Most fruits and vegetables generate ethylene gas during the ripening stage. While this gas is harmless to humans, it can be detrimental to other produce. Below is a list of fruits & vegetables affected by ethylene ripening and tips for keeping produce fresh. This article is not inclusive and should be shared with parts 1-10 on Kali’s store garden produce series.
What Is Ethylene Gas: Ethylene acts as a plant hormone at trace levels throughout the life of the plant by regulating the ripening of fruit and vegetables, the opening of flowers, and the shedding of leaves. This ethylene hormone produces gas from essentially all parts of higher plants, including the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, fruits, tubers, and seedlings. Wounding, flooding, drought and chilling can also induce ethylene ripening.
Kitchen Food Storage: It is estimated that on average families in the US toss out 470 pounds of food annually, which is about 14% of all food brought into the household. This equates to an annual wastage of $900 per year per family. While people do indeed waste food, a hefty portion of that waste is accidental, brought about by not knowing how to properly care for or store their produce. The ethylene gas premature aging process is a prime contributor to food waste which is estimated at $43 billion worth of food every year.
How is Gas Produced: Your refrigerator acts as a trap for ethylene ripening by allowing it to build up to damaging levels. Although it’s not hazardous to humans, the ethylene gas leads to the early aging and decay of your produce. While the cold in the refrigerator does slow down the emission of gas from most produce, it can speed it up for others. By segregating your fresh produce and consuming it within a few days to retain its freshness in the refrigerator, you will drastically cut down on fresh produce waste and will save your household upwards to hundreds of dollars per year.
If you have followed the first 7 parts of Kali’s Store Garden Produce Series, you would have been provided with numerous tips and techniques for keeping produce fresh and the effects of ethylene ripening. Kali’s 10 part series entails harvesting herbs, storing ripen tomatoes, freezing tomatoes, how to harvest garlic and onions, keeping vegetables fresh, freezing squash and pumpkins, storing green beans, freezing apples and storing cherries and the like. Click here for more info.
Food Storage Tips: Most fruits and vegetables generate ethylene gas while they ripen, especially if they have been damaged. If you mix fruits, vegetables or flowers together that either emit or are sensitive to ethylene gas, much of your fresh produce will age and decay faster than you would care for. In general, fruit become less green and softer as it ripens. Even though the acidity of fruit increases as it ripens, the higher acidity level is not reflected in its flavor, which can lead to the misunderstanding that the riper the fruit the sweeter it is. Ethylene gas does not take away flavor, but will actually add to flavor by breaking down starch into sugar. If ripening occurs naturally, produce would sit on the shelf longer. Spoiling occurs at the end of the ripening process.
If you should take notice of the produce section at the grocery store, you will find that onions, garlic, tomatoes and potatoes are all displayed in center isles, away from the refrigerated section. Bananas are separated as far away from apples (the most conspicuous culprit of ethylene gas) while leafy greens are under the “sprayer” due to their low shelf life. Leafy vegetables for example, begins to decay when exposed to ethylene gas at low temperatures are especially sensitive to ethylene, even in very low quantities. If you should place spinach or kale in the same crisper bin as peaches or apples, they will turn yellow and limp within a few days. Products sensitive to ethylene gas, such as broccoli and bananas, will spoil quickly if stored in the same areas as avocados, melons, and apples, which are ethylene producers. Typically all short-term shelf life produce are displayed under the refrigerated “sprayer section” compared to the potatoes, onions, tomatoes and fruit. A lot can be learned from observing how grocery stores section off their produce department. Look at several stores to compare.
Ethylene ripening will also shorten the shelf life of cut flowers, potted plants and herbs by accelerating floral senescence (aging) and floral abscission (shedding of petals and leaves). Flowers, plants and herbs that are subjected to stress during shipping, handling, or storage produce ethylene gas causing a significant reduction in floral display. Flowers affected by ethylene ripening include carnations, geraniums, petunias, roses and many others.
The use of brown paper bags, plastic storage crates or a good quality, breathable, green garden bag will absorb and remove these gases and is safe for storage. It is not advisable to store garden produce in plastic bags. They will indeed hold in the ethylene gas and will not allow in the oxygen required to ripen produce.
The following list of fruits and vegetables is provided below so that you can keep specific fruits and vegetables apart and help reduce your family’s food budget by keeping produce fresh longer.
Ethylene Gas Producers: Apples, apricots, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, citrus fruit (not grapefruit), cranberries, figs, guavas, grapes, green onions/scallions, honeydew/watermelons, ripe kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, plantains, plums/prunes, ripening bananas, quinces and tomatoes.
Damaged by Ethylene Gas: Asparagus, artichoke, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, cut flowers, eggplant, endive, escarole, florist greens, green beans, kale, kiwi fruit, leafy greens, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, potted plants, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, watercress and yams.
Follow Kali’s Entire Series on Storing Garden Produce for Winter
Parts 1-5: Store Garden Produce For Winter
Store Garden Produce #6-Storing & Freezing Green Beans Types
Store Garden Produce #7- Storing Cherries – Freezing Apples
Store Garden Produce #8-Ethylene Ripening-List of Fruits & Vegetables
Store Garden Produce #9-How To Build A Cellar-Part 1
Store Garden Produce #10-More on Root Cellaring-Part 2
Kali S Winters