How I Salvage Produce That’s Past Its Prime

posted by Andrea | 10/23/2012

Whenever I walk into the grocery store, the very first place I go is to the discount produce racks. Sometimes, they are completely empty, but most of the time they are FILLED with produce that is just a day or so past the store’s sell-by date.

This produce is most certainly still edible… and it’s usually 50% – 75% off regular price produce.

Some examples of deals I’ve gotten lately:

  • strawberries for $0.30 – $0.50 per pound
  • bags of multi-colored peppers for $1 per bag (usually with 3-6 peppers per bag)
  • 10-lb. bag of potatoes for $0.89
  • blueberries and raspberries for $0.20 per pint
  • bananas for $0.20 per pound
  • broccoli and cauliflower for $.049 per head

And this time of year, I’ve also seen discounted “seconds” (produce that might have a few bruises or be mis-shaped, small, etc.) at orchards and other farmer’s markets for drastically reduced prices.

I save SO much money buying discounted produce, and none of it ever goes to waste. We eat as much as we can fresh, and then I “salvage” the rest.

Here are a few ways I salvage produce that’s a little past its prime…

Berries:

We have bags of discounted berries in our freezer (all washed, sliced, and ready to go). We use blueberries for pancakes and muffins, raspberries for bread, and all the berries for my super simple Any-Fruit Smoothies, shortcake, jam, or just for ice-cream toppings!

I also freeze chopped rhubarb and cherries in 2-cup containers for breads, muffins, and jam.

Bananas:

I freeze my bananas AFTER I peal them in groups of 4, because that’s what my recipes for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins and Frosted Banana Bars call for.

This way, I can simply defrost one container (or bag) of 4 and I don’t need to touch them once they defrost and are all slimy and black!

Apples:

Simply cook any bruised or mushy apples to make apple sauce. You can eat it as-is, freeze for later, or use it for baking in place of oil.

Another yummy idea for not-so-hot apples is apple butter (which also makes a fabulous Christmas gift.)

Peppers:

I don’t think I’ve ever paid full price for peppers in my entire life — they are SO expensive! Just last week, I got 10 huge peppers (yellow, orange, green, and red) for a grand total of $2.10. They were all still nice and crunchy and we ate 4 of them on salads or raw all last week.

However, I chopped up the other 6 and put them in a large freezer bag. I flash-froze them on a cookie sheet so they wouldn’t stick together, and now I can simply grab out a handful for omelet’s, casseroles, soups, or stir-fry.

I  mix all the colors together, but you could separate them out if you want. Also, I will sometimes keep one bag of sliced peppers and another bag of finely chopped peppers for use in different recipes.

Carrots, Onions, and Celery:

I know none of these vegetables are expensive, but I still hate to waste them. So if I see that my carrots, onions, or celery is starting to look a little “old”, I quickly chop up whatever is left in my refrigerator and put them in gallon freezer bags. I lay the bags flat so I can easily break off whatever I need for soups, stews, casseroles, etc.

Potatoes:

So normally, I would say that potatoes don’t freeze very well (like in soups or casseroles)… however, I’ve tried chopping and shredding my own potatoes and they actually work OK in the freezer.

I don’t do this very often because potatoes have such a long shelf life, but there have been a few occasions when I’ve salvaged the last of my potatoes by tossing them in the freezer!

Zucchini and Squash:

I’ve been freezing zucchini and squash for many years. I shred it all in my food processor and freeze it in 2-cup portions (see below) for breads, cakes, muffins, etc.

Spinach:

We eat lots of fresh spinach salads… so we usually don’t have a problem finishing the bag before it goes bad, but there have been times when all of a sudden, I realize the spinach looks a bit slimy. Whenever that happens, I put the entire bag straight into the freezer. Once it’s frozen, I remove the spinach, chop it up, and freeze it in 2 cup portions. Then I use the chopped spinach in lasagna, soups, quiche, or other casseroles.

As you can see, we rarely ever throw out any produce in our house. In my opinion, unless it’s completely moldy, there is probably some way I can salvage it!

Do you have any other other great tips for salvaging produce?

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31 comments

  1. Paulette

    10/23/2012

    Andrea, you never fail to inspire me. Thanks so much for your tips!

    [Reply]

  2. Shannon

    10/23/2012

    I have a question regarding freezing strawberries (since I’ve never done it before) – after you wash them, do you let them dry before freezing them or can you put them into the freezer while they’re wet or damp?

    [Reply]

    Wendy Reply:

    I just pat them dry – they are not absolutely dry like from the store. I usually freeze them whole as I use them in smoothies. But I dry them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then put them in ziploc baggies so I can take out as much as I need without having to deal with a solid clump. :) Depending on what you want to use them for, I am not sure it matters if they are still wet or not.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I don’t let them dry… I just try to freeze them flat so they don’t all clump together. It’s worked for me so far!

    [Reply]

  3. Katie

    10/23/2012

    Wow – This is super helpful! I always just say that old produce is extra goodness for the compost pile :)

    [Reply]

  4. JD

    10/23/2012

    Do you make raspberry bread? I checked your recipes and I don’t find it listed.

    [Reply]

  5. monica good

    10/23/2012

    I do the very same, Andrea. I use oranges that are discounted for sauces as well as an acid for dressings, etc.
    Cucumbers, green tomatoes, onions, they can all be “quick pickled” as well. You can make a quick side dish this way.

    Here is another hint. I take qt size containers or bags, and place peels, ends, etc in that, I freeze them. Then I make veggie stock out of those, adding bay leaf, peppercorns, salt, and spices. Then I have broth for soups, stews, and liquids needed for cooking. After the broth is made, don’t throw them out, compost them! The point is to use what we have to its absolute fullest! Mushrooms can be done the same way too.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Monica — I often make my own broth too so I’ll have to start saving my peels and such.

    [Reply]

  6. Laura

    10/23/2012

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for all these great ideas.
    One question, do you buy organic veggies and fruits because I needn’t notice those ever going on sale. There’s a list of the top ten produce items that they recommend you buy organic because of all the heavy pesticide use and fertilizers that are found on them, I ave a hard time saving any money in the produce section because of buying organic. Anyone else spend a lot on organic produce?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Laura, I don’t go out of my way to buy organic — only if it’s on sale or on the discounted rack. Otherwise I just by “regular” produce and wash it.

    [Reply]

    Erin Reply:

    Laura – our family owns a produce company and I can tell you that anything bought in a store labeled organic or not has had some type of pesticide used on it (the USDA requires it, if it will be sold in a grocery store, this does not apply to farmer’s markets). The main difference in buying organic and regular produce is how much it has been washed. So I would recommend saving your money and buying regular fruits/veggies and either peeling, soaking, or washing your produce with soap and water.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    Erin,

    Actually this isn’t quite true. For a product sold any where, grocery store or farmers market to be labeled USDA organic it must be at least 95% organic. Here’s a link to a USDA website that explains it in more detail.

    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446

    Unfortunately pesticides can’t just be washed off. They become part of the plant as it grows and therefore part of the fruit or veggie that it produces. Some items like apples have more than others so are worth buying organic. Others don’t have much residual pesticides and can be purchased for the best price without concern. If you do a search for Dirty Dozen you can find a quick shoppers guide that will give you a list of the worst offenders.

    [Reply]

  7. Maria

    10/23/2012

    Thank you for the great ideas! I use silicone baking cups to freeze 1 cup portions of apple sauce, shredded zucchini…
    Also if you chop you bananas before you freeze them, you can make banana “ice cream”. Just place frozen chunks in a food processor and let ‘er go. Nora would Love it! :-)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ooooo… I like that idea of freezing it in muffin cups. I might just have to try that!

    [Reply]

  8. Evie

    10/23/2012

    Thanks for some ideas I haven’t thought of before, Andrea! My best long-used idea is to peel and slice the over ripe bananas into gallon bags, shake the bags to even them out, and freeze them flat. Then I can break off a hunk to put on a dish of oatmeal, tput the dish in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, and have pleasingly cold bananas on top of the hot oatmeal. I can buy wrapped packs of 9 or 10 over ripe bananas for $0.50 or so. It’s simple, cheap and yummy!

    [Reply]

  9. Katie

    10/23/2012

    Great post! Thank you for all the tips!

    [Reply]

  10. susie

    10/23/2012

    one more tip… I bake a big batch of potatos when i am making baked potatos, then I shread them to make hash browns for breakfast or a quick meal! If we leftovers I then trow them in the freezer. I did most of the other things except the spinach… thanks for the tip!

    [Reply]

  11. Christine Somers

    10/23/2012

    This is a hot button for me at my house. We waste so much food. Everything from left overs from restaurants to the produce that we just don’t seem to use up. You have motivate me to once again work to get this under control. Obviously, freezing produce BEFORE it has lost it’s freshness is a smarter move than tossing it.
    Thanks for the tips!

    [Reply]

  12. Truffles Magazine

    10/23/2012

    Hi Andrea,

    Another quick tip that works is as soon as you buy produce rinse it with 10 parts water and 1 part Organic Apple Cider Vinegar – don’t worry this will not alter the taste of the produce but it cleans it and can preserve it longer (I use this method with strawberries a lot) and they keep in my fridge much better. I usually just use 10 tbsp of water to 1 tbsp of ACV, there is something in the ACV that prohibits / delays the growth of mold.

    [Reply]

  13. Nicki

    10/23/2012

    Apples can be sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon and/or brown sugar and dehydrated for kid-friendly snacks. You can do the same for bananas. Strawberries can also be dehydrated for future use for cereals, oatmeal, pancakes, etc. When the center of the celery stalks are left and getting a little limp, I chop the celery into one inch pieces and dehydrate thoroughly. I grind the dried celery in the coffee grinder…I now have celery salt to use as seasoning. Leftover zucchini can be sliced and seasoned with various seasoning and dehydrated for fantastic chips.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow Nicki, sounds like you love your dehydrator :)

    That’s one appliance that I don’t have, but you may have persuaded me to put it on my Christmas list! I especially love your celery salt idea…

    [Reply]

  14. Thrifty Mom in Boise

    10/23/2012

    I hit the bargain bins at my store too. I do a lot of the same things when I have more than we can eat before it spoils. Sure wish there was a way to preserve lettuce. :)

    [Reply]

  15. Keeley

    10/23/2012

    I have not been to grocery stores that sell older produce. I will have to ask the stores what they do with less than perfect food. Veggies and fruit are as expensive for us as meat. We often buy produce at warehouse clubs – these tips will help us not waste any.

    [Reply]

  16. PW

    10/23/2012

    I took off work today to start tearing out my garden, ended up with 3 big green peppers and lots of other things. I made stuffed green peppers in my pressure cooker, made a roast in my crock pot,and steamed odds and ends of vegetables, and made beef stroganoff–no sour cream added yet, and froze everything. have enough meals frozen now from our garden to get us thru Thanksgiving. I also have in my freezer my “garbage” pail, and in that I dump any left over green beans, corn, anything left over from a meal, a few tablespoons of this and that, any odds and ends of ketsup etc Then when I make soup I dump my garbage pail into the soup the last 20 min. Free meal because the soup is my own stock from a cooked chicken or beef. For the stuffed green peppers I had a few tab of corn left from the summer about a 1/2 cup black beans, etc and threw all that in with the ground beef and rice. And odds ends of chives, from garden, it was so so delicious we split a big one for dinner and I froze 2. Because I work by the time I get to the store all the discount food is long gone. But I have shopped with my sister and she does that and gets great deals.

    I don’t use coupons, no time and we try to buy organic so that makes our food bills expensive. However cheaper then going out to eat.

    Made tomatoe soup with odds and ends of tomatoes from our garden. I am cheap.

    All my food is stored in my freezer in color coded plastic bins and then I keep a feezer inventory and make my weekly menu up from the inventory. Saves a lot of time and money, because on my way home from work I never stop for takeout, our freezer provides that for us.

    [Reply]

  17. Liz

    10/24/2012

    Great tips. Although I have no problem with the reduced bakery, meat and dairy sections…I’ve always been a little squeamish when it comes to the produce. This has definitely changed my attitude!

    One good tip for potatoes…when they’re starting to go south, I make them into mashed potatoes and freeze them in single serve portions. Then you can just pop it in the microwave with a touch of butter. Heat, Stir well and serve. Also great to use on top of casseroles instead of a pie crust.

    [Reply]

  18. monica

    11/08/2012

    Andrea and friends…..check your markets for reduced priced pumpkins. I picked up huge pumpkins this afternoon for $1.00 each! Pies and pumpkin fries here I come!

    [Reply]

  19. Ways to save $$ « Beyond the White Dress

    11/28/2012

    [...] 7. Do not waste produce that is a bit past its prime. [...]

  20. Amanda

    01/03/2013

    In AZ, we have a program called Market on the Move. They pick up the produce that stores won’t accept from distributors because it is misshapen, the wrong color, etc. Then, they set up farmers market style events where people can donate $10 to receive up to 60lbs of produce.

    I already stock up on peppers and berries when they are on sale, but have never been too sure about other items. Thank you for all your tips on freezing (especially your veggie freezing chart). It will get a lot of use in this house!

    [Reply]

  21. Sarah

    01/10/2013

    A lot of the time a few items or areas of the items are starting to get a little fuzzy with mold or other things…can you just cut that bit off and use the rest or is it better to toss the whole item once mold is involved?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sarah, I’d say “it depends”. If there isn’t much mold AND you are going to be cooking the veggies (like in soup or something) then I’d say go for it. If there is a lot of mold, I’d probably just toss them. The idea is that you’d hopefully catch the produce BEFORE it gets moldy and salvage it at that point so it doesn’t get wasted!

    [Reply]

  22. Laura @ porch&table

    04/03/2014

    The tip about peeling bananas first is SO obvious, but I recently realized it… Huge time saver!

    I always walk by the rack that has the produce that’s nearly out the door, and always wonder “What can I make with this!?” I think i’m going to try this out, and really get going.

    [Reply]