While it is a wonderful thing to have a kitchen full of fresh fruits and vegetables, its joy is diminished when these foods spoil before there is a chance to eat them. Eating locally grown, in-season produce is the best way to maximize a food’s lifespan, but when that isn’t possible, you should know which foods spoil much faster than others, which can save you both time and money. When purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, however, there will be many variables that can affect its lifespan. These general guidelines are not to be used as guarantees; if any fruit or vegetable ever looks, smells, or feels like it is spoiled, it should be discarded and not eaten.
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Who hasn’t been frustrated by reaching for the raspberries bought two days ago, only to find them to be moldy? All fresh berries have a very short lifespan and spoil quickly once they are harvested; the softer the berry, the shorter its lifespan will be. Raspberries, because they are so soft and delicate, often are bruised during shipping and will typically last one or two days before spoiling, even when refrigerated. When purchasing strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries, they should be carefully inspected for mold, discoloration, and moisture or crowding in the container. Look for brightly colored, firm, dry, and loosely packed berries. Keep these fruits refrigerated, and do not wash them until just before they are consumed. Of all the produce that spoils, fresh berries are usually the first to go.
Bananas also spoil rapidly once they are ripe. The respiration rate and ripening process of many fruits slow down after the initial growth stage. However, when the banana is ready to ripen, its pulp releases a chemical that increases its respiration, causing it to ripen rapidly. Once the banana ripens, it typically has a lifespan of just a few days and will spoil quickly. It is not recommended to place bananas in the refrigerator or in a bowl with other fruits. Bananas produce ethylene gas, which will cause most other fruits and vegetables in its vicinity to ripen more quickly.
Of the fresh produce that spoils quickly, green beans are among those with the shortest lifespan. Green beans can typically be kept, refrigerated, for up to a week after harvest before they begin to rapidly deteriorate. If shopping at a grocery store, this means that green beans may have only a few days of freshness remaining and spoil quickly after purchase. Green beans are an ethylene sensitive vegetable, so they should not be stored with any ethylene producing vegetables.
Another common vegetable that goes bad quickly is broccoli. Once harvested, broccoli continues to respire and will usually spoil after a few days. Broccoli is very sensitive to ethylene gas and will spoil quickly in its presence, so while it should be kept in the refrigerator, it needs to be away from ethylene gas producers like apples, bananas and tomatoes. Careful storage can prolong the freshness of broccoli, but it still usually spoils within a week.
In general, the shelf life of most fresh fruits and vegetables can be maximized by using proper temperatures and grouping with other produce. The colder temperatures of refrigeration will slow the respiration process and lengthen ripening time, but give them some room to breathe and don't suffocate them in a plastic bag. Determine which items are ethylene gas producers and which are ethylene sensitive, and keep them in separate areas of the refrigerator. If short on space, there are commercially available ethylene gas absorbers that can be placed in the refrigerator to protect sensitive produce from premature spoilage.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- "The World's Healthiest Foods: Raspberries"
- "A Moment of Science: When Good Bananas Go Bad"
- "Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition", Paul Pitchford; 2003
- "Commercial Horticulture Vegetables: Green Bean Production", Henry G. Taber; March 2009
- "Vegetarian Times: Spoiled Rotten- How to Store Fruits and Vegetables"