Reduce waste by keeping your fruits and veggies fresh

The average Canadian consumer throws out an estimated 170 kilograms of food a year, and vegetables and fruit account for the largest percentage of the types of food that are thrown away.

Choose the right storage for your goals to avoid food spoilage, says expert

Properly stored food will last longer and help you cut down on food waste. Canadians are among the worst globally in wasting food. (Submitted by Abeego)

The average Canadian consumer throws out an estimated 170 kilograms of food a year, and vegetables and fruit account for the largest percentage of the types of food that are thrown away — 40 per cent by category, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Toni Desrosier founded Abeego because she was looking for a way to keep her food fresher.

"I started to ask myself, if nature wrapped my food in a breathable, opaque peel, skin and rind, why was I trying to keep it in airtight, transparent food storage containers?"

Toni Desrosier, founder of Abeego, developed her beeswax wrap products to help keep food fresh longer. (Submitted by Abeego)

Through her research, she created Abeego beeswax wraps which can be used as an alternative to plastic wrap.

She thinks food tastes better when it's stored in a breathable material, and she finds it lasts longer.

"You've probably seen sweaty herbs in your fridge where they get extra condensation in the package," Desrosier said. "The extra condensation in the package is actually the gas the food naturally emits turning into condensation, and then that condensation falls back on your food and spoils it quicker."

Choosing the right storage method

Jennifer Ronholm teaches food microbiology at McGill University and she said avoiding food spoilage is all about choosing the right storage method to suit your goals.

"Storage depends on what your goals are, whether you're protecting against drying, or you're protecting against mould, or you're protecting against too much ethylene being in there," Ronholm said.

Ethylene is a naturally occurring gas that's part of the ripening process. That gas will not only ripen the fruit that's emitting it, but nearby fruits as well.

The trick to storing fruits is that you want to store them in a cool place with really good airflow.- Jennifer Ronholm, assistant professor at McGill University

In this case, Ronholm said putting fruit in an airtight container can be used to your advantage if you want the fruit to ripen faster.

Or if you want a different piece of fruit to ripen faster, like an avocado or a plum, you could put it next ethylene-producing fruit, like bananas and apples.

But fruit with too much moisture will get mouldy, so airtight containers and bags aren't a good choice for fruit, Ronholm said. Instead, she recommends putting fruit in paper, cardboard boxes or mesh bags.

Jennifer Ronholm, assistant professor at McGill University, says canning in the fall is a cost-effective way to avoid food waste. (Submitted by Jennifer Ronholm)

"The trick to storing fruits is that you want to store them in a cool place with really good airflow, so the airflow is going to keep the moisture down, stop the mould from growing on the fruit, and the cold is going to slow the mould growth down."

Vegetables, on the other hand, are more likely to dry out.

Have you ever noticed how English cucumbers are almost always wrapped in plastic? That's because the skin is really sensitive to drying, Ronholm said. The cucumbers are wrapped in plastic to keep the moisture in.

Leafy greens can be stored in a plastic bag, or a non-plastic option that works just as well is to wrap the greens in a wet paper towel.

The forgotten art of preservation

Ronholm teaches canning and fermentation at McGill, a skill she thinks has been lost over the years.

"On the individual level, we've probably regressed a little bit with food waste," she said. "In my grandparents' time, we were really good at preserving food, and we knew how to do it, and everyone did it."

She advocates for setting aside a weekend in the fall to do some canning and fermentation for the winter.

"It will save money, and it definitely reduces food wasteage."

Sauerkraut and rainbow carrots, both lacto-fermented on the countertop for about two weeks. (Submitted by Laura Hogan)

There are many different ways to can and ferment food, and while you can lose some vitamins in some of the processes, you can also generate nutrients through the canning and fermentation process, Ronholm said.

"There's a lot of molecules that are made through fermentation that are great for you, and now having a healthy microbiome is a popular discussion and eating the fermented products with the live bacteria is actually a great way to increase the health of your microbiome."

Tapping traditional knowledge

Desrosier with Abeego also said it seems as though people have forgotten how to store food using traditional methods.

She said when she developed her product in 2008, it was hard to find information about alternative ways to store food.

Her inspiration for Abeego came from looking at traditional forms of preservation.

"Beeswax we poured on the top of canning jars to seal canned goods before we turned the lid on, in different cultures they've used hide covered in beeswax actually to bury meat in the ground over winter, so there were a lot of clues historically what we were doing for thousands of years to store food before plastic wrap was invented in the '50s."

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer and reporter with CBC Saskatoon, and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca