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October 12, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I best store my food so it neither goes bad nor attracts fruit flies?

My boyfriend and I have recently begun doing a lot more cooking at home. The food is great, but the fruit fly infestation wasn't (we've cleared that up now, thanks to help from others' questions here). We've started keeping everything in the fridge, but I know this isn't ideal for some foods: tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc. How should we store our non-refrigerables yet keep the flies at bay?

We also have problems with our greens (lettuces, spices, greens, etc.) going bad prematurely in the refrigerator, even though we've been told that's the best place for them. How do we best store green leafy vegetables for up to a week in the refrigerator?
posted by ocherdraco to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I just put everything in the fridge. Or buy less food at a time so it doesn't sit around long enough to draw flies.

For leafy greens, wash them thoroughly when you get them, dry, wrap them in a tea towel, then store them in the fridge.

You could also make a fruit fly catcher to be more appealing than your food. Take a beer bottle (or similarly shaped glass bottle), fill maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch with apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar and water, some small pieces of banana or other fragrant fruit, and a drop of dish soap. The idiot flies go down into the bottle to feed on the delciousness inside and either get trapped in the liquid (due to the decreased surface tension because of the soap) or just get confused and can't find the exit again.
posted by phunniemee at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

Seconding phunniemee on the fruit fly catcher. I had a fruit fly *massacre* that way once. I also have a pitcher plant that eats the things by attracting them, trapping them in its sticky fluid and then dissolving the bodies.
posted by katillathehun at 2:22 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depends on the type of green. Kale seems to store for a week pretty easily. Spinach not so much. But as phunniemee says, if you wash them, you MUST let it completely dry before popping in the fridge.

With the fruit fly catcher, I think the success rate improves if you put saran wrap over the bottle opening and then poke a few holes (big enough for the fruitfly to get in).
posted by bread-eater at 2:34 PM on October 12, 2010

We do something similar: a little cider vinegar in a glass with plastic wrap over it and little holes poked through. Other than that, yeah, the fridge is really the only way to keep stuff away from the bugs. We hate cold apples and bananas, but it's better than eating fly eggs.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:37 PM on October 12, 2010

I put it all in the microwave, which I never use for cooking. It's awesome for storing stuff.
posted by contessa at 2:51 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our potatoes and onions live in a drawer which is inside a cupboard. In the past we had a terracota jar thing to put them in (it sat in the corner of the kitchen or in a pantry). A box would work too. Keeps them dark, somewhat cool, and away from flies. Tomatoes I put in the fridge and have seen no difference, although the post harvest scientists at work all suck in their breath and make tut tut noises when I mention this. We keep other fruit in a bowl currently but have also been known to put that stuff in a cupboard if there are flies (one with some degree of airflow is good, you don't want the fruit all kind of stewing in there). Basically just shut it away so the flies can't get to it.

As for greens, often they just don't last a whole week. Broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, spring onions all last one to two weeks (kale would too); celery, courgettes, spinach or silverbeet might last a week but not really more; bok choy and soft lettuce (the non-hearting kind) needs to be eaten in the first half of the week. Snow peas or beans last for ages, and we always have frozen veggies available for the later part of the week if we've run out. Definitely make sure they are dry and not wrapped in plastic, condensation is a killer. Also don't squash them because any slight bruising will shorten the shelf life. I used to live with more people and when we moved to just two of us it took a while to calibrate how much to buy, but the trick is to only get small servings or only one or two vegetables per week to avoid waste.
posted by shelleycat at 2:53 PM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Regarding fruit fly traps: we're all set on those already. It's only the food storage that we need help with.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:54 PM on October 12, 2010

I haven't tried this, but the reason the fridge works is that it's air-tight, right? So presumably some other kind of air-tight storage (ziplock bag, tupperware, fridge unit that is not plugged in) would work too.
posted by phoenixy at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live alone, and was wasting a lot more food than I was comfortable with, but one thing I do now is cut off the bottoms of things like parsley, basil, celery, etc. and stick them in the door rack of the refrigerator in a glass of water, like flowers in a vase. I'm still amazed at how much longer they last that way, and can't believe I never thought of it until someone told me.

Also, since we're now mandated here in San Francisco to separate our compost-ables, fruit flies are a recurring problem, because you have to have some kind of container on the counter or somewhere for all the rotting deliciousness (to fruit flies) to accumulate while you cook, eat and do the other things you need to do. Who wants or has the time/energy to go all the way downstairs to the bin every time they peel a banana or crack an egg? The vinegar/dish soap traps described above work a wonder for keeping their numbers down, and make sure your compost receptacle has a lid -- I actually use empty milk cartons -- they're easy to open and close for every deposit. A bowl with a lid works, too, but you have to haul them back up to the kitchen after disposal. The cartons themselves can go right in the compost bin. I just throw them on top of the trash or recycling so I can take everything out at once, and sort it while I'm at the bins.

Don't store potatoes and onions together, but both do like the dark. Leave tomatoes and citrus on the counter (also separately).
posted by trip and a half at 3:05 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you have a salad spinner? I find that not only is mine great for washing and drying fresh greens, it also makes a great container to store them in so they last longer in the fridge. I think it's because it's airtight, but keeps the greens from sitting in any moisture they drain.
posted by decathecting at 3:05 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: salad greens in good condition can last for a week+ without any serious loss in quality if you process them correctly when you get them home. We keep arugula, frisee, spinach, chard, and all kinds of other things this way, both from our garden and the market.

- wash the greens carefully, without bruising them, in a sinkful of very cold water. Drain and fill up again with a rinse (again, very cold). Let them soak for fifteen or twenty minutes to absorb as much cold water as they can.

- spin dry, again carefully.

- pack into an airtight container with a dry paper towel in the bottom (we use an 8 quart cambro container for this; perfect).

- inspect every couple of days and remove leaves that are discoloring.

As for stuff that should live on the counter - ripening fruit, tomatoes, etc - try covering your bowls with a towel or bit of cloth. Potatoes and onions can go into a cabinet or tub (not together).
posted by peachfuzz at 3:06 PM on October 12, 2010

Double bag produce and it will last longer. Hawaiian weather forced me to learn this strategy.

Take produce edibles out of the cold keep and let them sit for forty five minutes or to return to room temperature for improved flavor.
posted by effluvia at 3:08 PM on October 12, 2010

Why can't potatoes and onions go together? Ours do fine though located in proximity to each other in an airy wire counter suspended beneath one of our cabinets.
posted by bearwife at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2010

Having lived in a household that refrigerated very little of its food, I can tell you that the flies tended to come when something started to get a little too ripe. Are you keeping an eye on what you leave out?

You can store fruit under a wire mesh to keep other critters away.

For the greens, make sure the fridge isn't too cold. The more delicate greens can't handle it.

Trip and a half, that empty milk carton idea is genius.
posted by the_blizz at 3:17 PM on October 12, 2010

bearwife: I don't actually have hard evidence on the potato/onion thing: it's just passed-down wisdom from my mother's family. The belief seems to be that each will last longer if kept separately.

the_blizz: You have my incredibly organized neighbor to thank for that stellar idea!
posted by trip and a half at 3:46 PM on October 12, 2010

personally, what's worked best for my veggies is to seal everything in an airtight plastic bag. I'd also say that if veggies are consistently going bad in your fridge, it might be your fridge that's doing the damage.

my rule is this: always put open or raw food in a plastic ziploc or saran wrap when in your fridge. this goes for open platters of meat, half-cut veggies and fruits, everything.
posted by patronuscharms at 3:59 PM on October 12, 2010

Tomatoes change texture in the fridge, so I hate putting good home-grown 'maters in the fridge. I keep a watchful eye out for a rotten potato or onion in the bowl on the counter, or fruit peel in the sink drainer, as the fruit flies find them promptly. Bananas seem to bring fruit flies into the house.

If I wash greens, I always put a paper towel in the bag to absorb excess moisture.

If the fridge is too cold, some leafy greens freeze and slime, but if it's not cool enough, things yellow and stale quickly.

Cold apples are good, but cold bananas are weird.
posted by theora55 at 4:14 PM on October 12, 2010

Our non-refrigerated produce (tomatoes, bananas, peaches, etc.) sits on the counter in large decorative bowls or colanders. When we get the occasional fruit fly party, I remove the offending piece of fruit or vegetable, and put cloth dish towels over the bowls. Usually the fruit flies die off in a day or two when they can't get to their food source.

Yes, the fridge is the best place for your greens, but they often go bad if there's too much water in the bag with them. I throw a paper towel or two in the plastic bag with them if they're a little too moist.
posted by partylarry at 4:18 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: I think that putting an ethylene absorber in the crisper helps my veggies last longer - Whole Foods has the blu apple products now, previously they used to carry green ethylene-absorbing baggies. Trader Joe's probably has some kind as well.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:35 PM on October 12, 2010

In terms of greens, I recently moved apartments and my new fridge, which is a million times better than the old one, was set to be noticeably colder than the old one. My lettuces and herbs are lasting much, much longer than they used to, so maybe colder is better?
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:43 PM on October 12, 2010

Right, tomatoes lose most of their character in the fridge, not that the supermarket kind have much to begin with.
Greens, I used to devoutly wash them before storing them in the fridge, duly dried and wrapped in paper towels then plastic bags. Now I don't wash them till I take them out to use, and find they last a lot longer.
As someone suggested, I'd check the fridge temp. If it isn't just right (don't ask me what that is, though), things don't last as long. Some stuff is real particular.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 4:56 PM on October 12, 2010

One more thought about fridge storage: I find that all my salad stuff (greens, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. etc.) does very well and lasts quite awhile when I not only wrap cut ends in plastic wrap, but store each separately in green produce bags like these. (I wash, allow to dry and reuse these.)

Also, I am really impressed with some nesting airtight produce saver boxes, which I picked up at Costco and that I use to store berries and lettuces and leftover dinners like stir fries with rice. Berries last for at least a week, as does lettuce. Leftovers last even longer They really use space in the fridge efficiently, too.
posted by bearwife at 5:00 PM on October 12, 2010

The containers I am referring to are called Fresh Vac and look like this.
posted by bearwife at 5:08 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We use the ethylene-excluding green bags for all of our refrigerator-dwelling produce. They really do work exceptionally well at extending shelf life. You'll come to appreciate this on the occasion when you don't use one, and are suddenly surprised by the short lifespan of your veg.

FWIW, the bags last a lot longer than the instructions on the box would indicate... rinse and reuse almost ad infinitum.
posted by mumkin at 5:38 PM on October 12, 2010

For the compost, you can keep a plastic bag in the freezer and just add fresh stuff to it as you need to. On compost day, just take it out and transfer to the appropriate bin. This also works for any food waste, like raw chicken waste or meat wrappers - just keep a separate container in the freezer and throw in the trash on trash day.

For veggie storage outside the fridge, I've been reading about these pottery coolers that Mohammad Bah Abba in Nigeria invented/promoted. The gist is that you get 2 unglazed clay pots, one large and one smaller. Put one inside the other and fill the in-between space with sand, then pour water to saturate the sand. Put the produce in the smaller pot and cover with a wet cloth. Mr. Abba has won several awards for promoting this in countries without electric refrigeration, and the reports are that it keeps food for up to 4 weeks in homes with no refrigerator or air conditioner. So it should work on a kitchen counter, too.
posted by CathyG at 8:51 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I store tomatoes on the counter under a glass dome or a bowl. You can also just quick blanch greens when you bring them home and squeeze out all the water and store them in a ziploc in the fridge or the freezer - it's a nice option for when you have more greens than you can realistically use when fresh.
posted by judith at 9:01 PM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all. We'll move forward with these suggestions, and troubleshoot from there.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:45 AM on October 13, 2010

Like trip and a half says about storing herbs in a "vase" in the fridge, I always store my cooking-greens with a water source. This doesn't apply to heads of lettuce (single stem) so much, but is great for a bundle of greens (like kale, chard, collards, tatsoi - anything with a banded-together bunch of exposed cut stems).
I trim the ends flush with a knife, the put a quarter-folded wet paper towel over those ends, and hold it on with a rubber band. The whole thing then goes in a grocery-store plastic sack, which is usually just wide enough that the greens can lay across the bottom of the sack, and I roll that up and set it on the fridge shelf with the bundle lying on the handles so nothing unrolls. It's not air-tight but nothing's exposed and it's convenient. The paper towel will start to dry out sometime between 1 and 2 weeks, but if the paper towel weren't there, the greens would be really sad and wilty by 10 days and if the bag weren't there, the paper towel would be dry in 2 days; as it is, 2 weeks is about the limit, I'm having to cull a few yellow leaves from the bundle before I cook it.
posted by aimedwander at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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