If you aspire to healthy living and clean eating, you may be stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables on your trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market. It can be frustrating when these items wilt or go bad before you are able to use them. It is maddening when they disappear, forgotten, into the bottom of your refrigerator only to be discovered when they are long past their prime. The crisper drawers at the bottom of your refrigerator are designed to keep your produce fresh and delicious for the maximum amount of time. Yet many of us aren’t aware of how to properly use these drawers. Follow these tips to get the most value from your produce and keep it fresh as long as possible.
9. Two Types of Crispers
Many refrigerators come with adjustable vents to control the amount of airflow around the contents of your crisper drawers. These vents can be adjusted to allow high-humidity or low-humidity conditions inside the drawers. When you shut off the airflow to the drawer, you create a high-humidity environment. Conversely, allowing airflow to the drawer creates a low-humidity environment. If you have more than one drawer, you can benefit from creating separate environments for the types of produce you have on hand.
8. Ethylene Gas and Produce
Sometimes produce goes bad quickly due to ethylene gas given off by certain fruits. Bananas, apples, and other fruits produce ethylene gas during the ripening process. This gas then affects other fruits by speeding up the ripening process. This is a good thing if you are wanting to speed the ripening of an avocado. This is not such a good thing when you want to prevent ripening to maintain freshness. In this case, you will want to store fruits that release ethylene gas in separately in your refrigerator to prevent the gas from escaping and ruining other produce.
7. High-Humidity Produce
Certain types of produce thrive in an environment with a high level of humidity. These are items that tend to wilt if they are not kept in a moist environment. Keep your leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce in the high-humidity crisper drawer of your refrigerator. This drawer is also a great place to store fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley. Additionally, vegetables with thin skins like eggplant and asparagus will do well here. Green beans, bell peppers, and strawberries are items that are sensitive to ethylene gas. Keep them in the high-humidity compartment to prevent ethylene gas from reaching them.
6. Low-Humidity Produce
While some types of produce thrive in moist conditions, others will better maintain freshness in a low-humidity environment. Keep the airflow circulating in your low-humidity crisper drawer to maximize the freshness of ethylene-producing items like apples, apricots, plums, and tomatoes. Store figs, kiwi, peaches, and plums in this drawer as well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping your refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to maintain the freshness and safety of perishable foods.
5. Filling the Crisper Drawers
To maintain maximum freshness of the produce within, do not overfill or underfill your crisper drawers. Refrigerator crisper drawers function best when filled about 2/3 full. Packing drawers too tightly increases the likelihood that items will be crushed or forgotten. It also prevents airflow around fruits that require lower humidity. Drawers that are not full enough are drawers that could be filled with delicious and nutritious fruits and veggies to fuel your family. While many types of produce have short shelf lives, others are hardier and can be kept for weeks or even months. Beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots are veggies that can hang out in your fridge for longer periods of time.
4. Organizing Your Crisper Drawers
To make sure none of your produce gets lost, damaged, or forgotten, invest in simple bins and baskets to keep your crisper drawers organized. Remove produce from plastic produce bags and store them in small baskets to keep them from rolling or banging around in the drawer. If you do not have a refrigerator with humidity vents on the crisper drawers, use lidded plastic containers to keep ethylene-gas producing fruits from prematurely ripening other produce. Organizing your fridge doesn’t have to be expensive. Visit your local dollar store for cute bins and baskets that won’t break your budget.
3. Storing Raw Meat
If you have more crisper drawers than you can use for your produce, reserve one toward the bottom for raw meats. Depending on your type of refrigerator, the bottom may be the coldest region of the fridge. Keeping your meat toward the bottom will keep it at a cooler temperature. It will also prevent any meat juices from leaking down onto other food items. The USDA recommends keeping raw ground meats in the refrigerator for only one or two days before using. Larger cuts of meats like roasts or steaks can be kept in the fridge for three to five days. After cooking, meat can be stored in the fridge for three or four days.
2. Line Your Crisper Drawers
For easy cleanup, line your crisper drawers with layers of paper towels, butcher paper, or newspaper. The paper will absorb any extra moisture from damp produce, preventing premature decay. Swapping out the crisper liners for fresh ones also makes cleaning the crisper drawers a breeze. In addition to lining your refrigerator drawers with paper towels, you can add a sheet of toweling to a bag or container of lettuce and other greens. The paper towel will soak up any extra moisture in the container and keep your greens fresh longer.
1. Plan a Weekly Crisper Purge
To avoid wasting fresh produce, plan to inventory your crisper drawers each week. Flash freeze fruits or berries that are nearing the end of their freshness and use them to make delicious fruit smoothies. A weekly pot of hearty soup or stew is a great way to use up leftover vegetables that would otherwise languish at the bottom of your refrigerator. Try Alton Brown’s recipe for Garden Vegetable Soup and toss in whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand. Another tasty way to use up your veggies is in a savory frittata or quiche.