The definitive guide to produce storage: how to store food to prevent it from going to waste.

Food is too expensive these days to let it go to waste. Here's a definitive guide on how to store produce and reduce food waste.

The definitive guide to produce storage: how to store food to prevent it from going to waste.

The cost of living (aka cozzie livs) has tripled worldwide, with food prices costing way more than they did months before. Some even argue that eating out may be as expensive (or more) than cooking. I’m firmly on the cooking and eating-in side of the argument (surprising for those who know me), but my biggest challenge is buying produce in bulk and letting it go bad before I can use it.

After months of living in food waste guilt, I decided to do some (online and from my more responsible friends) on the best way to store food past its shelf life. So you’ve gone grocery shopping; how do you properly preserve your food to get the best use out of it? Keep reading to find out.

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  1. Tomatoes: Ripe tomatoes are best stored stem-down in a bowl on your countertop for up to a week. It’s important to not crowd them in the bowl. Storing stem-down is also important as it prevents moisture from escaping the fruit. Check your tomatoes for signs of rot and mould, and remove bad ones, as they can spoil the other tomatoes. After a week of no use, it’s time to move the tomatoes to the fridge, where they can stay for up to 2 weeks. After two weeks, the best bet is to freeze your tomatoes. This should be the last resort as their texture becomes mushy and can only be used for foods where cooking is required, like sauces and soups.

    P.S.: I was debating this with my colleagues. Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?
  2. Scotch Bonnet (Atarodo): I do a half-and-half method for this one. I blend half of my peppers and freeze till I want to cook. This works for sauces, soups and stews. For food that requires chopped peppers, I store the other half in a Ziploc bag and put it in the vegetable crisper drawer in my refrigerator. They can last there for up to 3 weeks.
  3. Leafy Vegetables — Ugwu, Waterleaf, Uziza, Oha etc: Honestly, I prefer to buy leafy greens fresh, but I’ve been a victim of buying more ugwu leaves than I need for my egusi soup, so I had to find a way to store the,. It’s pretty simple. After washing the leaves, chop them, put them in a Ziploc bag and freeze till you’re ready to cook.
  4. Onions: When storing onions, the rule is simple. Ensure they are in a dry, well-ventilated container like a basket and kept in a cool, dark, dry place. They can last for months this way. Check on your onions weekly to remove bulbs already sprouting, as that is a sign that they are going bad.
  5. Potatoes: The most important rule for storing potatoes is never to keep them with or next to onions. I used to make this mistake and would wonder why my potatoes would rot in weeks. The reason for this is onions emit ethylene gas, which hastens potatoes to sprout and rot. Potatoes should be stored in a well-ventilated basket and in a cool, dark, dry place.

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  6. Carrots: If I had a dollar for every time I bought carrots intending to grate them into a chicken salad only to open my vegetable drawer to see that they’ve wilted, I’d be Oprah by now. Thanks to TikTok, I now know how to store my carrots for up to 3 weeks. After washing the carrots thoroughly, put them in an airtight container filled with water and place them in the coolest part of your refrigerator (not the shelf). Change the water every few days to keep it fresh.
  7. Yam: Whole yams can last 2-3 weeks, maybe four weeks when stored properly before you use them. Where most people let yam go to waste is after it’s cut. Except you’re cooking for a family of four, you’re probably not going to cook a whole tuber for a meal. So you keep the rest of it, and mould and rot fester. Then you have to chop off a good chunk to get to the good bit, and God help you, the rot is not too deep; otherwise, you have to throw everything away. The hack I’ve found for preserving cut yam is to rub the exposed part with lemon juice. This prevents it from browning and moulding. The second option is to cut the yam into slices and freeze them solid.
  8. Eggs: This is one of the longest running fridge vs. countertop arguments. Some insist eggs are best kept in the fridge, while others argue that leaving them on the countertop is better. I do both. However, I’d like to point out that for storing in the fridge, avoid storing in the door shelf. The temperature changes as you open and close the fridge door, which causes the eggs to go bad. You might as well have kept them on the countertop. It’s best to store eggs on an interior shelf in the fridge instead.
  9. Avocado: The life span of an avocado goes like this: unripe, unripe, unripe, rip—spoiled. And how do you even store one-half of an avocado? So here's the deal. You have to do some CIA-level monitoring. Unripe avocados can stay on the countertop, where they ripen at room temperature. Once ripe, you can eat them. However, and this is where the monitoring comes in. If you're unsure when you want to put them to use, immediately you notice they're ripe, put them in an airtight container or in the crisper/produce drawer in the refrigerator.

    Important note: Keep them away from apples or bananas. They do the same thing as onions: emitting ethylene gas, speeding up the ripening process. For halved avocados, rub some lemon or lime juice on the exposed part and wrap it tightly in a Ziploc bag before putting it in the fridge.
  10. Plantains: I haven't looked back since I tried the freezing method of preserving plantains. Cut your plantains into slices, put them in a Ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer. They can last more than 8 weeks this way. Important note: Spread out the plantains in the bag so they don't freeze clumped together.

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  11. Beans: The best way I've found to keep weevils away from your beans is to freeze them. Some people say to put dry pepper in the storage container. I've tried it, but it didn't work well for me. I probably didn't put enough pepper, so you can try this if power supply is unstable in your neighbourhood.
  12. Cucumber: Like with carrots, I'm obsessed with buying cucumbers, throwing them in the crisper drawer, and then forgetting about them until they've wilted. Don't be like me. Wrap cucumbers in a paper towel and put them in a Ziploc bag BEFORE they go into your produce drawer. They can last 2-3 weeks this way.
  13. Lettuce: This is one of my tried, tested and trusted hacks. Wash the lettuce, wrap them in a paper towel, place them in a Ziploc bag and put them in the produce drawer. This works for spring onions, too. Swap the dry paper towel for a slightly damp one, and you're good to go.

Food is too expensive these days to go to waste. Aside from financial consequences, food waste is also an environmental and social challenge. Millions of people go hungry every day, and food waste is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions and wasted natural resources. We all have a part to play in reducing food waste in order to establish food security and fight climate change.

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