Storing Fresh Produce Without Plastic Bags + Giveaway

May 28, 2014

farmers market haul

The season of farmers markets, CSA shares, and home gardens is finally here. After our long winter and equally extended spring, I couldn’t be happier to have access to fresh greens, tasty brassicas like kohlrabi, and local asparagus (and soon, the tomatoes will be here!).

fridge interior

One thing that often trips me up for those first couple weeks as I adjust from grocery store produce to fruits and vegetables that are straight from the farm or orchard is storage. Each week, there is a basket of entirely unpackaged food that needs to be processed a little (to make it as ready to use as possible) and put away.

three containers

In past years, I’ve been heavily dependent on a motley assortment of plastic bags. This year, I’m working hard at eliminating unsustainable plastic from my produce storage. Thanks to the nice folks at MightyNest, I’ve had some new glass food storage containers, reusable produce bags, and dish towels to play with that have made tucking my farmers market haul easier (and even something of a pleasure!).

I’d thought I’d take some time to share my tips for stashing my greens and goods without plastic in the hopes that it might be helpful for some of you!

butter lettuce

For lettuces that I want to prep for easy use but still keep in whole leaf form (in case I want to slip a leaf or two onto a sandwich), I pull the head apart, wash the leaves, and dry them. A salad spinner is nice for drying greens, but if you don’t have one, lay out a clean kitchen towel and lay the lettuce out in a single layer. Put another towel on top, pat it down, and then carefully roll it all up. Give the lettuce bundle a gentle shake over your sink and unroll again (these Full Circle bamboo towels are incredibly absorbent!). The lettuce should be dry enough to store!

Then, layer the lettuce leaves in a container, separating the leaves every couple levels with a small cloth or paper towel (I have a stash of these Bird-E Towels, which are great for this purpose). As far as the container goes, I like to use the 109 ounce Duralex lidded bowl, as it is large enough for a whole heck of a lot of lettuce.

Side note: I also love that you can buy replacement lids for these bowls when the original wears out. I hate having to give up on a container simply because the lid has gone bad. Someone out there was thinking!

packed produce

For heartier things, like kohlrabi, kale, asparagus, green garlic, harukei turnips, and even celery or lovage, any sturdy glass container will do the job. These items don’t need a whole lot of absorbent padding or breaking down, so I simply grab any vessel that can hold the food and will fit in my fridge.

I really like the long low six cup ones with the tight fitting lids (those Duralex bowls in smaller sizes are also good). What’s nice about these long, low containers is that they’re also oven safe, so you can bake and store in them as well! They also stack evenly and securely. And as you can see, sometimes I double things up if I feel like it won’t impact the flavor or consistency. Kale and green garlic can hang out nicely without flavor transfer or texture degradation.

bundled spinach

For large bundles of spinach or mustard greens that I want to keep whole, I use the towel technique. I get a tea towel slightly damp and roll the greens up in it, tucking the ends in and trying to get at least two layers of material around the veg. It should be just damp, but not sopping.

Tucked into the crisper, this helps keep the greens fresh and perky, at least for a few days. I do make it a priority to use these tender greens in the first couple days after bringing them home, because they aren’t going to last an entire week (the kale will last much longer because it’s simply sturdier by nature).

produce bags

Other tips for storing.

  • If you’re going to use them promptly, cucumbers don’t need to be refrigerated. They actually do better above 50 degrees F and so can be kept on the counter for up to three days.
  • When we get into tomato season, keep them away from the cold and store them stem end down for the best lifespan.
  • Use that tea towel technique described earlier for asparagus as well as tender greens.
  • Any time you store radishes, small turnips or beets that came with their greens, separate the roots from the leaves upon bringing them home. Wrap and store the greens separately to keep them crisp and useable.
  • Leeks don’t need any special treatment at all. Just shake off the worst of the dirt from the roots and pop them into the crisper.
  • Conventional wisdom used to be that you never washed berries before storing, but research has shown that washing them in a vinegar solution before storing actually extends their lifespan.

spinach in towel 640

So, now to the giveaway portion of this blog post. I’ve teamed up with the nice people at MightyNest to give a set of storage containers, towels, and other goodies away to one lucky Food in Jars winner. This giveaway is working a little bit differently than some have in the past. Instead of simply signing up in the hopes of getting some free stuff, I’m going to ask you to take a pledge. A promise that this year, you’ll do your best to enjoy seasonal produce as much as you possibly can (seems like a good thing to work towards, right!).

The other cool thing about this pledge is that in the process, you’ll also be able to earn points for your local school to help them win $1000 this month in the MightyNest for Schools “Get Fresh” Challenge. It doesn’t matter whether you have kids in school or not. Pick your local school, the one you attended for 4th grade, or the one your favorite child attends. Just click the button that says “I Pledge” to enter!

Disclosure: MightyNest provided containers, towels, produce bags, and a produce brush to me for photography purposes and at no cost to me. They are also providing the giveaway package for the winner and are a site sponsor. However, my opinions still remain entirely my own.

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79 thoughts on "Storing Fresh Produce Without Plastic Bags + Giveaway"

  • What a fabulous giveaway. I too have been trying to rid myself of plastic bags etc. Am using more and more glass storage containers. I took the pledge and try to buy fresh local whenever possible.

  • Already been eating a lot of asparagus, a few green onions from my garden and rhubarb. Great idea!

  • I’ve been stocking up on nice glass storage containers too, and can hardly wait to harvest my own veggies from my garden! The potatoes are up and the beans are just poking through the ground!

  • CSA starts this week, yeeeha:) I have to get off the plastic bags. For produce, and for gym clothes too! I have to try some of those cloth bags.

  • What a great idea for a giveaway! We’re still a few weeks away from our CSA starting (it’s been a slow spring in upstate New York!) but I’m hoping to do better this year with storage to maximize all the great produce. That, plus a new copy of Preserving By The Pint, should help cut down on food waste!

  • Lock & Lock makes some great plastic storage containers, some even with a carrying handle on top. Many of the models have a removable plastic grid that fits in the bottom that keeps the produce off the bottom of the box. I have a large container from them that would fit most of my CSA box some weeks. I would just pile everything in the container and put a towel or paper towel over the top to keep the condensation for dripping back on the produce. This would keep everything fresh for at least a few days until I could deal with it or eat it.

  • I’m a farmers’ market groupie and pick up fresh produce 3-4 times a week, all season long! I bring mesh bags to put my produce in so it never touches plastic if I can help it! Rhubarb vanilla bean compote coming up!

  • Thank you for the suggestions. I, too am trying to avoid plastics and petroleum products in whatever ways I can. I reuse plastic bags that I get from my CSA but storing in glass or glass-like containers and towels are definitely a change I intend to make this summer.

  • I already wrap any loose leaf veg in papertowel and pop it into a plastic bag – perhaps it’s time I upped my game and started getting containers for that purpose.

  • We’re lucky in that our CSA is year round but we also like to supplement with area farmer’s markets and local farmers so our food is about 80% local. Just need to convince the husband to give up espresso and the kid her morning cereal and well be just about there … fat chance of that 🙂

  • We get out csa year round and our meat too. I love the flip & tumble bags but wish there were more made in USA options. I pledge to start changing the rest of our eating to more sustainable options.

  • What a fabulous article and giveaway! I’m always struggling to figure out how to store things when our CSA box comes in!

  • I’m trying very hard to eliminate plastic from my kitchen, so these hints help. I’m thrilled that I can wash my berries before storing them. I’m certain my husband doesn’t wash them before snacking on them out of the fridge…

  • I needed to read this blog … I’ve relocated from Southern California where I went to the local farmers market on a weekly basis (daily if I needed to) to Northern Idaho where I am experiencing a traditional farmers market that only has produce that’s from the local region and in season. It’s taking some time to get use to, but by taking the pledge I’ll be much more mindful of enjoying the seasonal items available to me. When tomatoes are plentiful I will feel reunited with old friends and not take them for granted.

  • I’m not so much eliminating plastic from my kitchen as minimizing how much I bring in, and using what I have until it wears out. This post reminds me that I have some raspberries in my fridge to eat – I make my own yogurt to reduce the number of plastic containers I buy, and that will go well with the berries.

  • I’ve purchased my veggies and some fruits from our local farmer’s markets for years and years. There’s no comparison to the plastic, tasteless stuff sold at the grocery store.

  • I haven’t been able to make it to a farmer’s market yet, but the one closest to my office opens next week. I am SO looking forward to fresh local produce!

    I keep plastic bags around for the litter box, but other than that, I try to move things into reusable storage as much as possible. I’m also in the process of trying to clear out my pantry, fridge, and freezer. I have a few too many things that have been around for too long!

  • As a small scale organic veggie farmer it has become so difficult to toe the line between providing beautiful looking (and tasting) produce to our CSA members and farmers market customers while living our own values of reducing our carbon footprint and not using disposable products. I am going to share this article with our CSA members and encourage them to think differently and hopefully we’ll be able to use less packaging this year! Thanks!

  • I made my own mesh produce bags so I don’t have to use the plastic ones from the store, but I need to step up my efforts to replace plastic with glass.

  • a great season for pledging to seasonal produce–I’m pledging to pick more berries so I can test out the vinegar rinse idea!

  • Enjoyed the first strawberries from my backyard this morning! Yummy! I don’t use plastic bags for food storage. Love Tupperware Fridgesmart for my produce.

  • Thanks for this article. I’ve just been thinking I’d like to cut back even more on plastic use.

    I agree with Kim about Tupperware’s Fridgesmart for keeping produce fresh. (OK, it’s plastic, but at least it’s a one-time purchase that lasts for years as opposed to plastic food bags.)

    As I type this I’m eating a salad made with lettuce from a window box on my patio – it doesn’t get any more local than that! =)

  • Fantastic giveaway
    I absolutely hate storing things in plastic. I store my refrigerated veggies in glass jars or other glass containers; things that are easily stackable on the shelf. My celery I wash, clean, cut in sections and store in wide mouth jars.
    I try and buy most of my fruits and veggies that are locally grown.

  • Great article, and a really nice giveaway to top it off! I have a few plastic storage containers left, that I’d like to replace with glass.

  • Eating in season will be easy this summer with my vegetable garden; I already have lettuce ready to eat! Winter may prove to be more of a challenge, but I’ve taken the pledge so I will find a way!

  • I pledge to eat as many seasonal vegies as I can! (a bit like cheating since I own an organic farm stand, ha!). Great product give away, thank you. St. Pious Elementary Yarmouth, MA

  • Love these tips – especially the lettuce. I have been avoiding getting a salad spinner and this gives me a justification to continue! I have been able to get rid of almost all the plastic storage containers, but I still re-use the plastic bags (so far).

  • Thanks for all the tips on storing fresh vegetables. It makes them so much more handier to use, which ensues they’ll be eaten. Also thanks for hosting this give-a-way, I like that a school is included in the win too.

  • I grow lots of veggies in the backyard, I love storing things in glass, but I use Tupperware also…. Plastic bags not so much, I’ve been sewing cotton bags to take to the market, I think I’ll sew some to store veggies in too !!! Thanks for the opportunity, and chance to benefit the schools!

  • You are right on time! I’m harvesting just enough green foods to keep my appetites under control but cucumbers are beginning to keep me busy.

    Tomatoes seem to keep better stem side up here. The other way causes mold to grow really fast.

    Nice post.

    1. They actually did a study that found that they keep better stem side down. However, if your personal experience says otherwise, certainly follow that!

  • Gosh, that is a nice goal for the year: make a change towards not using plastic. I do think, however, that I happen to acquire the odd plastic bag here and there and why not put them to use. Especially for things like the greens.

  • Been hanging out at the farmers markets lately, stocking up on rhubarb, strawberries etc. CSA starts mid June-first time doing a CSA-I’m so excited.

  • I have been struggling to eat our greens this year before they go bad. Partially an overabundance – particularly sweet after this winter – partially too many impromptu dinner invites and partially from improper storage. At least the chickens have enjoyed them.

  • I’m with you re: washing and wrapping greens I’m likely to eat raw. For those I’m going to incorporate into a cooked dish (e.g., dandelion greens, tougher kales), though, I’ve started blanching and shocking them before I put them away. Speeds up dinner prep–and compacts a bulky bag of leaves into a much smaller footprint.

  • I sure like learning about the best way to store produce. Growing up everything was in a plastic bag in the fridge.

  • What a brilliant idea! We switched to mostly glass too, like that these containers have replacement lids available. And the school contribution, how wonderful. It all starts with teaching children about fresh produce and eating right. I took the pledge…our garden will be bursting with tomatoes soon, plus zucchini, squash, kohlrabi, melons, cabbage, peppers… I just love summer for all the fresh produce!

  • I’ll be hitting the farm stands as often as I can this summer! And, I’m hoping that next year, I can find an easy to get to CSA and then split a share with someone. Sadly, I don’t have the necessary sunlight in my yard for a garden, so I’ll just have to buy local!

  • I have always stored my lettuce in paper towels in a plastic bag in the crisper. I would love to change from plastic bags to glass. Do you store lettuce with the lid off in the crisper or lid on just on a shelf in the fridge? I have cut way back on plastic baggies, but still have been using them for veggies.

  • Wonderful tips and I love the idea of getting away from using plastic bags. We have a small garden this year and these tips will definitely come in handy.

  • I would love to get rid of the plastic bags! Tomatoes on the counter taste so much better if you don’t store them in the refrigerator. With the garden starting to grow I need a new way to store all the produce that it will give.

  • I always try and eat as seasonally as I can! I wish my farmer’s market was open more than once a week, but I’m glad that they started being open year-round a couple of years ago.

  • What a nice giveaway. Here in Maine we are eating lots of baby spinach. Next will be beet greens.

  • Thanks for the great storage tips. I am trying to get away from using so much plastic. Got to love all the seasons fresh produce to come !

  • Thank you for the time it took to write this post! I really want to get away from using plastic bags (even though I am really good about washing & reusing). Thanks for the chance to win!

  • When I was a child there was little or no plastic used in kitchen storage. I lived with my Grandparents and there were all manner of glass and speckle ware metal containers! (think Cowboy style cook out enamel ware) – then suddenly these things began to disappear….. 🙁 I Am so very pleased to see the pendulum has again shifted towards a more sustainable way of doing things!

  • I’ve been making a good effort to use more glass and less plastic! I went to the Mighty Nest site, but they don’t have our school in their system!! Boo Hoo!!

  • We’ve been using paper towels for produce and they just get so soggy. having tea towels for this would be great! I definitely would like to stop using plastic bags too. Great tips, thank you.

  • One more important tip to help your veggies last as long as possible: remove those rubber bands and twist ties from bundles as soon as possible! Have you ever noticed that right where those are is where decay shows up soonest and worst?

  • I’m trying to switch to glass from plastic it’s hard to give up those plastic storage bags, but I’m trying. The towels look like they would really help. Thanks for the giveaway.

  • Always looking for ways to recycle to help our environment. Less plastic for Mother Earth is always a good thing!

  • What great ideas! I love the photos! We are already taking steps to reduce produce waste.

  • I really want to use all glass containers, but I hate to just recycle carry-out containers. And glass is so heavy in one’s lunchbox. I can’t imagine sending my kids to school with glass containers. Sigh! I remember the shame of dropping my lunchbox and shattering my glass-lined Thermos!

  • Hi, I just love to use new gadgets that will make my life easier. I would love to receive any free samples to try.

  • Such a useful article, thank you for sharing! It’s been a problem for me to use plastic bags ever since I’ve learned about the dangerous chemicals it releases into the food. So, thanks again, this article goes straight to bookmarks