Ever heard of National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month? It’s June! Summer is a great time to incorporate more healthy fruits and veggies into your daily meals and snacks. (OK, anytime is a good time…)
You may be surprised that a little bit of plastic packaging can play an integral role in helping keep your food fresh and delicious—from the farm to your grocery store to your dinner table. Here are a few examples:
Sometimes air is bad
You know those bags of pre-cut and washed produce? They do a lot more than make it easy to create a salad. After fruits and vegetables are harvested, they continue to “breathe”; that is, they absorb molecules in the air and exude some of their own. A key to keeping them fresher longer is to regulate this “breathing.”
Special types of plastic bags enable “modified atmosphere packaging” (MAP) that does just that: regulate levels of various molecules in the packaging to keep your arugula, sliced carrots, and apple slices from going bad real quickly. For example, MAP can double shelf life of mixed greens from four days or less to up to eight days.
Sometimes air is good
You may remember when grocery stores just piled mounds of grapes on a shelf and shoppers picked a bunch or two off the top. Not anymore. Grapes last longer when air circulates around them to prevent mold. That’s one reason most grapes today are sold in ventilated plastic bags to help them stay fresher longer in the store and at home.
Your best bet is to keep those grapes in that perforated plastic bag in the fridge since it does a great job of reducing moisture levels and combating mold. Placing grapes in sealed containers could pretty quickly result in moldy grapes, even when refrigerated.
This deceptively simple plastic packaging helps keep your grapes fresh for days. In fact, the folks behind National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month advise us to “place fruits and vegetables in separate, perforated plastic bags” when refrigerating them.
Wrapped cucumber? Yup
Maybe you’ve wondered why some cucumbers are sold wrapped in plastic. It’s simple, really—plastic-wrapped cucumbers last longer before going bad. One reason is that plastic wrap slows evaporation: an unwrapped cucumber may lose three and a half percent of its weight after just three days… a plastic-wrapped cucumber may lose only one and a half percent of its weight over two full weeks.
So… that lightweight plastic wrap can significantly increase the opportunity to eat the fresh foods you buy, rather than having to throw away spoiled food.
And those plastic-wrapped apples at convenience stores and airports? Same concept. A little bit of plastics can prevent a whole lot of food waste. (A little bit, indeed: the amount of plastic needed to wrap a cuke or apple weighs less than one gram.)
By the way, less food waste also means less water, energy, and other resources are used to grow more cucumbers to replace wasted ones. And less energy spent transporting additional harvests. And less methane produced by rotting food that’s tossed away. Oh, yeah… and less money wasted on healthy food that isn’t eaten.
Happy National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month!
Keeping fruits and veggies fresh can be sort of tricky, but often a little bit of plastic packaging can make it easier. Plus make it more likely that your fresh food will be eaten and not wind up contributing to the environmental problems of food waste. And that’s worth celebrating—during National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month and all year long.