Why Fruit Rots in the Fruit Bowl (and how to stop it)

Fruit Storage - The Secret Shenanigans in the Fruit Bowl
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Ever wonder why the fruit you bought just a few days ago has gone bad so fast? The answer may involve your fruit storage habits.

Not all fruits get along. Some fruit has it out for the other produce in your fruit bowl or refrigerator crisper. The problem produce are those that release ethylene gas.

Ethylene is a plant hormone that regulates the ripening of fruit, signals flowers to open, and controls the shedding of leaves. In high concentrations it can act as an anesthetic in animals and humans, but plants can react to very small levels of the gas. Some produce tends to release more ethylene gas than others, and these fruits should be separated from the rest of your produce.

In nature, it is beneficial for a fruit tree to have all of its fruit ripen at about the same time. This increases the chances that some of the plant’s fruit survives the birds and squirrels to form a new tree. Fruits that release ethylene gas signal other fruit on the same tree to ripen so that most of a tree’s fruit reaches ripeness around the same time. However, in the kitchen, the problem is that an avocado can cause accelerated ripening, and even spoilage, of other produce like tomatoes.

While we can use this knowledge to our benefit to encourage ripening of some produce by putting certain fruits and vegetables together, prolonged exposure can cause spoilage and molding. In fact, it is ethylene gas behind the old adage, “One bad apple spoiled the bunch.”

Fruits and Veggies That Produce Significant Ethylene Gas

Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, figs, guavas, grapes, green onions, honeydew, ripe kiwi fruit, mangoes, melons, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, peppers, persimmons, pineapple, plantains, plums, and ripe tomatoes.

Produce That Is Very Sensitive to Ethylene Gas

Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, leafy greens (like spinach, kale, romaine, and lettuce), parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and yams.

Fruits and vegetables tend to make more ethylene as they ripen, but refrigeration helps slow the production of ethylene. Try to separate the sensitive produce from the ethylene producers to make your produce last. Also, try to eat the ripest fruit first, and refrigerate produce once it is ripe.

One final tip: Keep your houseplants and cut flowers away from ripening fruit. The ethylene gas acts as a hormone that can shorten the life of your floral arrangements and damage your countertop herb garden.

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