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Everyday Cheapskate: Let’s raise our PIQ (produce intelligence quota)

Psssst! Could you use an extra $300? You might want to take a look in your garbage.

A survey conducted by the Garbage Project and Glad, the food storage people, revealed that the average household throws away 150 pounds of rotten produce each year. At a conservative estimate of $2 a pound, each household is losing about $300 by tossing out produce that’s become more suitable for a biology project than human consumption.

In a survey of 1,000 households, Glad found that while 83 percent considered themselves knowledgeable about the best ways to store produce, only 32 percent knew the proper way to store apples; 38 percent the best way to store strawberries.

And so My Dear Readers, in an effort to raise our collective PIQ (produce intelligence quotient), what follows is a crash course in the proper care and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables.

General: Most fruits will ripen at room temperature. However, once ripe, they should be refrigerated. With few exceptions, do not wash fruits or vegetables before storing because washing hastens spoilage. Rather, wash just before eating.

Apples: Store in the refrigerator; do not overcrowd. Allow for good air circulation. Unwashed, will last at least 3 weeks.

Bananas: Store at room temperature, unbagged; suspended from a hook is ideal. Do not refrigerate. Once ripe, will last three to five days. Can freeze: Peel, slice and spread on cookie sheet. Once frozen, bag them.

Raspberries: Do not wash until ready to use. Store in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. For optimum length of life, arrange berries in a single layer. Will last for two to three days in the refrigerator, depending on how ripe they are.

Strawberries: Do not wash; do not remove stems. Store in a sealable bag. To achieve maximum freshness life, arrange strawberries in a single layer in a plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Will stay fresh for four to five days.

Grapes: Do not wash. Leave on stems and store in a zip-type bag in the refrigerator. Unwashed, will stay fresh for two to three weeks. Washed? One week if you’re lucky. Always wash just before eating.

Avocados: Ripen at room temperature on the counter, and then store in the refrigerator. Will stay fresh and wonderful for up to five days.

Lettuce: Here’s an exception to the washing rule: Wash well under cold running water. Drain well. Store in sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator (insert a paper towel in the bag to absorb moisture). Will remain fresh and crisp for 7-10 days.

Tomatoes: To ripen, store at room temperature, stem up and away from sunlight. Store in plastic sealable bag in the refrigerator. Will stay firm for up to a week once ripe.

Potatoes, dry onions: Never refrigerate. Store in a dark, cool space such as the closet or pantry. Require good air circulation. To get onions to last for a month or longer: Cut one leg from a clean pair of pantyhose. Drop an onion into the toe, tie a knot close to the onion. Drop in another. Repeat until filled. Hang from a nail in the pantry. Need an onion? Cut right below the lowest knot. Suspended with air circulation encourages long life for onions. Works well with garlic and potatoes too.

Would you like to send a tip to Mary?

You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. Include your first and last name and state.

Mary Hunt is founder of

To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


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