Produce Keepers

Published July 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

A new wave of “produce keepers” is cramming supermarket shelves, promising to extend the life of fresh produce. But can any deliver on this promise?

Overview:

A new wave of “produce keepers” is cramming supermarket shelves, promising to extend the life of fresh produce. We tested five such products: two bags, two plastic containers, and one device designed to neutralize ethylene, a gas that accelerates ripening and spoilage. We filled the bags and containers with a pint of strawberries or 15 ounces of baby spinach, then placed them in the refrigerator (middle shelf for the berries, bottom shelf for the spinach) along with the same items left in their original packaging. We put the ethylene neutralizer in a drawer in a separate refrigerator with more strawberries and spinach in their original packaging. We checked the produce every other day for two weeks and recorded any signs of decay.

All the “protected” produce, it turned out, spoiled at relatively the same rate as that in the original packing (4 to 10 days)—and in some cases even faster. Why?

Fruits and vegetables are composed mostly of water and need a humid atmosphere to avoid drying out. But this presents a storage problem:… read more

A new wave of “produce keepers” is cramming supermarket shelves, promising to extend the life of fresh produce. We tested five such products: two bags, two plastic containers, and one device designed to neutralize ethylene, a gas that accelerates ripening and spoilage. We filled the bags and containers with a pint of strawberries or 15 ounces of baby spinach, then placed them in the refrigerator (middle shelf for the berries, bottom shelf for the spinach) along with the same items left in their original packaging. We put the ethylene neutralizer in a drawer in a separate refrigerator with more strawberries and spinach in their original packaging. We checked the produce every other day for two weeks and recorded any signs of decay.

All the “protected” produce, it turned out, spoiled at relatively the same rate as that in the original packing (4 to 10 days)—and in some cases even faster. Why?

Fruits and vegetables are composed mostly of water and need a humid atmosphere to avoid drying out. But this presents a storage problem: While airtight containers keep that vital moisture in and limit oxygen exposure, thus slowing the plant’s metabolism and prolonging its life, they also create ideal conditions for mold and bacterial growth. (Moisture tends to condense on the surface of the produce, trapping ethylene gas, which causes the produce to deteriorate.) The products we tested either kept in moisture but also trapped ethylene (but didn’t “neutralize” its adverse effects), or let moisture escape along with the ethylene. Overall, the original packaging did a comparable (and occasionally better) job controlling the degree of moisture and oxygen exposure.

You’re better off controlling refrigerator temperature than buying any of these products. Green leafy vegetables should be stored in the lowest shelves of the fridge, where it’s the coldest, while berries should be kept in the middle shelves, where the temperature is slightly higher.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Not Recommended

    Ziploc Fresh Produce Bags with Moisture Vents

    According to the manufacturer, the moisture vents in these bags “permit excess moisture to escape, while keeping just enough moisture for produce to stay fresh and crisp.” Unfortunately, they did not prevent mold from destroying our strawberries or the baby spinach from wilting any better than the original packaging.

    • Baby Spinach ★★
    • Strawberries

    $2.69 for 15 gallon-size bags

  • Not Recommended

    Debbie Meyer Green Bags

    These bags contain the mineral zeolite, which purportedly absorbs ethylene. They kept mold at bay in the strawberries better than any of the other products we tested (almost two weeks) but no longer than the original packaging. Spinach also wilted and decayed at the same rate as in the original packaging.

    • Baby Spinach
    • Strawberries ★★

    $9.99 for 20 bags

  • Not Recommended

    Rubbermaid 4-Piece Produce-Saver Set

    Includes one 14-cup, one 5-cup, and two 2-cup containers, all with air vents in the lids and a footed, slotted “Crisp Tray” to separate the produce from any moisture that might collect at the bottom. Despite such features, this set was subpar: the produce stored in it deteriorated faster than that in the original packaging.

    • Baby Spinach
    • Strawberries

    $12.99

  • Not Recommended

    Progressive Lettuce Keeper

    Though it can double as a colander and has an adjustable vent for two settings for different types of produce (including berries and leafy greens), this container lagged behind the original packaging in keeping produce fresh.

    • Baby Spinach
    • Strawberries

    $7.99

  • Not Recommended

    E.G.G. (Ethylene Gas Guardian)

    Like the Debbie Meyers Green Bags, this blue plastic egg contains zeolite, a mineral that’s often used as an odor absorber and a humidity stabilizer in refrigerators, closets, and automobiles. Placing the egg in your produce drawer is supposed to neutralize the ethylene gas emitted by produce, slowing the rate of decay, but in the end we got better results with the original packaging.

    • Baby Spinach
    • Strawberries

    $4.99 for 2

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