Savvy Consumers Can Sniff Out Odor-Absorbing Produce

February 19, 1998

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Ever crunched a carrot or munched an apple that tasted slightly different than normal? Chances are your taste buds raised a big stink about odors absorbed from other foods stored in close proximity.

Many fruits and vegetables tend to cause off-flavors and aromas in meat, dairy products and other fruits and vegetables, says Peter Ferretti, professor of vegetable crops in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"The closer and more enclosed the fresh produce is, the more chance for odors to intermix," Ferretti says. "In an enclosed area like a refrigerator, odors can really be a problem. Consumers shouldn't experience startling taste changes three or four days after purchase, but beyond that you might have problems with off tastes."

Kathleen Brown, associate professor of post-harvest physiology at Penn State, suggests consumers try to rotate their produce purchases, using the oldest fruits and vegetables first so food items are not stored longer than a week to 10 days.

Ferretti also warns that odors are more likely to be absorbed at higher temperatures, which means consumers should not intermingle refrigerated fruits and vegetables with produce that is commonly stored at or slightly below room temperature, such as apples and onions.

Ferretti says that not every consumer will notice a difference in taste. "Taste is a genetic trait," he explains. "Some people can sharply define tastes, and others have more bland taste ranges. Our sense of smell works in tandem with our taste buds, so an off-odor can affect how an apple tastes, even if the odor has not truly penetrated the skin."

Ferretti and Brown list some popular fruits and vegetables whose odors penetrate other foods.

-- Apples. Apple odor is absorbed by cabbage, carrots, figs, onions, meat, eggs and dairy products. "Many consumers store apples in the refrigerator to keep them crisp, but in that space their odor may cause problems," Brown says.

-- Carrots. Celery can absorb the odor of carrots. "It gives celery sort of an earthy taste," Ferretti says.

-- Onions (large bulb types) and garlic. Aromas from bulb onions affect apples, celery, potatoes and pears.

-- Green bunching or scallion onions. Odors from these onions affect corn, figs, greens and mushrooms. "Scallion odor will noticeably affect flavor," Ferretti adds.

-- Pears. Pear odor is absorbed by cabbage, carrots, celery, onions and potatoes.

-- Potatoes. Aromas from potatoes affect apples and pears. "Potatoes are almost always stored separately from other produce, so odor usually isn't a big problem," Ferretti says.

-- Green Peppers. Green pepper odor will be absorbed by many botanical fruits, including pineapples. "Ripened green peppers, which usually are red, orange or yellow, do not have a strong aroma," Ferretti says.

-- Citrus fruit. Citrus odor is absorbed by meat, eggs and dairy products.

-- Grapes. Most commercial grapes are treated with sulfur dioxide for disease and insect control, giving the fruit a sulfurous aroma. "Produce experts say don't wash most fruits before refrigerating them, but grapes are the exception," Ferretti says. "By washing grapes thoroughly, the sulfur residue and smell will wash off, and grape skins protect against most injury during washing. Also, people tend to snack on grapes, eating three or four at a time. They aren't as likely to wash a small number of grapes, so it's better to wash them before refrigeration."

Brown suggests separating produce into individual bags, or using one crisper drawer only for fruits and the other for vegetables. Bagged or wrapped produce is less likely to absorb or emit odors.

If a piece of produce has been stored long enough to absorb odors, Ferretti recommends using the fruit or vegetable in a soup, stew or casserole where the flavors and aromas will intermingle.

Ferretti says consumers can counteract some of the odor absorption by placing a box of baking soda in the refrigerator, pantry or crisper drawer. "Baking soda also absorbs moisture," he says. "Baking soda can last quite a while, because only the top layer absorbs most of the odor and moisture, so homeowners can shake the top layer into the waste can and renew the treatment."

To contact Peter Ferretti, call please call 814-863-2313. Kathleen Brown can be reached at 814-863-2260.

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Contacts: John Wall jtw3@psu.edu 814-863-2719 814-865-1068 fax

Last Updated March 19, 2009