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COVID-19 Prep 101: How People with Arthritis Should Store Fruits and Vegetables

In times when our household budgets are tightening due to the pandemic, we need to be mindful of food waste, especially of fruits and vegetables. When we have a rheumatic condition and taking immunosuppressants, we are likely avoiding crowds and trying to limit how many times we go to the grocery store. What if I told you I can help you limit your visits to the grocery store and save money by simple storing techniques?

Knowing how to store fruits and vegetables, can go a long way. It allows you to buy the food you need and extend its shelf life! Typically, meat, poultry, fish and seafood products are stored in the freezer to use for later purposes. Bread can also be put in the freezer or stored in a breadbox to preserve its current state. And usually cheese is wrapped in wax paper or plastic wrap then stored in the refrigerator to keep it from getting moldy. But what about fruits and vegetables?

How Can I Extend the Shelf Life of Fruits and Vegetables?

Don’t be afraid that your fruits and vegetables will spoil! Here are some tips to make sure they last as long as possible:

Prep Items to consider:

  • Crisper drawer

  • Plastic bags with vents

  • Tall glass

  • Vinegar

  • Arthritis-friendly storage containers*

  • Paper towel

  • Knife with a large and angled handle (if possible)

  • Cutting board (dedicated to fruits and veggies)

  • Pot to boil water with

  • Glass jar

  • Adjustable jar opener or anti-slip rubber pads

* Glass containers are ideal for storage, but they can be heavy and more challenging to handle when you live with arthritis. Make sure to look for BPA-free (Bisphenol A) storage containers, specifically for storing foods. Be aware that containers used for storing non-food items may still contain BPA.

What to Store Inside your Fridge?

Check that your fridge is set to 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer is set to -18 °C (-0.4 °F) or lower. Here are the fruits and vegetables that should be stored in the fridge:

  • Use a crisper drawer in your fridge to place your fruits and vegetables in (this drawer to keep the freshness).

  • Use plastic bags with vents to store fruits like grapes or cherries.

  • Keep fruits such as, apples, pears and plums in the fridge as they will not soften quickly (hard to resist when you have a kitchen table with a fruit bowl)!

  • Use a tall glass with cold water to stand asparagus and celery (this keeps them from wilting).

  • Wash berries such as, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries in a one-part vinegar and three-part water solution before putting them in the fridge (don’t worry you won’t taste the vinegar if you put the correct parts)!

  • Rinse leafy greens like lettuce, spinach or kale, wrap them in a paper towel and refrigerate them in an arthritis-friendly storage container or a plastic bag.

What to Store Outside your Fridge?

  • Keep root vegetables like, potatoes, in a cool and dry place like

a cupboard or cellar.

  • Keep onions and garlic in a well-ventilated area.

  • Keep tomatoes and bananas out of the fridge and away from direct sunlight.

  • Keep bananas and plantains away from other fruits to prevent them from being overripe.

Remember, it is wise to buy fruits and vegetables that naturally have a longer shelf life such as onions, apples, potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, squash, lemons and celery!

Also, freezing is an easy and quick way to make sure your fruits and vegetables last longer. Not only is the shelf life extended but the nutrients are preserved too. You will also save money because frozen fruits and vegetables can last up to one year!

If you are going to freeze your own fruits and vegetables at home please note it is not recommended to freeze artichokes, Belgian endive, eggplant, lettuce greens, potatoes, radishes, sprouts and sweet potatoes. Other than that, any other fruit or vegetable can be used. Most vegetables need to be blanched first.

Blanching consists of boiling whole or pieces of vegetables for 1-2 minutes and then putting it in cold water to stop cooking right away. If you are cutting the vegetable into pieces, use a knife with a large, angled handle- this puts less strain on your joints because it is easier to grip. For fruit, all you have to do is cut up pieces and store them in a sealed plastic bag or an arthritis-friendly storage container. If you are using a glass jar to store your frozen fruit or vegetables get a jar key to remove the lid- this allows you to use less force.

You can also buy frozen fruit such as strawberries, mangos, pineapples, peaches etc. and vegetables such as peas, corn, carrots, broccoli etc. at any grocery store. This can save you some time and energy from cutting, blanching and freezing each fruit and vegetable. If you’re experiencing a bad flare up that day, already frozen fruits and vegetables can be used to make an easy go-to snack or meal. Throw a frozen banana and some berries in the blender to make a delicious smoothie for breakfast- simple and fast but also filled with antioxidants from the berries!

It is also important to know how to organize your fridge in order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from raw foods to ready-to-eat foods (like your fruits and vegetables that you just worked so hard on to preserve). Health Canada has created guidelines on how to properly do this for people with a weakened immune system. You can also check my post on food safety tips here.

How Should I Organize my Fridge?

Make sure your perishable food never reaches between 4 °C to 60 °C (40 °F to 140 °F) because this is the temperature range in which bacteria can grow fast! Here are some other tips:

  • Put raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in plastic bags or a sealed arthritis-friendly storage container on the BOTTOM of your fridge (this is to ensure no juices from the raw products go onto to other food).

  • Freeze raw meat, poultry, seafood and fish if you do not plan to use it 2 to 4 days after purchasing it.

  • Use crisper drawers in your fridge to store fruits, vegetables and herbs.

  • Use the middle shelf to store dairy products like egg, milk, yogurt and cheese.

  • Store leftovers, cold cuts, sandwich bread and spreads like, hummus at the top shelf.

  • Store the condiments, pickled vegetables, dressings and other beverages like juice cartons or water bottles in the fridge door.

I hope these useful tips can ease your stress and anxiety during these times of uncertainty. Knowing how to properly store your food can be a real-lifetime and money saver. Remember to continue to practice social distancing and to wash your hands consistently. Stay healthy and safe!

Special thanks to Emily Malfara, 3rd-year nutrition student at Ryerson University who assisted with the research for this post.


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