Cambro’s Food Storage Tips
Storing fruits and vegetables correctly in your walk-in cooler can extend their shelf life while also improving the taste and appearance of the product you serve to customers. On the Freshness Contained microsite, the equipment specialists at Cambro Manufacturing, a leading provider of plastic food storage pans, break down some of the most important factors to consider when choosing produce storage containers.
Cambro’s microsite lists some of the most popular produce and some storage tips for each item, including the recommended temperature and humidity levels. It also covers the ideal storage location based on the walk-in cooler fan location and the effects of ethylene gas production. We spoke with Tania Nelson, director of marketing communications at Cambro, to learn more about walk-in cooler storage and how it can maximize the lifespan of produce.
How Walk-in Cooler Conditions Affect Produce
Proper produce storage has benefits for “any foodservice operator who serves fresh produce,” Nelson says. “When it comes down to it, storing produce properly saves money, reduces food waste, and improves customer satisfaction.”
Operators should consider the ideal temperature and humidity range for the products they’re storing since it has a large effect on produce.
“Typically, heat and [humidity] rise,” Nelson says. “So, you want to keep food in the right section.”
Certain areas of a walk-in cooler are warmer than others, like the areas near the door, while the back stays the coolest. Operators can map out a storage plan based on temperature and adjust it to account for other factors.
The blower location and its significance in the walk-in cooler is important because it moves ethylene gas around the unit. As noted on the Freshness Contained microsite, “Ethylene gas is one of the most active plant hormones. Most fruit and vegetables generate ethylene.” Since the gas is required for the ripening process, this is a good thing, but it can damage certain produce, like peppers, cabbage, and broccoli.
The microsite also mentions that the blower can dehydrate produce stored near it if those items aren’t covered by a lid, while other products are damaged by too much moisture in the air.
“At too much humidity, [some produce] starts to break down, so it does start to cause that degradation of the product,” says Nelson. “[If] fleshier fruits like strawberries, peaches, and blueberries are exposed to too much moisture, those are going to go bad more quickly.”
When picking out storage locations for produce, you should also consider odors. Some fruits and vegetables generate odors that can be absorbed by other types of produce, so it’s important to keep these items separate.
Choosing Cambro Food Storage Boxes Based on Produce
When it comes to storing fruits and vegetables, there are many shapes, sizes, and materials to choose from. Cambro offers round, square, and standard-shaped food storage containers ranging from ninth-size to full-size and are made of clear polycarbonate, translucent polypropylene, or white polyethylene. On the Freshness Contained microsite, the pans are chosen based on research done from customers’ and industry partners’ input, but there are many factors to consider when choosing a Cambro food storage container.
“Capacity is a factor, but then natural humidity and the physical structure and shape of the food also play a role in the type of container we recommend,” Nelson says.
For example, since blueberries require good air circulation, Nelson suggests that they not be stored in a deep pan.
“We recommend keeping them in more of a shallow pan in just a few layers, so that air is able to circulate around the berries.”
Nelson also specifically mentions strawberries because they have a short shelf life. The best practice for this fruit includes “[storing them] in a smaller, clear container that the operator can actually see through.” This enables chefs to see and monitor the product’s condition and use or freeze the berries right away if they’re getting too ripe.
“Leafy greens like arugula stay really fresh for a longer period of time when they’re stored in a colander pan with the deeper pan below it,” says Nelson. “Then, you put a quarter inch or so of water in that pan beneath the colander to keep the right level of humidity in the arugula, so it stays nice for up to or over a week.”
An alternative to colander pans is the drain shelf.
“The drain shelf is a single flat shelf that sits down in the bottom of the pan, and it doesn’t lift the food out quite as far [as a colander pan],” says Nelson. “Also, when you’re draining it, [the colander] is a full pan, so you can actually lift all of the food out of the container, and then drain out any water that is beneath without actually having to handle the food.”
Ripeness and Reducing Food Waste
To further reduce food waste, it’s important for the operator to monitor produce for freshness.
“Ripeness affects how long you can serve it, what it tastes like, and what it looks like; appearance is a very important thing these days with people taking pictures of their food,” says Nelson. “And of course, the riper the food, the shorter the shelf life. So, when it starts to ripen, you really need to use it at an optimal time. I think that varies by the food and sometimes it comes down to the preferences of the person who’s eating it. If it gets too ripe, you’re not going to be able to use it or you’re going to have to use it in a way that the appearance isn’t important.”
Cambro offers solutions to help operators and staff members create a first in, first out (FIFO) system based on ripeness to keep up with produce freshness.
“We recommend using food rotation labels, like our StoreSafe labels,” says Nelson. “With those, you’re able to label the date that the product was put into the walk-in and the date that it needs to come out. With so many personnel working in foodservice, you’ve got so many people coming in and out and that way everybody knows exactly when it went in and to use that first.”