Kitchen Hacks

A Fridge Organizing Trick That Helps Keep My Greens Fresher, Longer

March  5, 2018

Once upon a sticky, ill-fated August day, we woke to find our refrigerator had given up the ghost. Everything in it that was salvageable went quickly into a big cooler borrowed from our landlords with a bag of ice while we waited for a new fridge to come.

When it did (the next day—thank you, thank you, wonderful landlords), we were so excited that we barely noticed until we reached for the cheese drawer that there wasn’t one—that there were no drawers at all, actually, save for the two lowermost crisper drawers.

This turned out to be a happy accident: Fewer drawers means fewer maddening, unreachable corners to clean crumbly broccoli florets from or lose a nubbin of cheese in—but the missing drawers also made me rethink how we organized our fridge and stored all of our food.

A few months ago, remembering how Tamar Adler writes in An Everlasting Meal that she stashes her greens in plastic tubs, I bought three smallish, plastic-lidded containers on a whim. They’re the kind you might have used to organize markers or stickers as a kid, clear, sturdy rectangles with a blue top—and they’re somehow the perfect environment for keeping greens perky and fresh, not too moist, not too dry. I’m not one for exaggeration, but they have changed everything. I use mine for greens, but you could use them for anything semi-fragile and/or prone to getting crushed or lost in the maze of the fridge: cheeses, stale ends of bread with a future as croutons, you name it.

Fresh, vibrant greens for days (weeks!). Photo by Caroline Lange

Kale, washed and torn from the stems and into bite-sized pieces and packed into the bin as soon as I get home from the grocery store, lasts for A MONTH, truly as good on the last day as on the first—and knowing that, I’ve kept up with the whole tearing process. Same for herbs: Off come the rubber bands or twist ties! Then I wrap each bunch in a paper towel and pack them away. I have had dill, which usually liquefies on me in a week, last three (!!!). I slap painter's-tape name tags onto the containers’ fronts to help me keep track of what I have—typically one container for kale, one for scallions, and one for soft herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill)—and when I bought it. Sturdier things (like kale or chard) I’ll wash and dry before I pack them up; more fragile things (herbs, arugula, buttery lettuces) I’ll wait to wash just before I use them.

The whole system has made it faster and easier to cook what I have. I can grab a handful of greens and throw it into whatever I'm making instead of getting sidetracked (or discouraged) by having to tear up the whole bunch. Nothing gets squished by a heavy bunch of carrots or a kohlrabi—those things still live in the crisper drawers. And I’ve made a dent in my gallon-sized plastic baggie habit (the baggies were gallon-sized, not the habit—though I was so reliant on the baggies for my previous herb storage that we might as well call that gallon-sized too). This makes me especially happy when whatever green it is does, as it inevitably someday will, go slimy—I can fish it out, rinse the bin, and dry it well, and fill it with fresh greens.

What's your trick for prolonging the life of your veg? Any tips for keeping basil happy? Tell us in the comments.

25 Comments

susan T. June 18, 2018
Pyrex makes a series of glass containers (w/BPA-free lids). They stack nicely (go for the rectangle shapes...save space compared to the round ones.) I've had cancer, so I'm more freaked out about plastics, etc., than the average person! My concern with the bins (described in the article) is that they were not intended for food storage, so the plastics, the dyes in the plastic, etc may not be safe for foodstuffs.
 
Nessaleah May 5, 2018
That fridge looks dirty! At least clean it before taking photos!
 
JANET C. March 15, 2018
Basil doesn’t like cold so keep it in a glass of water on the counter with a plastic tent over top. Change the water every day and tare off as you need. It continues to grow with this method.
 
Wallis P. March 14, 2018
Correct Janet. With our current antiScience govt. they are not going to tell everyone, that all water, and in our air, has micro plastics in it. All fish has plastics in their stomach, and plastics is killing just about everything in our oceans.
 
Janet March 13, 2018
Our homes should be NO PLASTIC ZONES. When you consider plastic is created from petroleum products it all makes perfect sense the kitchen is the first place to scrub free of the stuff. The accumulation of plastics in the environment (filling and leaching into waterways, fish are consuming plastic and we consume the fish) there are plenty of other ways to store food. Glass is the cleanest, is reusable/recyclable, and should be used as often as possible to save landfills.
 
Mara R. March 13, 2018
OK I am a bit confused here. I'm not sure who actually wrote this article since I thought it was Caroline Lange but my last query was answered by Mr. Logino. In any case, Mr. Logino, perhaps you are unaware of all the bad press on storing food in containers made with BPA? Just so you know, I do not plan to eat the containers, of course, but I don't want to eat food that has been contaminated by this poison, either. So now I have found and bought suitable BPA free containers and started to use this interesting storage method. My question now concerns the humidity factor. After washing, partially drying, and wrapping greens in a paper towel, I pop them in the container, close and pop it into fridge. Next day the paper towel is extremely damp. Is this what we want or should everything be dryer, change to new paper towels or dry the greens better before wrapping? I'm just not sure which benefits the longevity of the produce. I've never understood the purpose of the humidity slider on refrigerator drawers which allows the user to change from low to high. Is there a definitive answer on this subject? Thanks for any suggestions.
 
Wallis P. March 13, 2018
FYI, it took the EPA almost 10 years to ban BHP in plastics, so the plastic manufacturers replaced it with, I understand, a chemical worse than BHP, so will take another 10 years to ban it. Stick to glass containers.
 
Lisa March 13, 2018
I agree about the glass. However, I recently bought a new plastic bin by Rubbermaid called Fresh Works that is made specifically for storing greens. I washed a bunch of kale, shook the water off, tore them into pieces and placed them in the bin a few days ago. The kale is still fresh and is now dry.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. March 13, 2018
Re: glass: I generally choice, too! I couldn't find an affordable glass container large enough to hold a full bunch's worth of kale, though. (If anyone has suggestions, hit me with them!)<br /><br />Mara: I usually just lay a paper towel over the top of the greens. Unless it's totally soggy, I just leave it. For me, the point of the paper towel is just to absorb some of the water that lingers on the greens to help prevent soft spots. (But I think the damp paper towel is actually beneficial.) I hope this helps!
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. March 13, 2018
Whoops—*that's generally my choice
 
Mara R. March 13, 2018
Many thanks, Caroline, but I'm still not clear on this issue and I guess you aren't either. I just can't seem to get a definitive answer on whether the best way to extend the life of stored greens is to keep them dry or wet or in between. So I will buy a new bunch of kale tomorrow, wash it, divide it in half and store one moist and the other dry, in identical refrigerator conditions. I'll report back here when I see results.
 
Mara R. March 15, 2018
Is it bpa free?
 
Wallis P. March 11, 2018
Mine last for weeks with a whole lot less work. Rinse greens when you get home, shake off most of water, and then, I stand them up, like they grow, in a plastic bin., in the plastic bags I bought them in. But fold over top, to seal in moisture. Watch, they will continue to grow in the fridge. Laying them down, will promote decay. I learned from a chef, all veggies are still alive, until they start turning brown, they are dying.
 
Chip H. March 11, 2018
When I have too much dill or basil from my garden for immediate use, I simply put it in a ziplock bag, suck the air out and freeze it. It stays great for up to a couple of months that way and can extend your season nicely. It's not as wonderful as fresh herbs, but it does great in sauces, pesto, bread, things that you might have to revert to dried herbs for.
 
Lisa March 11, 2018
I always place a paper towel in with all my greens and vegetables too. Helps absorb any moisture and everything lasts longer. It’s a game changer.
 
Lisa March 11, 2018
Do you dry the kale after washing it and before you put it in the container?
 
Mara R. March 10, 2018
Where did you get the bins? How big are they? Are they food quality?
 
Shawn S. March 11, 2018
they look like shoe-box sized bins. I found three for four dollars at my local big volume hardware store, naming no names. You'll find them in dollar stores if you get there on the right day. <br /> No, they are not technically food quality, but you're not gonna eat them anyway :)
 
Dave &. March 9, 2018
Fantastic suggestions! We are big kale consumers, It breaks my heart when some go south - I'm all about preservation! One tip I have is for fresh parsley. I usually get the flat-leaf variety, but this also works on curly. I take the bunch, sans rubber binders, twist ties & whatnot, try to resize them so that there is a good sized stem & the leaves are all about the same height when bundled. Take a water glass, fill it half-way with fresh tap water, hold the bundle up to it to check where the stems may be all trimmed so that the leaves sit above the water, give them a good haircut, pop the bundle into the water glass, take a quart-sized zipper top storage bag, shake it open and carefully place over the leafy beauties so that none are bent over. Pull the bags' open end down around the glass & zip it closed. Place in the fridge. Yes, it's a little bouquet of greenery for your fridge - who knew? I change the water & trim ends each time I use the little darlings - sometimes moving them into a smaller juice glass. I've had parsley last this way for weeks!
 
tesssmalley March 9, 2018
I'm responding to this comment (which I'll definitely try!) instead of the article because it reminds me of what I do with basil. I don't put it in the fridge but also clean it up into a little bouquet and keep the greenery in a tall glass of water on a shelf above my kitchen counter. The basil stays fresh so much longer than in the fridge and I tend to use it more because it's in sight. It will even stay green and fresh long enough for the stems to sprout. When I see a leaf go brown I pinch it off and the bunch stays fresh until I use it up.
 
Dave &. March 11, 2018
I'm with you! I found that putting the basil in the fridge, like I did with the parsley, caused it to brown & wither. I love having greens on the counter! :)
 
CakeQueenCo March 6, 2018
Vaccum sealer! There are wonderful compact ones so doesn´t take up too much space. FoodSaver also has different vaccum sealable tupperwears (I´m trying those next). But its been a God-send. Making extra food and freezing, helps deter freezer burn and great for when traveling and making sure the family still eats well even when Mom is away :)
 
Ttrockwood March 6, 2018
Don’t take this the wrong way but thank you for showing a photo of your fridge that isn’t a curated fake composed thing like about every other fridge photo out there. <br />And i’m totally buying a box for my herbs tomorrow.
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. March 6, 2018
I’m totally with you! I love seeing what people really have in there. Thanks so much for reading!
 
Sarah E. March 5, 2018
I think you just changed my life.