Reducing Food Waste – The Ethylene Factor

by Lyne Desforges, Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Culinary Nutrition Expert

Sobering Statistics

I remember seeing an image on Facebook. It was a garbage truck that had this writing on it: Canada’s Most Popular Food Truck. It also explained that 58% of food produced in Canada gets thrown out.

Another statistic I came across was from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They estimate that between 30-40% of food is thrown out.

Food waste is preventable, and it is just a matter of better planning and a better understanding of how to store food properly. Everyone can do their part to help reduce this statistic. To help you understand this, we must delve into a little biology and chemistry.

Climacteric Foods vs Non-Climacteric Foods

Some foods will continue ripening after they are harvested. They are called “climacteric foods”. You can buy these even if they are not completely ripe and pursue the ripening process in your own home. I will explain further. Other foods should be picked at their full ripeness as they will not continue to ripen. These are your non-climacteric foods. Knowing which one is which will help in reducing food waste.

Here is a list of some common climacteric vs non-climacteric foods as compiled by Michigan State University.

Climacteric Foods
Non-Climacteric Foods
Apples Berries
Apricot Cherries
Avocado Citrus
Banana Cucumber
Cantaloupe Eggplant
Guava Figs
Mango Grapes
Nectarine Olives
Papaya Peppers
Passion Fruit Pomegranate
Peach Summer Squash
Pear Watermelon

Ethylene – a Natural Gas-Emitting Hormone

Ethylene is a natural plant hormone that is released as the fruit ripens. Some fruits and vegetables are high producers of ethylene while other are very sensitive to ethylene gases. In general, you would want to store ethylene producers away from ethylene sensitive foods, unless you want to encourage a certain fruit or vegetable to ripen faster.

Here are some of the effects of too much ethylene gas on produce: decay, russet spotting, yellowing, odour, wilting, loss of crunch, and rind breakdown.

Use our handy list to help you store your food properly. This list was compiled using information from the following sources: Good Food Cooking School, UC San Diego School of Medicine, Bry-Air, and CoolerKing.

Medium-High Ethylene Producers
 Medium-High Ethylene Sensitive
Apples Apples
Apricots Apricots
Avocados Asparagus
Bananas Avocados
Cantaloupe Banana
Figs Brussel Sprouts
Mangos Cantaloupe
Melon Citrus Fruits
Nectarine Cucumbers
Papaya Eggplant
Passion Fruit Kiwi
Peaches Lettuce
Pears Mangos
Plums Melons
Prunes Nectarines
Tomatoes Papaya
Passion Fruit
Low Ethylene Sensitivity
Berries Potatoes
Cherries Prunes
Grapes Tomatoes
Onion, Garlic Watermelon


Note: You will notice that many fruits and vegetables appear on both lists. That is normal and explains why some of these are picked before they are ripe as they will continue to ripen over time.

How to Speed Up Ripening

Ever needed an avocado for a recipe and all you can find in the grocery store is hard green ones? Avocados are climacteric fruits and will continue ripening after being picked. They are both an ethylene producer and ethylene sensitive.

The best way to speed up the ripening is to place the avocado in a paper bag. Add a ripe banana or any other ethylene producers in the bag. The banana will produce ethylene and help the ripening. You can also put ethylene producers together in a fruit bowl to speed up the ripening of each one.

The Bottom Line

Do not store fruits and vegetables that are high ethylene-producers with those that are very ethylene-sensitive. Avoid putting high ethylene-producers in bags or sealed containers, unless you want to speed up the ripening process. Ripening will slow down in a cool place so store produce in the fridge if you want to slow down the ripening of certain fruits and vegetables. Conversely, the warmer the environment, the quicker the ripening will happen.

By consciously storing your fruits and vegetables, you will avoid food waste and enjoy your fruits and vegetables at their best.

Planning and Storing

Storing food properly is only part of the battle against food waste. You want to ensure you only buy what you need in the first place. And that takes planning. Taking an hour every week to plan your meals is so important when it comes to reducing food waste and eating healthy. It will also take the stress out of trying to figure out “What’s For Dinner”.

Need Help?

If meal planning seems daunting, why not try one of our ready-made therapeutic meal plans. You can also contact me and I will be happy to give you some tips on how to get started.