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Tossed Salad

I was reading the Wild Oats e-mail newsletter yesterday and was surprised by two things. First, I subscribe to the Wild Oats newsletter. When did that happen? Wild Oats is a health food store which stocks organic produce and whey protein and other food items that three years ago I would have simply labeled “crazy hippie kibble.” Now I’m the kind of person who’s watching for sales on frozen blueberries so I can make more smoothies and oat pancakes. The second surprise was that according to an article called Spoiled Rotten, Americans “throw out 25 percent of the produce they buy because it’s gone bad.” Wow, that’s a lot of rotten tomatoes. Bad comedians beware.

Then I thought about the fresher drawer in my own fridge. It’s currently home to a tomato that will probably collapse into a liquid mess like Senator Kelly from the X-Men movies if I try to touch it. There’s also a head of lettuce that looks fine from the top, but is turning into a gooey, black mess on the bottom, like a model for the decaying infrastructure of our government. Then there was the entire bag of grapes I tossed last week because I didn’t get around to eating them before they started to turn. So yeah, 25 percent of produce sounds like a pretty good estimate. I usually try to save the good parts if possible, like a surgeon amputating someone’s leg. I can sometimes just cut off the moldy part of sweet potato or a block of cheese and eat the rest without developing food poisoning.

The article also says “some fruits emit ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas.” That sounds kind of scary. I’ve got a carbon-monoxide detector to warn me about that odorless, colorless gas, but evidently ethylene emitting from my bananas won’t kill me. It will however speed the ripening process and “lead to the premature decay of nearby ethylene-sensitive vegetables.” I’m supposed to sort my ethylene-emitting vegetables away from my ethylene-absorbing ones. And I thought we’d left segregation behind in the 1960′s.

Then the article starts to get kind of complicated since it says which fruits to refrigerate and which ones to under no circumstances to refrigerate and the ones that ohmygod never, ever let near gas releasers. Can you believe I have been refrigerating my peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes? It all starts to get very complicated and I have to wonder how many separate containers I would need in the fridge to follow all these rules.

Then they list foods in the order of how quickly they go bad, which is very handy and I’ll have to print it out and stick it on the fridge. Then I can look at it as I’m throwing away my lettuce and say, “Yep, I really was supposed to eat this earlier in the week. Oops!” because even though I have a list I doubt it will make me eat a salad on a day I don’t want to.

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29 Comments

Denise • June 21, 2007 at 10:10 am

Hey PQ,

I’ve found a way to avoid the issue with my fruits and veggies from going bad before I can eat them. I buy them in small quanities but still more than my daily fruit/veggie requirement by drinking 1-2 ounces of MonaVie twice a day. Its a fruit juice that contains 19 of the worlds superfruits, the crown jewel being the Acai (ah-SAY-ee) berry, that Dr. Perricone states in his book The Perricone Promise as the worlds superfruit. For more information look at http://www.thegreatproduct.com/monavierocks, when you get to a point where it asks for a password, its FREEDOM (for many reasons).

You are awesome and an inspiration, can’t wait for the book!!!

Denise

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melsky • June 21, 2007 at 10:25 am

I live within walking distance to several places to get fresh produce, so I buy small quantities that I am going to use within a day or so. Walking to the stores is one way I get exercise. I also have a lot of time to spend on food preparation, menu planning and that sort of stuff. I keep frozen vegetables on hand just in case. And you know what, sometimes stuff still goes bad and has to be tossed! At least I can put it in the compost so I don’t feel quite so bad about it.

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lucette • June 21, 2007 at 10:52 am

I knew not to put tomatoes in the fridge, but the rest of that was news to me. Refrigerator guilt!

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Têtue • June 21, 2007 at 11:31 am

I’m actually surprised that it’s only 25% of the food that’s thrown away. I bet I bring that average up from about 15%–I wind up throwing *most* of my produce away. So now I never buy it.

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Laura • June 21, 2007 at 11:31 am

Thanks for the article summary. I hate throwing out produce and have gotten a lot better at not wasting food (because, gosh, now I actually eat that healthy stuff instead of just planning on eating it), but there are still times when I misjudge what I’m going to eat in a week. That list of foods will go on my fridge too. Here’s to no more rotten tomatoes!

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Barbara • June 21, 2007 at 11:43 am

I have gotten pretty good at buying approximately the right amount each week, but here’s something else I do that somehow seems to make it more likely that I’ll actually eat what I buy: when I get home from shopping (and only if I am not at that point hungry, in which case I eat first), I do whatever “prep work” is necessary to make fruits and vegetables truly ready to eat/cook. So, I’ll wash and spin the lettuce right away; I’ll cut the bottoms off the asparagus; I’ll chop the tops off the radishes; and wash the fruit. It’s not as if any of this is heavy lifting, but somehow, if I don’t do it, I find I get home at night and it feels like “too much work,” and that sends me down the road of takeout food or just random eating without fruits/veg… which somehow never ends well!

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Meghan • June 21, 2007 at 12:01 pm

25%, is that all?? I’m sure I waste more than that on a regular basis. And every week is the same: I buy cucumber, celery, and shredded lettuce, and I throw away soggy celery, squishy cucumber, and brown shredded lettuce!

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Debbie • June 21, 2007 at 1:30 pm

No wonder my produce doesn’t last. I always refrigerate tomatoes, but never refrigerate apples. But then, I was stupid enough to refrigerate some bananas in college. (For anyone who hasn’t tried it, they immediately turn black.) My suitemates kept singing me the “Chiquita Banana” song from the commercial that tells you not to refrigerate bananas. So I don’t make that mistake anymore.

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Susan • June 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Like Barbara, I like to get the “prep work” done early because then it’s easy to include them in meals. One other thing that I have found helpful is a whiteboard on the side of the fridge. I list all the fruits/veggies that I have in the house. I have a tendency to incorporate them in my meal planning more when that reminder of their existence is right in front of me.

Keep up the good work PQ and congratulations on finally finding a full title for your upcoming book. I’m looking forward to its release.

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KP • June 21, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Thanks for the link! Very interesting!

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Allison • June 21, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Yup, but you can harness the power of ethylene–apples are probably the biggest producers. If you need to ripen a punch of bananas stick them in a paper bag with a couple of apples. Same with avocados.

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GroovyBabe • June 21, 2007 at 4:17 pm

That sounds very complicated to me! I figure I made it 32 years without poisoning myself with fresh fruit and veg so I am sure I’ll survive, LOL!

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RG • June 21, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Wow, I wonder if I’m poorer than other people or just more inventive. I don’t throw away much, but I do end up pureeing or freezing things that I wish I’d eaten fresh. Examples: basil that dried out faster than I expected, I turned into pesto. Tomatos can be frozen to add to stews; avocado can be turned into a guacamole for the freezer. Lettuce is a tough one – but I also find that lettuce stays good for two weeks and so it’s okay to overestimate how much I’ll eat one week. Cucumbers can be added to leftover pickle juice. Fruits, of course, can be frozen to turn into smoothies, since fruit mostly ripens faster than expected and loses texture but not nutrition or flavor. I suspect I keep my frig colder than other people. Or maybe I’m more forgiving of slightly wilty lettuce?

The flip side of that is that I tend to buy veggies frozen/ prepped for the wastage issue. It’s usually a lot cheaper than fresh, and more nutritive; for cooked dishes, with individual quick freezing, I don’t even defrost it ahead of time, just pour out what I will use.

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Zanitta • June 21, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Yeah, I always keep my bananas on the side in the top of my kitchen scales instead of the fruit bowl so they don’t ripen the whole lot. I tried refridgerating bananas too, a sad learning curve when I came home expecting a deliscious and cold snack. But then, freezing bananas works very well (the consistancy is a little like ice-cream, it makes a really good substitute).

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K • June 21, 2007 at 6:49 pm

These days I live with the Veggie Vacuum, so nothing gets a chance to go bad!

Well, hardly anything. We try not to waste much, but then we compost all our peelings and so forth, so the guilt is less when we do throw something away (like the last sixth of a cucumber, today – I thought it tasted weird. Nothing nastier than bad cucumber.)

25%, though? Really? Is that counting stalks and so forth, or is it whole things?

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Kini • June 21, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Amazing, isn’t it? I know I toss my fair share. I am so much better about it than I used to be though. :)

I also knew not to fridgerate tomatoes, but I never knew what else to do or not to do…. it *is* complicated.

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Lily • June 22, 2007 at 12:53 am

They’re biodegradable anyways.

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Sarah • June 22, 2007 at 2:21 am

I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling guilty for letting produce go bad. I always buy fresh fruits and veggies with full intentions of eating them but once it gets down to planning a meal they never “sound good”. I’ve learned to buy less and shop more often which has been a big saver.

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Cindy • June 22, 2007 at 7:53 am

Hi,

I want to respond to something RG posted…Really look at the cost of fresh vs. frozen. I’ve actually found the opposite to be true, most of the time. I shop at our local farm stand, which has a reputation for being very expensive (and it IS, for all kinds of luxury items!). But the cost of really good veggies is usually quite reasonable and often less than its frozen counterpart at the grocery store (compare price per pound vs. 10 ounce package, usually!). And fresh can be so much healthier…I do keep a few things on hand frozen, especially soup ingredients like peas or spinach, but most things taste better fresh, which means I am more likely to eat it in the first place (which is what this is all about, right?!).

Anyway, thanks for the post on Wild Oats. I’ll have to see if there is one in our area—we have Whole Foods, but I think there is Wild Oats in the city…

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RG • June 22, 2007 at 9:13 am

Hi,

Not to abduct your comments or anything, but a reply to Cindy: I’m a mathematician by trade, so trust me when I say I have actually “crunched the numbers” as far as simple cost. Peppers are a great example: 1.29 for a frozen lb of red/yellow/green peppers from Trader Joe’s. Even green peppers are usually about that price (maybe $1/ lb before you take away the stem and seeds) before you factor in any labor costs. Red and yellow peppers are NEVER that cheap. And the frozen costs are year-round, whereas the fresh costs will easily double or triple come winter.

It does help to shop for sales – in both directions. I live in the city and the grocery stores with good produce are pricy, even without going to Whole Paycheck. When I visit the suburbs, I do come back with lots of fresh produce from the Asian market. But I can’t do that weekly, and I will concentrate on buying things that don’t freeze well. Frozen veggies come down to $1/lb about once a month – and they’re frozen, so it’s trivial to stock up a month’s worth.

Nutritionally – I’ve read numerous articles that extol the quality of frozen – since they are frozen within hours of picking (and cooked within hours of defrosting). The nutritional decay process starts as soon as things are picked and is slowed down considerably with freezing. Picked fresh from your garden is better, but not many of us do that.

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RG • June 22, 2007 at 9:37 am

PS – Cindy, I won’t squabble about buying what you’ll actually eat. Absolutely that’s the point, however I think people who haven’t tried frozen in a while will be surprised at how good the taste is. Obviously some things freeze better than others (cauliflower and broccoli freeze better than potatos and carrots)

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BB • June 22, 2007 at 9:51 am

Hey PQ,

Great post, I love reading your blog! I think the amount of food that gets wasted everyday in this country is something that deserves much more attention. I’ve had good luck with those Glad fresh-protect bags designed to keep produce fresh for longer. They have saved me a small fortune. Also, I’d like to place a link to your blog on my page. I hope this is OK?

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Natalie • June 22, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Thanks for the info. I’d really like to get a copy of that chart. Can’t wait until Wild Oats fixes their link.

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Emily • June 22, 2007 at 7:41 pm

It’s even worse when you do shop at Wild Oats/Whole Foods. The organic stuff tends to go bad even quicker. Almost makes me wish there were more preservatives on it. Almost.

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Mymsie • June 25, 2007 at 9:17 am

When my Dad was visiting earlier this year he taught me about not refrigerating certain produce. Good tip!

I hate how much produce I end up throwing away – it’s especially rough when you’re single. Guess it’s best to buy fruits & veggies the day I need ‘em.

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Mymsie • June 25, 2007 at 9:27 am

P.S. Do you mind sharing your oat pancake recipe?

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d • June 25, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Allegedly exhaling into a plastic bag saves greens? See link.

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geosomin • June 29, 2007 at 11:50 am

“some fruits emit ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas.”

I’m a biochemist, and I can tell you not to worry…it’s part of the way that fruit ripens. It’s why if you have a ripening piece of fruit/veggies in a fridge drawer or bowl they all go ripe together. Cold slows it down, but it’s all good. Some will ripen others too quickly if stored together…but it’s not THAT big of a deal unless you’re ‘raiding the market on a huge scale. I try and buy fruits and veggies as I need them and it’s never a big deal (except my damn peaches keep all going ripe on the same day…but what can ya do?)

Plants have hormones like we do…that is one of them.

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Lauren • April 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

I knew about these things, but only found out recently. Now, the way I store my produce is the way the stores do. Makes sense, huh! They don’t refrigerate most fruits (you find them off to the side in big produce display boxes usually) so I don’t refrigerate them either. Same with tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc. But all the veggies they have in the fridge boxes like leafy greens, peppers, beans, etc they all go in the crisper!

And I’m still learning which produce emit the gas. Generally I still follow the store rules and the items they sell close together I store close together.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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