Do you routinely throw $5 bills away just for kicks? Probably not. And very few of us light candles with dollar bills, no matter how much we may have loved Scrooge McDuck.
But that’s basically what you’re doing whenever you go grocery shopping. According to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of the food that’s grown and sold in the United States is wasted—if we cut food waste by just a third, we could feed every hungry person in the country. That waste comes to the staggering cost of $2,275 per year, for a family of four. The biggest loss category? Fresh produce. Just 48 percent of what’s produced is eaten. The rest heads to landfills (or the compost pile).
Another report from the United Nations pointed the finger, in developed countries at least, squarely at grocery stores and consumers, in part because the former pushes “great bargains” that encourage the latter to buy more than they need.
The solution, though, isn’t cutting back on your fresh produce purchases. It’s getting smarter about how you shop. Rather than load up on bags and bags of spinach that will wilt before you get home, for instance, buy cabbage, which will keep in your fridge for months. Instead of buying grapes and kiwis and other delicate fruits that turn brown in days, buy apples, which will last for weeks.
We’ve compiled a list of the healthiest produce that lasts virtually forever, so you can cut down on waste and yet always have fresh veggies handy for a healthy dinner.
Apples need an optimal temperature of 30°F to 32°F—just 10 degrees warmer, and they’ll ripen twice as fast. If you want your apples to last for weeks, keep them in a plastic bag in your fruit crisper drawer, away from vegetables (the ethylene gas they emit will cause other vegetables to ripen faster).
Bonus tip: Eat the largest apples in your bag first; they’re usually the first to go bad.
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Beets can last between 2 and 4 months in the refrigerator. First, cut off the greens if they’re still attached, and then store them in a perforated plastic bag in your vegetable crisper.
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Cabbage tastes best when it’s fresh, but it can last for up to 2 months wrapped in plastic in your fridge. Use it as a stand-in for lettuce or other delicate leafy greens in salads, since most salad greens wilt within days due to their high water content.
The key to making carrots last is keeping them dry, as they give off a lot of moisture, which causes them to rot more quickly. If you buy carrots in a plastic bag, place a paper towel in the bag to absorb any moisture and change it whenever it gets saturated. This can keep them fresh for a few weeks to a few months.
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A root vegetable available mostly at farmers’ markets, celeriac is the root of celery plants and has a mild celerylike flavor. Celeriac likes moisture, so store it wrapped in plastic on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Even after it’s cut, celeriac will keep for another week if wrapped well.
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Garlic keeps longest when stored at 60º to 65ºF and moderate humidity. Unless you have an older, very dry home, your garlic should do fine in a dark kitchen cabinet. You can also store whole bulbs in the fridge in a paper bag (cut garlic will make all your other food taste like garlic), where the bulbs will last for months. Just be aware that once garlic has been in the cold, it will start sprouting within days after being brought to room temperature. So if you store it this way, keep it in the fridge till just before you’re ready to use it.
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Store onions in a dry area where the temperature stays between 30ºF and 50ºF, and they’ll keep for up to a year. If you don’t have a place like that, keeping them in mesh bags (like the kind used to package grocery-store onions) and storing them in a dark cabinet will let them last for up to a month, and perhaps longer.
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The ideal storage temperature for potatoes is 40ºF, which is on the warm end of most home refrigerators, and they don’t like light, which can cause them to turn green. Basements or cellars usually provide perfect potato-storage conditions that will keep them from rotting for between 2 and 4 months. Keep them away from onions and apples, wherever you store them, as both emit gases that speed up the ripening process.
Bonus tip: Sweet potatoes don’t last very long in storage, so eat those within a week of purchase.
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Winter radishes, like the daikon variety you might see at grocery stores, are much more pungent than the red varieties you get on spring salads, so don’t load up on too many if you’re looking for a healthy supply of fresh veggies. Store them as you would carrots, with their greens removed and in a plastic bag accompanied by a paper towel to absorb moisture. They’ll last for up to a month.
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Pumpkins, butternut squash, and other varieties of hearty winter squash will last between 2 and 6 months if kept in a dark cabinet. Keep all your squash in a single layer in your cabinet so air can circulate around them.
Rutabagas are great sources of vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber, and the fact that they can last up to a month in your refrigerator makes them good candidates for stocking up. Store them as you would celeriac, wrapped in plastic on a low shelf in your fridge.
When all else fails, head to the frozen-foods aisle. Because they are frozen within hours of being picked, frozen vegetables can be even healthier than fresh versions of spinach, asparagus, peas, and other veggies that don’t last very long in storage. And you never have to worry about them going bad!