggie drawer a compost waiting room? Join the club. We waste a staggering amount of food every year in Australia. Here are some ways to turn that around.

Slimy lettuce, forgotten leftovers, spices seemingly dating to the Dark Ages.

There wouldn’t be many of us who have never chucked out old food or leftovers. Maybe you do it every week – or even daily.

An Australian government report says 7.6 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year and 70 per cent of it is perfectly edible.

Foodbank says Australian households throw away about one in five bags of groceries.

All that food waste certainly hits the hip pocket – according to Sustainability Victoria the average Victorian household throws out about $2200 worth of food each year.

Why your food might go to waste

Reasons you might be throwing out so much food include

  • Buy too much produce.
  • Store it incorrectly.
  • Fail to cook it wisely.
  • Not think to share the leftovers.

How to cut your food waste

To reduce food waste, it’s a good idea to learn how to best store a certain product and know how long it is likely to last, Sustainability Victoria CEO Claire Ferres Miles says.

Claire suggests using the produce with the shortest lifespan first, and each week aim to make a meal that combines any foods that need to be eaten.

You can make the most of any leftovers by storing extra serves in the fridge or freezer or offering it to others.

“Sharing your leftovers with family and friends if they cannot be frozen or safely stored is something we often overlook,” Claire adds.

Tips for extending the shelf life fresh produce

Dietitians Australia spokesperson Milly Smith says it can be helpful to avoid storing different fruits and vegetables together if you don’t want them to ripen quickly.

“Bananas and avocados, in particular, produce the ripening chemical ethylene,” Milly says.

Crispers, which provide humidity not found elsewhere in the fridge, can help extend the shelf life of fruit and veggies.

Milly says keeping salad and leafy greens in the fridge with some paper towel in the bag or container can help avoid them going slimy.

You can also revive limp lettuce in ice cold water, and freeze chopped herbs in ice cube trays with oil or water, to use in cooking.

“Bananas are also a great one to freeze,” Milly says.

“Just make sure you peel them first and put them in a container.”

How to keep food fresh for longer

  • Keep your fridge at 1-3C and the freezer minus 18C.
  • Bananas: Slow the deterioration of ripe or ripening bananas by storing them in the fridge. The skin will darken in the fridge, but this won’t affect the flesh. Keep them away in a bowl away from other fruit as they produce ethylene, which will quickly ripen nearby fruit and vegetables.
  • Bread: Use a reusable bread box to avoid damp, airy locations that speed up moulding. Store in paper as plastic encourages mould. Freeze if you’re not going to get through it all.
  • Cheese: Keep in a tightly sealed container in the door of the fridge.
  • Meat: Move from plastic packaging into a sealed plastic container so air can circulate. Keep on the bottom shelf of the fridge as it’s often the coolest.
  • Milk: Avoid storing in the fridge door as it’s a prime spot for hot temperature swings when the door is opened.
  • Tomatoes: Store at a consistent, cool, room temperature. Refrigeration can help if you have a hot house or very ripe tomatoes at risk of rotting too quickly. Onions and garlic can go mouldy in the fridge. Store in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • Store potatoes in a cool, dark place, away from onions and ideally in a cloth bag.
  • Keep soft herbs such as coriander and parsley in the fridge in a glass with some water. Cover with a plastic bag to keep fresh for even longer and change the water every couple of days.

Sustainability Victoria has a guide for storing fresh produce here.

Written by Cheryl Critchley.

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