Your refrigerator is full of produce, but you have nothing to eat. Your produce is still fastened in its zip-ties and wearing a thin layer of dirt, pesticides, herbicides and whatever else came its way via the dirt, air, truck or human hands. It is similar to having ‘a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear’ and equally frustrating.
Like most people, the more cleaned produce I have on hand, the more I consume. If I find a slimy mess in the bottom of the crisper, nine times out of ten it was never washed. Sound familiar?
Following is my approach for sorting, cleaning and storing about four days worth of produce for main dishes, side dishes, juicing and smoothies. Start to finish it usually takes less than 20 minutes, even with the largest of hauls. The positive side of a small refrigerator means I’m regularly bringing home fresh produce.
I do not claim that this is the perfect approach. For example, ideally I would keep everything in glass containers. Ideally, I would not use any plastic bags. But, I don’t have much space in my small refrigerator. So, I store some produce in plastic bags, but wrapped first in paper towels, reducing plastic exposure, providing moisture absorbance and maximum produce storage. For me, the best plan is the one which keeps me consuming regular quantities of good quality produce.
BUY FOR MAXIMUM FRESHNESS AND NUTRITION:
- If possible, buy from a local farmer. Produce trucked from overseas or across the country is degrading as it travels to your store and is a poor choice for the environment.
- Select younger, smaller produce for better nutrient density compared to more mature produce. For example, select baby spinach, rather than the mature spinach. Try your own taste taste. Produce is generally more flavorful when it is young.
WHAT TO WASH:
Think of washing produce as if you were hand-washing clothes. It clearly makes no sense to wash one piece of hosiery or yoga top at a time when you can do all your laundry at once in a fraction of the time.
- Anything to be stored in the refrigerator can be washed right away if it will be eaten within a few days. But, do not wash delicate greens, berries or cherries until right before eating.
- Wash any items with a rind which will be cut; lemon, melons, etc. Cutting through rind, a knife will carry traces of microbes and whatever else is on the rind with it through the fruit.
- If you have a lot of produce, fill a cleaned sink with water and clean everything but the leafy produce. Then, rinse the produce with the faucet. If needed, empty the sink of accumulated dirt, then refill to wash all the leafy produce.
- A salad spinner works great not only for drying greens, but also to hold kale upright to let the water drain before refrigerating.
- Use a quality produce wash or simple white vinegar.
- Use a produce brush. Just swishing water over the produce will not remove pesticides and herbicides. Yes, organic produce does have traces of both.
- Remove ties and rubber bands from uncleaned produce.
- Store fruits and vegetables in separate crisper bins, if possible.
- Store all cleaned produce loosely in cloth produce bags or wrapped in paper towels inside plastic bags. Let it breathe.
- Mushrooms: Store in the refrigerator in a paper bag. Try to avoid washing these little sponges. Ideally, brush off any dirt with a cloth or soft vegetable brush.
- Beets, carrots, turnips and radishes greens: Remove the greens and store separately in a cloth or plastic bag with a damp paper towel to keep them from wilting. Plan to use the tops within a few days. The vegetable portion will keep much longer.
- Beets, carrots, turnips, radishes and celery: Store immersed in a container of water. Change the water frequently.
- Fresh herbs: Store in a container of water in the refrigerator. Basil does well at room temperature, on the countertop with a plastic bag cover.
- Hardy greens (chard or kale: Remove the stems (or not), then roll up in a paper towel and store in a cloth or plastic bag.
- Asparagus: Place upright in a glass or jar in the refrigerator (or outside the fridge for up to a week).
- Broccoli: store wrapped in a damp towel.
STORING NON-REFRIGERATOR ITEMS PROPERLY:
- Store uncut avocado, apricots, bananas, citrus, kiwi, melons, pears, peaches and tomatoes and garlic at room temperature. But, if you want to slow down the ripening process, store them in the refrigerator.
- Store squashes, potatoes and onions in a cool, dry place.
MANAGING FRUIT RIPENESS:
All fruits are classified as either climacteric or non-climacteric. Non-climacteric fruits do not ripen once harvested. Climacteric fruits continue to ripen after they are harvested, producing ethylene gas at their peak of ripeness. After peak ripeness, all fruits are more susceptible to fungal invasion and begin to degrade. Climacteric fruits include apples, bananas, melons, apricots, tomatoes, avocados, among others. You can speed up the ripening of these fruits by putting them in a closed paper bag, capturing the fruit ripening ethylene gas. You can also use the gases of ripe climacteric fruits to speed up the ripening of other climacteric fruits (and some non-climacteric fruits) by simply storing them near each other. 
What habits help keep you with a ready-to-eat supply of produce?