Fruit and Veggie Staying Power

After I have spent time and money buying groceries, the last thing I want to happen is food going in the trash. I try my best to prevent it through planning meals and snacks that I know will lead to all of my perishable food getting used before it spoils. Even with a solid meal plan for the week, it is important to store fruits and vegetables in the best way to maximize their shelf life. Here are some tips to avoid the dreaded fuzzy fruit or slimy lettuce in your fridge!

  1. Store all cut or peeled fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Prioritize eating these soon after they are cut.
  2. Mix up your fruit and veggie forms. Frozen and canned vegetables are healthy choices that fit well into many meals. When choosing canned fruits, choose items that are not canned in heavy syrup, which adds a lot of sugar to the fruit. Many canned vegetables are now available in reduced sodium varieties as well.
  3. Store food in the right place. Some go straight to the fridge; some need time on the counter before refrigeration and some can be stored at room temperature for multiple weeks. This one-page document outlines where different types of fruits and veggies should be stored. 
  4. There are products like bags and containers on the market that claim to extend produce shelf life. You may choose to use these, but the tips above will go a long way to preventing fruit and veggie waste without having to buy anything special.

Enjoy making half your plate fruits and veggies without wasting food or money!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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On the Counter or in the Fridge?

grocery-bag-and-producewpMy kids and I have been faithfully watering our tomato plant (we’re not getting much rain where we live!) and watching it grow this summer. We’re growing the plant in a large container and it’s the only produce we are growing this year, so we’re giving it extra good care. There are 3 green tomatoes on it so far, but lots of flowers so I think we could get quite a few tomatoes!

If you’re growing your own produce or shopping at a farmers market, it’s just about time for all that wonderful produce to be ready. It’s great to eat when it is so fresh, but when you aren’t able to eat it fast enough, it’s good to know how to properly store the produce so it lasts longer.

Here’s a quick look at how to store some types of produce:


Apples, berries, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrots, leafy greens, and anything that is cut up

Keep at Room Temperature:

Melons, tomatoes, squashes (store on the counter but away from direct sunlight)

Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes (best if kept in a dark area such as a pantry)

Ripen on Counter then Refrigerate:

Nectarines, peaches, pears, plums

For more information on storing fruits and vegetables, watch our video on How to Store Fruits and Vegetables.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Is it Still Good? Tossing Food that has Expired

On New Year’s Eve my husband and I invited some friends over to celebrate. My husband requested that I make chili and white chicken chili for the gathering and offered to help me in the kitchen! We made some other appetizers too, so needed some space in the refrigerator to store all the food. While trying to make space in the refrigerator, my husband started looking at the dates on various bottles and containers, such as a partially eaten bottle of barbeque sauce, and tossed out the old ones. Soon I started looking at dates on the spices I was using. I wasn’t concerned about the spices going bad but that over time their flavor would deteriorate. I decided it was time I get rid of some of the old ones (like the ground ginger I’m sure I moved with us to our current house almost four years ago!) and purchase new ones.

Deciding what needs to go and what is still okay to eat can be confusing when it comes to certain foods like spices and canned foods. And the different dates printed on food containers don’t help much. Some say “sell –by” others say “best if used by”. So if I buy or use the food after these dates, is it a food safety concern or will the food just not be as fresh? The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does a good job explaining the dating on food containers. Something I learned while reading thru this information is that, except for infant formula, product dating is not generally required by federal regulations. Some states have requirements, while others have none. However, even though it isn’t required everywhere, many food manufacturers do put dates on their products. Below is what some of the dates mean:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

These codes are used more for food quality, not food safety.  As far as safety is concerned, perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are the most vulnerable. We recommend you eat food by the “use-by date”. Before I taught my husband, he thought you could use the ‘smell test’ to tell if something was safe to eat. However, you can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.  If you aren’t going to be able to use a food before the “use-by” date, freeze it.

For eggs, always purchase them before the “sell-by” date on the carton. When you get home, refrigerate the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator (on a shelf towards the back), in the original container. Use the eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of when you purchased them.

So what about canned goods and other non-perishable items? High-acid foods such as tomatoes will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods such as meat, fish, or vegetables will retain the best quality if used within 2-5 years. This is if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the FIFO method to be sure to use up the oldest cans first. FIFO stands for first in, first out. So when putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. Home-canned foods should be used within one year for best quality.

As far as ground spices and herbs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they keep for about one year. One way to tell if they are fresh and will have good flavor is if when you open them you can smell their aroma. If you can’t, it’s time to replace (so it was time to get rid of my ground ginger!). Keep dried spices and herbs in a cool, dark, dry place.


Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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How Many Wooden Spoons Do You Really Need?

A kitchen filled with equipment, gadgets and an excess of food products can put a damper on preparation (and fun!) just as much as not having the right stuff.  Having to sort through layers is frustrating, as is having to move items from shelf to shelf just to get a cupboard to shut.  Can you relate?  It doesn’t have to be this way though!

Why not take advantage of cold winter days to make our kitchens more convenient so it is easy and quick to make meals or decide what to put on the grocery list.  The Canned Food Alliance has a FABULOUS guide, Essential Kitchen Toolkit that gives tips on creating work centers and organizing your stored food including cupboard shelves, refrigerator, and freezer.  This booklet also includes information on meal planning, meals in minutes, going green in the kitchen, and essential kitchen tools.

Looking at my kitchen supplies, I see an opportunity to fix a problem I have… extras of tools, pans and pots that I rarely use.  The next cold weekend, I am going to purge.  I really do not have extra wooden spoons, but I think I will be amazed at what I have stashed.  Goodwill, here I come.

–pointers from Peggy

Tomatoes…Yum! Doesn’t matter if they are a fruit or a vegetable

Remember that old argument…is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Here’s the answer.  BOTH.  Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit.  A “fruit” is any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds.  Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant.  The plant is an annual and non-woody.  (Source: Produce Marketing Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)

Whatever, our garden and my patio plants are loaded with tomatoes that are almost ripe.  I have my fingers crossed that we don’t get hail, insects or disease in the next few weeks.  If not, there should be some extras to make salsa, or preserve for future meals. 

If you have access to extra tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, Extension has an excellent source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation and processing information.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information about canning, freezing, drying, curing, pickling, making jams and jellies, as well as storing foods.

If you have questions,  you may call Families Extension Answer Line (800-262-3804).  Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.

– pointers from Peggy

Top 4 Tips for Controlling the Cost of Fresh Fruit

Is fresh fruit expensive? Many people think so. Recently I was really hungry for fresh peaches. The store I was at had only 1 variety. They were $1.48 per pound and the peaches were very large. I bought 4 of them. When they rang up, they totaled $2.92…more than I thought they would be and more then I would normally pay for 4 pieces of fruit$.73 a piece.

Here are some tips for controlling the cost of fresh fruit:

  1. Watch size of individual fruit. Small peaches would have been about 3 per pound and even at $1.48/pound they would have been less than $.50 a piece.
  2. Watch quantity purchased. I purchased fresh cherries earlier this summer. They were $2.99 per pound, a pretty good price for fresh cherries. I was so surprised when they rang up over $10!  They were pre-bagged and even though the bag didn’t seem that big, I had purchased over 3 pounds of cherries.  Just be sure you can eat the quantity you purchase!
  3. Store them correctly. If fruit needs to ripen (like peaches), place them in a basket on the counter or in a brown paper bag. Once they ripen (or if they were already ripe when purchased), place them in the refrigeratoreither in the paper bag or in a bowl/basket. Some fruits (like peaches and pears) spoil from the inside out when kept in a plastic bag; so, when you get home from the store, take the fruit out of the plastic bag you bought it in.
  4. Keep it in perspective. My peaches were $2.92 and that seemed like a lot, but I recently bought a bag of baked chips that cost $3.79less filling and less nutritious than the 4 peaches! Also, $.75 for a piece of fruit may seem expensive, but a regular-sized candy bar at a convenience store is $1.19.

So, enjoy that fresh fruit!

-contributed by Renee

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