It’s kind of silly to think of your fruit bowl as a boxing ring, but the apples and peaches are in there right now duking it out to see who goes down first. Why? Because of ethylene gas. Ethylene is a perfectly safe, naturally occurring gas that certain fruits and vegetables produce to help them ripen. Unfortunately, there are also ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables that rot at a much faster rate when kept near ethylene producers.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service teamed up with the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University to develop the Foodkeeper App for determining ideal food storage practices. Using this tool can help us all learn to store our fruits and vegetables properly, lengthen their shelf life, and put an end to the fruit bowl battles.
These first 10 foods are the fruits and vegetables that produce the most ethylene, making them a threat to the ideal shelf life of other fresh produce. Note that some of these foods are also sensitive to fellow ethylene-producers. You might also notice that most of these first 10 foods are fruit. Ethylene-producing foods are often those that grow well above the ground, with some exceptions like potatoes.
The next 10 foods are all considered ethylene-sensitive, and decay quickly when exposed to ethylene from other fruits and vegetables. Many of these foods also give off small amounts of the gas during the ripening process, but very little in comparison to the list of foods above. Just remember not to mix ethylene-sensitive foods with ethylene-producing ones, whether stored in the pantry, refrigerator or freezer.
Apples are first on this list because they start with an A, but they’re also a top ethylene-producing fruit. The apples in your fridge or pantry release enough natural ethylene to threaten the shelf life of much of your other produce. It’s best to take them out of your mixed fruit bowl and store them separately. Apples on the counter or in the pantry have a shelf life of about three weeks. Kept in the fridge, they can last four to six weeks. Did you know that apples freeze well too? When frozen, apples can last up to eight months.
Once an avocado is picked, it begins to release ethylene and start to ripen. The rate of ethylene released increases over time. When the skin becomes dark and the flesh underneath (called the mesocarp) feels tender, an avocado is ripe and ready to eat. A ripe avocado can last up to five days in the fridge. If you want it to ripen more quickly, put it in the pantry or on the kitchen counter, but definitely store it separately from ethylene-sensitive foods. If you freeze avocado, peel and mash it up first. This will help prevent it from browning while thawing.