Monday, May 3, 2010

Making fresh food last

It’s all very well going to the supermarket and doing the grocery shopping for the coming week, but how fresh is the food you’re buying? I guess the best thing is to find out when the main fresh deliveries come in. My local supermarkets seem to restock on Mondays (after the weekend) and Thursdays (before the weekend). This didn’t seem to be the case last Thursday.

I’ve been feeling really weak and tired – I have a bad head cold and cough and I’ve been feeling thoroughly chilled. Because of this, my husband did the shopping for me on Saturday afternoon and reported that the shelves were bare! Very limited (and very sad looking) fresh produce. Okay, Saturday was May Day and, yes, the world and her husband were out shopping. Fortunately he managed to get the basic essentials for me, and I will just have to go again later in the week.

Anyway, I digress (sort of). I actually wanted to look at fresh fruit and vegetables, and extending their lifespan. The lifespan depends on whether the item is ‘ripe and ready to eat’ (a label not always to be believed – but store in the fridge) or intended for ‘ripening at home’ (store on the counter until ripe, and then refridgerate). And a lot depends on how you store the product.

All fruits and vegetables give off a harmless, tasteless gas called ethylene, but some give off more than others - specifically apples, apricots, avocado, bananas, figs, melon, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. Ethylene can build up in the fridge and cause other fruits and veg to spoil, so these fruits need to be stored either on the counter (until ripe) or in a separate drawer of the fridge. In South Africa we get ‘multi-fresh’ bags which do seem to contain the ethylene and keep stuff fresher for longer.

Lettuce, watercress, basil and mushrooms can all go slimy in the fridge, because they are hydro-tropic (they attract moisture). I have found that sealing a piece of kitchen paper in with the product helps to keep it at its peak for longer (this helps prevent mould on cheese, too). But some things are best eaten within two to three days of purchase – they just taste better. Soft berries spoil very quickly, and green beans ‘rust’ while you’re looking at them.

And some things just never seem to ripen, like the mango I bought two weeks ago which is still rock hard.

Food waste is awful. And costly. Don’t buy more than you need for the week, and use it before it spoils. I don't care if it is marked down or on special, unless you know you're going to use it all, don't buy it.

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