The Ethylene Effect: Tips for Fresh Produce Year-Round

May 17, 2024

There’s nothing more frustrating than discovering brown spots on the bananas you bought yesterday or reaching for an onion in your pantry only to find green sprouts that appeared overnight. Fortunately, there is a simple explanation and an even simpler solution!

Certain types of fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas, classifying them as “climacteric.” These foods ripen quickly and continue to ripen after they've been harvested. In contrast, foods like leafy vegetables, root vegetables, citrus fruits, and berries are classified as “non-climacteric,” meaning their ripening process stops once they've been harvested.

Ethylene gas naturally speeds up the ripening process of certain nearby produce items. We have ethylene to thank for our year-round access to ripe avocados and bananas, as these items are often harvested before they ripen and allowed to mature in controlled conditions. However, items like asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplants, green beans, kale, lettuce and other greens, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon are ethylene-sensitive and will ripen much faster in the presence of ethylene.

It’s important to store any ethylene-sensitive items away from climacteric foods, as their natural ethylene production will cause neighboring produce to ripen more quickly than you’d like. It’s also wise to avoid storing climacteric foods in airtight containers to prevent ethylene from being trapped and accelerating the ripening process.

With this in mind, it might be time to rethink that fruit basket on your kitchen table or the mixed produce in your pantry. While you don’t need a separate closet for climacteric foods, it is a good idea to store these items as far away from others as possible, including in the produce drawer of your fridge.

Interested in learning more food waste prevention tips? Sign up for one of our free Community Waste Prevention classes HERE!

Author: Emily Menshew, Team Member