These Are the Biggest Mistakes That Cause Your Produce to Spoil

Food waste is a huge issue in America. According to one report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away 40% of food that’s grown and purchased in the United States (133 billion pounds annually). Only 48% of what’s grown actually makes it onto your plate and into your belly. Reducing that number by just a third would enable us to feed every hungry person in the whole country!

It gets worse: Our food waste comes at a cost — on average, a family of four throws away $2,275 worth of perfectly good food per year, mostly fresh produce. Think you aren’t part of the problem? Try weighing all the food you throw away for just one week. The results are sure to be eye opening!

But that doesn’t mean you should skip the fresh produce section and start living on preservative-heavy Twinkies. There are plenty of smart ways that you can extend the life of your produce and be smarter about what you buy, when you buy it, and how you store it.

Ahead, check out the biggest mistakes you’re making when shopping for fresh fruits and veggies (so you can avoid them in the future).

1. Shopping without a plan

woman holding a bag of fruit

It’s great that you’re buying all that produce, but are you really going to use it all? | Choreograph/iStock/Getty Images

You head to the grocery store without a list, planning to buy whatever looks good. You know that buying fresh fruits and vegetables is much healthier than stocking up on processed foods in the center aisles, so you fill your cart with all the colorful produce you can find.

The problem with this approach is that shopping without a plan is likely to end in a lot of unnecessary food spoilage. The colorful display of eggplants may entice you at the store, but if you have no eggplant-centric recipe planned for the week, it’ll likely just rot in the fridge and get thrown away later.

Even if you don’t stick with a strict meal plan, at least have a basic idea of what you’re going to do with each item you buy. Only purchase the produce you know with 100% certainty you’ll use in the upcoming days.

2. Stocking up for several weeks

lady shopping with a full filled cart in a supermarket

Stocking up makes it more likely that you forget what you have. | Freer Law/iStock/Getty Images

In America, shoppers are more likely to stock up for a week or longer when they’re at the grocery store. This habit leads to more product spoilage, since each purchase runs the risk of going bad as each day goes by.

The “European-style” approach to grocery shopping is quite different. In Europe, people are a lot more likely so visit the grocery store or market more frequently and only purchase what they plan on cooking for their next meal. The idea is to use up ingredients as you go, especially fresh produce.

It may seem like it takes more time, but since you’d only need to shop for a few items, you won’t need to spend hours in the store. Shopping for one or two meals at a time also reduces the risk falling for grocery store tactics that entice you to buy too much.

3. Washing produce immediately

Woman washing fruit

Moisture attracts mold. | LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images

It seems like a good idea to wash your produce right when you get home from shopping, but this common behavior could actually be contributing to premature ripening and food spoilage.

Mold thrives in moist environments, so washing your produce could cause fruits and vegetables to go bad faster. It’s much better to wash them right before you eat them.

4. Ignoring the moldy fruits

Moldy food

One moldy berry will infect them all if you don’t remove it. |

Ever hear the expression one rotten apple spoils the bunch? There’s a reason for it.

One moldy berry has a good chance of contaminating a bunch more. Be meticulous about checking your produce for rotten items to avoid ruining the good stuff.

5. Buying fruits and veggies out of season

Woman at the fruit and vegetable market

You’re better off with in-season produce if you want it to last. | guruXOOX/iStock/Getty Images

It’s wonderful that we can purchase strawberries all year long. But besides overpaying for out of season produce, you’re also more likely to wind up throwing it away.

That’s because out of season foods are typically shipped from other countries with different climates. The long distance the food has to travel contributes to its high rate of spoilage, as it’s been sitting on a truck for several days or even weeks. By the time the item makes it into your grocery cart, it isn’t nearly as fresh as the in-season produce sourced from local farms.

Try choosing fruits and vegetables that fit the season and buying local. That way, you’ll enjoy fresher, tastier, longer-lasting produce.

6. Storing certain fruits and veggies together

Refrigerator full of healthy food

Be careful what produce you leave next to each other. | Olesiabilkei/iStocks/Getty Images

There’s a right and wrong way to store your fruits and vegetables. Certain produce naturally releases something called ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process and causes sensitive fruits and veggies to go bad faster. Ethylene producing items include apricots, avocados, bananas, melons, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes.

The items that are most sensitive to ripening too quickly from ethylene exposure are apples, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, squash, and watermelons.

7. Cutting up your produce in advance

Save yourself the money and chop them yourself. | William87/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Meal prepping has become all the rage these days, which may inspire you to pre-chop your fruit salad or potatoes. Unfortunately, this behavior can cause your food to spoil quicker. Cut produce goes bad faster than whole fruits and veggies thanks to oxygen exposure.

Grocery store managers know how much you hate chopping veggies, which is why pre-chopped produce sales have been growing at such a staggering rate. But these convenience foods are a lot more expensive, and they’re just as likely to spoil faster as the stuff you chop at home yourself. Unless you really have no time or plan to use it the same day, pre-chopped produce is a real waste.

8. Hiding produce in the fridge

Open refrigerator full of fruits and vegetables

Keep things where you can see them. | AndrewRafalsky/Getty Images

Whether you tuck lettuce away in the crisper drawer or store your fresh berries in an opaque plastic container, keeping produce out of sight is one huge contributor to wasted food.

Try storing your fruits and vegetables in clear containers that you can easily spot. Another great tip is to keep a whiteboard on the front of the fridge listing all the items that are about to spoil so they get eaten first. Of course, having a plan for each and every item you buy and store helps to eliminate the problem, too.

9. Storing produce in the wrong part of the fridge


Know what should go where. | Fuzzbones0/iStock/Getty Images

Your fridge has different temperature zones that you should pay close attention to before you put away your produce.

You should store most fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers, which are specifically designed to keep them at the ideal temperature and moisture levels. And never store your produce in the door of the fridge, which is the warmest spot.

10. Not drying produce off thoroughly

food refrigerator

If you wash them, you have to dry them. | Totalpics/iStock/Getty Images

If you insist on rinsing your produce right when you get home from the grocery store, be sure to dry it off completely before putting it away. Damp conditions encourage mold growth, which will make your food spoil in no time and contribute to the problem of food waste.

11. Skipping the vinegar bath

Your berries will stay fresher longer after a vinegar bath. | iStock/Getty Images

Berries stay fresher for longer when you give them a quick vinegar bath before you put them in fridge. All you need to do is combine ½ cup of white vinegar with 2 ½ cups of water in a bowl and soak your berries for a few minutes. When you’re done, rinse and dry thoroughly before storing.

This won’t alter the taste of your delicious berries, but it will help prolong their lifespan!

12. Overstocking the fridge

Full fridge with fruit and veggies

You have to let your produce breathe. | Anna_Om/iStock/Getty Images

Jamming your fridge full of foods is a bad idea all around. The more crowded your fridge is, the more likely you are to forget about foods in the back. This tendency leads to higher instances of wasted food.

Also, poor air circulation could cause your fridge to heat up, which may also make fruits and veggies go bad faster. Keep your refrigerator organized and tidy to prevent all these negative outcomes.

13. Shopping at the grocery store

young woman at the market shopping

Easy access to fresh fruit you know is in season. | Michaelpuche/iStock/Getty Images

You just never know how long those sweet potatoes have been sitting around at the grocery store. So, to get the freshest produce possible, try planting a garden in your backyard.

No time or space? The next best thing is to find a local farm stand, join a CSA, or shop at your town’s farmers’ market. Then you won’t even have to think about buying what’s in season, because that’s the only produce they’ll have available. Plus, you’ll be doing your part to support local businesses.

14. Choosing finicky produce

Sliced avocado

You never know what you’re going to get. | MSPhotographic/iStock/Getty Images

Some produce naturally has a shorter shelf life (we’re looking at you, avocados).

To reduce food waste, be sure to select the fruits and vegetables that last the longest, like apples, cabbage, potatoes, and onions, to name a few. If you do purchase the fastest spoiling fruits, only buy a small amount that you plan to eat right away.

15. Not doing your research

A little planning can make a world of difference. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Preventing food waste is as easy as doing a bit of research and taking some extra steps in the kitchen where it makes sense. Like saving money? Reducing the amount of food you throw away helps you directly by saving you money on groceries. If you’re feeling stuck about where to start, look for recipe inspiration to use up the produce in your refrigerator. Quaker, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, just launched a More Taste, Less Waste campaign that has resources and recipe ideas to get you started.

On a larger scale, the less food you waste, the more you help to impact change. Hunger relief organizations such as Feeding America are working to reduce the amount of food waste and therefore help to end hunger in America. Last year, the Feeding America Network and their partners saved 2.8 billion pounds of food that would have otherwise been thrown away.