What Do You Use Instead of Plastic Bags for Storing Produce in the Refrigerator?

Every other week, a huge box of organic vegetables lands on my doorstep. I take everything out, put it in large Ziploc bags, and store most of it in the fridge. Then, like the good little tightwad environmentalist that I am, I wash the bags out and use them over and over again.
head of broccoli

The thing is, I hate washing out Ziploc bags! Now that I have a dishwasher, my hatred has grown stronger, because obviously I cannot run the bags through the dishwasher.  This has prompted me to wonder: Is there a better way to store vegetables? Could I use clear glass containers or BPA-free Tupperware? What about awkwardly-sized veggies, like huge heads of broccoli or two-foot long leeks? How do you store produce?

Comments

  1. lindsay says:

    We just put our vegetables in the veggie bins in the fridge, no bags, no nothing. Then we clean out the bins every once in a while. Everything tastes fine. I think the fridge bins do the same work as tupperware or bags.

    For things I do bag, I have been looking at these compostable cellophane bags. I haven’t tried them yet because they seem expensive and wasteful, but I share your hatred of washing plastic bags and would like to stop the ziplock cycle…

  2. that sounds like a good idea. At first i was thinking it would be odd for them to not have some separation.. but they don’t really have any separation at the market anyway

  3. I wish I had a good solution for this dilemma, as I am now reusing plastic produce bags from the grocery story or ziplocks (I also wash and re-use). On my list of projects is to make some nylon mesh produce bags that I spotted for sale at the supermarket. Though, I’m not sure how things like greens would do in those. The advantage would be to just toss them in the washing machine when you are done with them!

  4. This is a tough one.
    I’ve tried just sticking it all right in the fridge, but then the shelves get really dirty and I am bad about wiping out the fridge. I usually put the items like fruit right in the drawers or set out in a bowl to ripen fully. Other items like broccoli, peppers, etc. I put in Forever Green Bags in the fridge until I am ready to wash and use them. If the bags aren’t filthy, I just shake them out and don’t wash them before using them again. Lettuces, etc., I wash right away with the salad spinner before storing in a sealed bowl – they last much longer that way.

  5. I need a solution for this too. Just putting them in the drawers doesn’t work for me, never has, the produce gets limp and soft in a few days. I try to wash and cut everything down so it fits in tupperware containers, but i still left washing a ton of tuppeware every day.

  6. I’m working on this right now too! I just bought some mesh bags at the store to try out so I’m not using plastic unnecessarily. I only have one drawer for my entire refirgerator, so I need thing to be compartmentalized some how!

  7. This is a serious dilemma. Too bad we can’t all pick the produce out of our garden just before preparing it. What did folks do to preserve produce before plastic? Maybe people went to the market everyday. I guess fridges and plastic became commonplace at about the same time.

  8. I’ve tried sticking produce in the veggie bin without bags but I find it gets limp and nasty much quicker (particularly broccoli)–and then, what do you do with half a cucumber or pepper? You have to stick it in something. Usually I just reuse the plastic produce bags from the grocery store… but I am thinking of investing in a set of these reusable, machine-washable bags:
    http://www.reusablebags.com/store/flip-tumble™-reusable-produce-bags-p-2120.html

  9. Jennifer says:

    I bought the cotton, machine washable, produce bags from reuseablebags.com I love them. Did not mind the expense because I use them weekly at the grocery store and then just transfer them to the refrigerator. I wash them every once in a while when they’re dirty from several weeks of use.

  10. Thanks for all the comments so far! I, too, have always wondered about the “just keep everything loose in the produce drawers” technique. I tried it with one or two things and they went limp within a day or two. In a plastic bag, most things keep for two weeks or even longer. Do those of you who store things loose in the drawers just use things up more quickly?

    Betsy, you raise some interesting questions. Another factor is that in the past, people didn’t eat fresh produce so often. All winter you’d eat canned/frozen veggies.

    I like the idea of using bags that can be washed with the laundry! I will check out reuseablebags.com. Thanks, Jennifer! I haven’t had good luck with compostable bags . . . they don’t home compost well.

    Since I wrote this post a week or two ago, I’ve been more conscious about using plastic bags. I find I can often use a container instead of a bag. For example, I used to put all cheeses in little bags. Why? Now I just put them in a container. I can wash containers in the dishwasher, and even if I didn’t have a dishwasher, I’d find them easier to wash than those bags!

  11. Adrianne says:

    i also bought a set of reusable bags and love them. i can take them to the farmers market, grocery store, etc. i usually rinse/wash them with the dishes (no dishwasher) if they’re not too dirty and then run them through with laundry every so often or if something got squishy.

  12. How about the thick sturdy paper bags you get when buying food from the farmer’s market. That is how we used to store vegetables in the fridge in Germany. I also remember a farmer over there telling me one day to leave them in the paper bag because the produce will last longer. But then that opens the discussion on paper use and its impact on the environment.

  13. I have been known to prep veggies when they come home, unless it is something that will get mushy or dry out before I’m going to use it. If you are going to use them in the next day or two, you could prep broccoli or bell peppers, etc. and then put them in tupperware or glass containers. I’m trying to switch over entirely to glass storage. It just makes me feel better to know that my food (and my son’s!) is stored in glass.

    Another option might be to sew your own produce bags out of inexpensive mesh (I use the cheap costume mesh and just wash it several times before cutting so any residual chemicals are gone). That way, you can bring them to the store with you instead of using plastic bags they provide if you are shopping at the store. A little butchers twine and mesh can be sewn up into various size bags easily to accomodate any amount of produce.

  14. For most produce, I don’t have a problem with just popping it in the refrigerator in the produce drawer, or in a reusable container with a lid. But fresh salads are another story. I’ve recently discovered that I can finally keep my salads fresh for over 10 days using the big (14 cup) Rubbermaid produce keeper. This means I can get home, cut up the big greens, wash the salad, place it in the container – and enjoy totally fresh salads for over a week, no wilting! I tried sealing salads in glass containers prior to this, and it was a disaster. Now I have one 14 cup container for salad greens and one for kale (which I’ll sometimes add in to my salads, especially with a little goat cheese, pears and walnuts – yum!), and I don’t have to use the bagged salads anymore, nor deal with washing out plastic bags (which never really feels satisfactory, anyway – there’s always some gook in the corner that I try to get to and oops! I’ve ripped the bag. Boo!).
    The Rubbermaid container’s still plastic, but it’s BPA-free & recyclable (#5 PP), at least. I’m going to try to switch to locking glass for other foods, but I just don’t think glass works well with salad. 🙁

  15. http://www.bag-e-wash.com/

    could be the answer!

  16. That is a great product, Lindsay! I am phasing out the Ziplocs, but still, I’m tempted. . . .

  17. http://www.reusablebags.com/store/shopping-bags-produce-bags-c-2_10.html

    Here a few alternatives — some look promising, even if synthetic.

  18. I realize this is an old post…but just in case someone looks back at it, here is a great post from Fake Plastic Fish on this very topic. It has ideas on how to store fresh produce without plastic…it IS possible!! 🙂 http://fakeplasticfish.com/2010/05/how-to-store-produce-without-plastic/

  19. veg times has a big article about this: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/resources/produce_storage_guide/

    “The worst thing to do is seal fruits and vegetables in an airtight bag,” says Barry Swanson, a food scientist at Washington State University. “You’ll suffocate them and speed up decay.”

  20. I just found a site that has a poster on how to store veggies and fruit: homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/FVStorage.pdf hope that works. Try a search on that phrase if it doesn’t.

    Primarily, you should consume all fresh fruits and veggies within 3-4 days of purchase. After that they lose their “goodness.” You can use paper towels on the bottom of the veggie drawer and then separate them with a paper towel. Some brands are so good you can re-use them. The PDF file I mentioned also says a lot of things should be stored on your counter rather than in the fridge. When things are getting close to being past their use-ability, consider making a green smoothie with them and drink them! (you can search on that term as well for some great recipes.)

    One thing I’m trying for some things is to use those bags with tiny holes in them – it seems to work better than suffocating them in plastic. I may also try something like dishtowels… i’ll let you know!

    Also check out my friend by the same name – Beth Terry at MyPlasticFreeLife.com She and I share the same name so she has inspired me to be better at not using plastic at all if I can help it.

  21. This plastic thing has been a delimina for me also. I have1 learned a lot from this and got some good info from you all.
    Instead of making mesh bags you can purchase them at Home Depot as paint straining bags. I use them to strain almond milk I make. They are strong and last a long time.
    Comes in one gallon and 5 gallon sizes.

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