Can Science and Technology Help You Save Food Dollars?

bluappleOne of the missions of Shelf Life Advice is to help consumers get the best and most food for dollars spent.  Our site is loaded with tips on how to shop smart so you spend less and how to store food properly so it lasts longer.  (Links to these articles are at the end of this piece.)  But this article provides additional help from your computer, your smart phone, and new inventions that claim to fight food spoilage.  Let's see what's available and consider what really saves money and what doesn't.


New Gadgets for Food Storage


Do you need them?


Do you want your strawberries to last for weeks and your lettuce to forget how to wilt?  There are kitchen gadgets that supposedly accomplish these and other produce protective miracles. You can read about some of them on kitchen in an article entitled "13 Products That Extend the Life of Your Produce."  And I've found one more not mentioned in the article.  Before getting to the specific claims, let's consider some alternatives to buying more gadgets that will clutter up your kitchen drawers.


Every day, you probably hear claims that, by spending money on some product, you'll save money. More specifically, there are many items on the market claiming to keep your fresh produce fresh longer by protecting it from moisture, mold, and/or too-speedy ripening.  I'm not saying these items won't work (though some don't seem to).  But before you spend your supermarket dollars on such items, do a little research on Shelf Life Advice: read our article on ethylene gas, print out a copy of this ethylene chart, and read about traditional ways to store foods to lengthen shelf life. (See the list of links at the end of this article.)  If you're not sure how to store and wrap a particular product, put the product name and "storage" into the Shelf Life Advice search box, and you're likely to get an answer.  Maybe traditional methods will save your produce for as long as you need to.  Why does anyone need to keep fresh strawberries in pristine condition for 2 weeks?


Here's some good advice from one of our Advisory Board members, food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein: don't overbuy fresh produce. If you buy only what you know your family can consume in a reasonable amount of time (a few days for raspberries, a week at most for blueberries and lettuce), you won't need to spend money on some special product to lengthen shelf life.  Here's good advice from ShopSmart magazine:  "For the freshest produce, eat fruits and vegetables ASAP no matter how you store them." 


Dr. Regenstein also points out that frozen or canned produce is just as nutritious as the fresh products (possibly more so) and usually cheaper.  A recent New York Times article explains why: "Freshly picked fruits and vegetables typically do start with more vitamins and nutrients. But degradation occurs during shipping, and produce sold in many markets often sits on shelves or in storage for days before it reaches a shopper’s basket." If you're trying to save money, consider this: our family doesn't have to have fresh fruit every day.  Buy it when it's in season; that's when the price is lowest and the fruit is at its best. At other times of the year, try canned fruit with no sugar added.


Will these products really keep foods fresh longer?


Let's talk about some of the items for storing produce that you may be tempted to spend money on.  Suggestion: before buying one of these gadgets, read the reviews on the company website. Some comments give tips on how best to use the gadget to get the most benefit.  Some may tell you it didn't work or that there's a no-cost way to achieve the same produce-saving result. You could also check to see if Consumer Reports has any additional information about the item, or if there are any comments about it online.


We know of 7 products now on the market that claim to control ethylene.  "What's ethylene?" you ask? It's an invisible, odorless plant hormone that fruits and vegetables give off as they ripen.  Some foods are high ethylene producers; some are high ethylene responders, meaning that they easily absorb the gas. Some are both high producers and high responders, and others low for both.  If you consult the chart mentioned above, you can use ethylene to your advantage when you want to hasten ripening.  You can also protect foods from becoming overripe just by proper placement in your fridge, keeping the high producers away from the high responders.


Here are some products we've tried or read about that supposedly block ethylene. Several probably use the same or similar plant ingredients.


Debbie Meyer Green bags ($9.19 for 20): Years ago, these were easy to find in supermarkets and drugstores.  I haven't seen them lately.  They didn't do anything for my produce.  Some videos of tests on the product showed that they worked; some showed they didn't. They worked better on some fruits and vegetables than others.  Research this product a bit more before buying it.


Bluapple (shown in photo):  I found these blue plastic "apples" in Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought them to try for this article.  According to, this product contains a non-toxic active ingredient (sodium permanganate). One packet can absorb ethylene gas in a typical home refrigerator, produce bin or storage container for about three months. Maybe it did absorb some ethylene in my fridge, but my strawberries still got moldy within 2 weeks, so, even without abuse by ethylene, they still became inedible.


FreshPaper: It's supposed to inhibit bacterial growth, fungal growth and, perhaps, ethylene.  Consumer Reports and ShopSmart didn't give it high marks.  According to these publications, the product did stop mold from forming on strawberries though not on blueberries. However, says ShopSmart, "The sheets didn't have any effect on spoilage.  The berries went rotten at the same rate with and without the sheets.  So it's probably not worth shelling out the $6 for a box of eight sheets."  The article also points out that the product contains fenugreek (a spice in the legume family), so people with a peanut or soy allergy may want to avoid it. 

ExtraLife Produce Preserving Disk: This product (a 3-inch disk) contains a pouch with an ethylene-neutralizing ingredient. Amazon's price is $13.64 for a 3-pack.   


Produce Freshies Life Extending Produce Sachets:  It's claimed that these sachets absorb ethylene gases and odors as well as prevent mold.  Cost: $19.95.


Peak Fresh Reusable Bags:  The claim here is that they minimize ethylene and moisture. Price: $7.26 for a set of 10 from Amazon.


E.G.G (Ethylene Gas Guardian): As expected, this one is egg-shaped.  Price: $9.95.


Neither I nor the Consumer Reports researchers found the ethylene-absorbing products we tried very effective, but we didn't try all of them.  If you try any, please write us a comment about the results. Note: a scientific test of the product requires a control group.


Here are some other products that may work, but does anyone really need them?


Evrhiholder Tomato Saver: Believe it or not, this $9.95 item (on Amazon) is designed to protect your leftover half of a tomato!  On the other hand, you could just put it on a plate cut side down and eat it the next day. Wrapping loosely in plastic is another option.


Garlic Saver:  This item is a garlic-shaped ventilated container that helps your garlic last longer and stay together even after you've used a clove or two. Although Shelf Life Advice sources recommend using a garlic keeper, I never have.  I just keep my garlic in the door of the fridge, unwrapped. I admit to having an occasional problem with sprouting. However, my garlic doesn't spoil rapidly or come apart when some cloves have been used.  I've saved $7.99 by not buying this item.


Progressive International Lettuce Keeper:  It's designed to prevent wilting.  It has air vents, so it keeps lettuce crisp rather than water-logged. That's a commendable goal, but I keep my lettuce in a perforated plastic bag), and it does just fine unless my fridge gets too cold and freezes it.  See the Shelf Life Advice tips on how lettuce should be stored, and save $13.98.


The prices given above are not all from Amazon and may change. I've included them just to give a general idea of the cost.


More Ways to Stretch Food Dollars


  • Get free apps for the supermarkets you shop at regularly.  Then, before you shop, check the app for coupons, sales, and special deals.  Some stores give customers discounts on items they've bought before, perhaps a different brand of the same item. 
  • Be flexible in your meal planning.  If, when you're in the grocery store, you see a good sale on an item not on your list, consider making some substitutions.  
  • Don't use tea bags.  Buy loose tea.  It's much cheaper.
  • If you find yourself throwing out a lot of fresh herbs that you buy for one recipe and that spoil before you need them again, you can save some money by using fresh herbs and spices that come in a tube. These tubes can be frozen, so the product lasts for months.  Many supermarkets stock them, and you can also order them from the company that produces them.  To learn more, see this Shelf Life Advice article on Gourmet Garden.
  • ShopSmart points out that some restaurants charge customers different prices depending upon the time of day they're dining. The magazine gives this tip: "Make a reservation through for up to 40 percent off during off-peak hours."
  • If you're in the market for kitchen gadgets or appliances, ShopSmart advices that you compare prices on sites such as  Two additional pieces of advice from ShopSmart:


1) Check the store's policy on price-matching; perhaps you can get a refund if the price goes down within a certain time period.  2) Buy online when items are cheapest.  Prices tend to be at their lowest on Tuesdays and highest on Sundays. 


Here are some additional Shelf Life Advice articles with lots of money-saving food tips:


"From Purchase to Storage, Tips on Extending Shelf Life"


"Six Tips for Extending the Shelf Life of Foods"


"Supermarket Bargains You Can Find"


"Ethylene and Produce--Friends or Foes?"


"FAQs on Raw Fruits and Veggies"


If you find any of my tips off the mark, please let me know by adding your comment below.  We'd also like to hear about any methods you use to save money on food, kitchen equipment, and eating out.



Source(s):  "Really?  The Claim: Fresh Produce Have More Nutrients Than Canned" "Fruits and Vegetables - -Optimal Storage Conditions"


the "Bluapple Keeps Produce Fresh: A Fruitful Investment"


ShopSmart magazine, "WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH... Dynamic pricing," May 2013.


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science 



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