How do you keep produce in your fridge without plastic?
September 6, 2018 11:04 PM   Subscribe

We get a farm box. It's lovely. The produce is nearly all unpackaged. How do you store produce in your fridge with a minimum of plastic?

When it comes from the supermarket, it's in plastic. But when it comes from the farm, it's not. I have gone through almost all of my historical plastic shopping bag storage, just putting lettuce and cabbage and corn and whatnot into plastic bags to store in my fridge, and I'm about to run out! (Which is not a thing I ever thought would happen, no matter how diligent I was about cloth bags!) How do you store fridge produce with a minimum of disposable plastic? I'm hesitant to leave lettuce (for example) uncontained, and with five people in my family, stuff gets forgotten from time to time and turns gross and I have to throw it out and (if not bagged!) clean. I have cotton net bags I SHOP with, but they're not great for storage, and in the past I always had plenty of plastic bags anyway ... but these days, I'm so diligent about reusable and the stores are so much less eager to give me plastic that I'm almost entirely out!

I'm open to whatever suggestions you have but I a) prefer a container/bag I can clean (ideally in the dishwasher)/throw away rather than having to clean the entire fridge; b) have three children and cook literally non-stop so it has to function in a high-intensity, time-limited environment; and c) HAVE A SMALL FRIDGE, it sucks. VERY small for five people, two of them growing boys who eat All The Things at All The Times.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I use plastic containers for lettuce - one that has a plastic insert to let air flow around it. Other vegies, I just let sit in the vegie crisper. I use a fresh mat in the bottom of my crisper which makes things last about twice as long. Cut veggies get put in a container, in a bowl with a plate on top, or in a bowl with a beeswax wrap.
posted by Thella at 11:13 PM on September 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

We use stuff called Bee's Wrap, which is basically cotton impregnated with wax. It's great for covering bowls and so on, but we also use it to quickly wrap produce. You can use the heat from your hands to make it stick to itself. It's not sticky to the touch at all, just... a bit waxy feeling.

It's expensive (prices seem to vary widely depending on where you look), but you can find it cheap(ish) online and it's reusable - you can just rinse it with cold water if food sticks to it. We bought a half dozen pieces in various sizes a year or two ago and use it constantly, including to wrap different kinds of produce.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:15 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

We grow our own stuff, to store in fridge wrap it in newspaper (for lettuce just spritz some drops of water on it before wrapping, alternative ly we use paper towels to wrap. Most stuff we don't wrap, but i do cover the bottom of the vegetable drawer with a triple layer of paper towels for ease of cleaning.
posted by 15L06 at 11:22 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

My mom has two large tupperwares that she just puts all her vegetables in together. You could get large glass ones and do the same thing. I find that it works pretty well, and even if it's negligibly more space-efficient than a bunch of bags and smaller containers, it's user-friendly to have it all in the same tub(s).
posted by Beardman at 11:25 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are tons of options, search "refrigerator produce bag" on Amazon to get an idea. Cloth, silicone, etc.
posted by desuetude at 11:28 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can make your own bees wrap. Just grate wax over some cotton fabric (don't even need to hem it) and melt on low temperature in the oven until it soaks in. Done.

That said, I only use that to cover things or wrap bread. For veges I put them direct in the crisper drawer. If they do rot in there, you only have to clean the one drawer, and you can take it out and hose it down.
posted by lollusc at 11:34 PM on September 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

More answers here
posted by aws17576 at 11:56 PM on September 6, 2018

You might be putting veggies in the fridge that don't need to be refrigerated, so that might help your storage space problem.

In my pantry I have a few (food safe) plastic parts bins (they look like this) for onions and potatoes and whatnot. They smaller ones might work in a fridge setting, and it's easy to get a glance at the contents even when stacked and they last forever.
posted by Harald74 at 2:08 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here in France we're able to find glass containers. Are those available in the States?

Ceramic works well too – I often use dishes (bowls, plates, sometimes glasses), and yes, newspaper.

Otherwise yeah, not all veggies need refrigerated.
posted by fraula at 4:23 AM on September 7, 2018

We have a garden and also a farm share. What has worked for us is a big metal mixing bowl on one of the shelves. We throw all of the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, etc. into the bowl and just root around and take what we need for cooking in the moment. I'm using a lot more veggies this way because I can see what we have quickly and I'm more likely to grab combinations that I would not have considered originally. Our fridge is small, too, with vertical doors, so we took out one of the vegetable drawers and turned that spot into a shelf that we use much more frequently with better visibility.

We just have a designated spot for lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and anything else that's big and bulky. It's a low shelf so they are less likely to be disturbed by anyone looking for something. The potatoes and onions live in paper sacks on the counter.
posted by Alison at 6:33 AM on September 7, 2018

We have the same too-small-fridge problem, but haven't quite run through our plastic bags yet ... however, my idea is to use bar towels and twine or small diaper pins (when just plain folding is not enough). We bought a giant stack of large cotton bar towels many years ago, and it was one of my best-ever purchases! They are light enough that they don't take up much space, breathable, and of course washable in hottest water as needed to sanitize. A lot of stuff won't need to be labeled just because of size and shape, but to tell the difference between your cucumbers and zucchinis, for example, I'm thinking just a quick masking tape label.

I'm very interested in everyone's solutions!
posted by taz at 6:38 AM on September 7, 2018

Along the bar towel line, one of my greatest all-purpose household loves is jumbo flour sack towels (I also find a lot of use for the slightly smaller ones I have ordered by accident, as the large ones are quite large and would be overkill for one bunch of radishes or small lettuces). If I was going to do a lot of produce wrapping in them I might make myself a set of ID clothespins to clip to the towel.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:48 AM on September 7, 2018

I store produce from my garden by wrapping it in a layer or two of paper towels. Something like a head of lettuce becomes a paper towel mummy, green beans get a paper towel satchel, corn already has its own paper towel, I mean, husk. Bonus: you can compost the paper towels, or use them for cleaning if they aren’t too nasty!
posted by Wavelet at 7:00 AM on September 7, 2018

When I get my CSA haul, I spend a while washing all the leafy stuff in a spinner, spinning it as dry as possible, then packing each item in a Rubbermaid container lined with a paper towel. Yes, it's ultimately plastic, but reusable. The paper towel absorbs any liquid so the lettuce isn't sitting in a puddle of water, and it keeps the humidity constant within the sealed container. I have kept lettuce fresh for up to three weeks, a goldarned miracle. You could probably substitute the paper towel with a tea towel if you were interested in laundering a bunch more tea towels.

I bought this set of containers on Prime Day last year and am so pleased with them--different sized containers but the SAME SIZE lids.

Large stuff (beets, turnips, squash, cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, etc.) just get a rinse and chucked in the bin. Tops are cut off and treated as greens. Large greens like collards or kale get ribbed and chopped into bite-size pieces before washing, which makes them fit in the containers better anyway and then they'll be ready for immediate use.
posted by Liesl at 7:26 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I often store washed lettuce in damp tea towels.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:40 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a similar problem; but I solved by simply not discarding plastic. I re-use all the ziploc baggies that get used for food storage (except if they're exceptionally dirty or slimy or something). When I empty a bag, I slosh a little soapy water in it, rinse it out, and dry it for re-use.

My roommate probably thinks I'm a little weird, but I don't care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

If non disposable entirely reusable plastic is OK then I use Rubbermaid Freshworks Produce saver containers. They stack nicely so you can fit more in your fridge and have a vent that releases the gases you don't want in with your veggies. I actually have no idea how it works, but it works. Everything I put in them lasts easily 50% longer. They wash up super easily & are reusable pretty much forever.
posted by wwax at 8:50 AM on September 7, 2018

I reuse plastic grocery bags for my CSA share items. They last a long time unless you let something go rotten and manky. Sometimes I'll wrap things in the cheap Ikea dish towels that I use instead of paper towels, and sometimes things will go straight into the crisper.
posted by apricot at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2018

I just realized I was slightly unclear in my question -- tupperware and other reusable plastic is totally fine! I'm trying to get away from the disposable plastic bags that produce comes in from the grocery store, that I no longer get many of, or plastic grocery bags which I almost don't get at all and have just about run out of.

Non-fridge produce is already not in the fridge. :) It's a small fridge and we eat a LOT of greens in particular! To give you an idea, we go through 8-10 pounds of JUST APPLES a week, two bunches of bananas, a pound of berries or grapes, around 5 pounds of lettuce/kale/other greens, plus various carrots, cukes, celery, potatoes, onions, peppers, melons, peaches, plums, oranges, pears, etc., depending on what I'm cooking that week and what's on sale. Farm box is usually around 15# of produce, much of the weight being apples and potatoes, which don't go in the fridge, but also a lot of bulky greens that do. (And then I buy a bunch more at the store midweek when we start to run out.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

We use Green Bags which are reusable plastic storage bags that actually do seem to keep produce good longer. They're in the produce aisle at our store and on Amazon. It says they're only good for ten uses but we've used ours for years, till they eventually tore. They are easy to wash. We also rewash ziplocks and reuse till they rip, unless they've had raw meat.
posted by john_snow at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2018

To clarify, when you say "cotton net bag," are you talking about the wide-holed fisherman style, or ones more like these fine-mesh bags? I like using the latter both for compartmentalizing while shopping and for eventual storage because it's easy to tell what's in them, and the holes in the mesh are small enough they don't let the contents catch on other things. And they can just get tossed in the laundry (or dishwasher, I suppose!).

But honestly I don't bother bagging half the time because my husband is the absent-minded professor when it comes to our fridge and food; if he can't see it, he won't eat it. I "merchandise" most of our produce by putting a couple of these "fridge bins" on the top shelf, lining them with paper towels, and storing the produce uncovered there. We usually go through produce fast enough this way that it doesn't get any "fridge smell" from being uncovered.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2018

Do you cook your greens, or are they raw? If you cook them, you can pre-cook so they store in a little box instead of the entire crisper drawer, and then just parcel them out as needed. I would also suggest doing all the washing, chopping, and processing as soon as you get everything, since a few of your 15 pounds are going to be stems and rinds and dirt that there's no reason to store. Doesn't really save time overall, but does save time during the week.

Celery lives longer in foil than it does in plastic. For containers, we use canning jars with reusable plastic tops because they stack uniformly, they can be reheated, they're cheap, and we do a lot of canning anyway. We have also resorted to making an "icebox" out of ice packs and a cooler when there's just a crazy amount.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2018

I have a whole mess of the these stainless Revere refrigerator storage boxes, at least 4-5 of each of the ones pictured (the large one is 8" on a side), plus quite a few of competing boxes made by Vollrath, Ekco, and (useless) West Bend.

Supplemented by lidded Medical instrument trays, and stainless medical supply cans with slip over lids, and fish-poaching boxes for long veggies and lettuce.

All have the drawback that once they're in the fridge with everything else and get moved around a bit, it's impossible to tell what's in them without opening them, so some kind of labeling would be necessary.
posted by jamjam at 2:20 PM on September 7, 2018

My greens go in gallon sized ziplock bags, with a wet paper towel wrapped around the stems. Often times I can’t close the ziplock all the way. That’s fine. They usually last 10-days to 2 weeks. I wash the ziplock bags and reuse them over and over.
posted by greermahoney at 2:21 PM on September 7, 2018

I kept the tub that baby spinach comes in at the supermarket (because yes, I buy it there in winter) and use it for CSA greens during the summer. Doesn't help you now, but make a note of it to stockpile next winter.
posted by aimedwander at 3:25 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you go the route of making your own beeswax wraps I want to recommend adding some jojoba oil and pine resin. The wraps otherwise crack and are brittle - these additions make them soft and pliable.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:43 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find glass jars and ceramic bowls very useful. It depends on the item, of course. Things like celery and carrots do well in a glass jar of cold water. The celery sticks up out of an open container like flowers in a vase. If I trim the bottom from time to time and change the water from time to time it lasts for weeks. Something like a bunch of radishes can go in a shallow dish with half an inch or water or so, with the greens sticking up well out of the water.

Mason jars are my go to, but I recycle any glass jar I can get. Restaurant size pickle jars are wonderful for all sorts of storage uses, and can be used as a butter churn as well. (To churn the butter either play pitch and catch with the jar or roll it back and forth on its side.)

Potatoes and carrots and sweet potatoes and turnips do decently in a brown paper bag for a few days unless it is very warm in the house. They also do well when buried in straw, as do apples - if you have a wooden crate you can bury them in the straw in that. You can use your own grass clippings from when you mow your lawn. If you have an earth cellar the temperature is usually fine for a few weeks.

You can make several types of vegetables last longer by coating them in oil. You can also do this with eggs. A thin layer of some edible oil seals them - cucumbers for instance are often coated in oil or wax when you buy them at a store. You can do this yourself if they come in a farm share.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:17 PM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always cook greens right away when I have a bunch, like spinach, kale, collards, etc. Braising greens cook down to a much smaller volume that's easy to store in a tupperware until needed. You can also freeze cooked greens if you really end up with too much.
posted by ananci at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2018

Baby step of getting a larger Rubbermaid Freshworks Produce saver as suggested above, and putting all my salad greens in it, chopped and mixed, so I can just grab handfuls to make salads. Thinking of the green bags for the crisper drawer but still noodling on it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:19 PM on September 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

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