Here are 8 preparation and storage tips to enjoy the abundant summer produce at its peak of flavor, appearance and safety!
1. Know Which Fruits Ripen After They’re Picked
Apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears, plantains and plums continue to ripen after they’re picked. The tomato, which is actually a fruit, also continues to ripen after picking. Fruits you should pick or buy ripe and ready-to-eat include: apples, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pineapple, strawberries, tangerines and watermelon. To speed the ripening of fruits such as peaches, pears and plums, put them in a ripening bowl or in a loosely closed brown paper bag at room temperature. Plastic bags don’t work for ripening.
2. Keep Fruits and Vegetables Separate in the Refrigerator
All fruits and vegetables must be stored in the refrigerator once they are cut or peeled. Fruits that don’t ripen after they are picked should be refrigerated to increase their storage life. Except for onions, potatoes and tomatoes (actually a fruit), most vegetables are best kept in the refrigerator. Store fruits in a refrigerator crisper drawer separate from the one in which you store vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality. Avoid overly packing crisper drawers.
3: Refrigerate Produce in Perforated Plastic Bags
This helps maintain moisture yet provides for air flow. Unperforated plastic bags can lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. If you don’t have access to commercial, food-grade, perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a food-grade plastic bag (about 20 holes per medium-size bag). Another option is to store bags of fruits and vegetables loosely in plastic bags with the top open.
4. Remove Radish Tops Before Storing
If the leafy radish tops are attached, remove them before storing. Radishes don’t keep as well if their tops are left on. Store unwashed radishes in an open or perforated plastic bag in a refrigerator crisper drawer separate from the one in which you store fruits. Wash radishes and trim their roots just before using.
5. Wash Fruits and Vegetables Correctly
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend the following preparation tips for fresh produce: When preparing any fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water BEFORE and AFTER preparation.
• Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
• Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
• Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
• Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
• Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
6. Take a Salad for a Spin!
Salad dressing slides off damp salad greens and collects in the bottom of the salad bowl. You’ll get more flavor with less dressing (and fewer calories!) if salad greens are washed and dried before tossing your salad with dressing. A tablespoon of an oil and vinegar dressing may be all it takes for two cups of dried salad greens. The easiest and quickest way to dry salad greens is in a salad spinner. A salad spinner uses centrifugal force to remove water from freshly washed salad greens and herbs. Your wet greens are placed in a perforated basket that fits in a larger outer bowl. The bowl is covered with a lid that has a gear-operated handle, pull-cord or knob you pump to turn the inner basket and spin the water off into the outer bowl. Pack greens lightly to avoid overcrowding and bruising them. After spinning, pat off any remaining moisture with clean paper towels. When purchasing a salad spinner, take it for a spin at the store! You want a model that is sturdy, has a well-fitting lid and spins easily. Choose a model large enough so you don’t have to go through several “spin cycles” to dry all your greens. A salad spinner also may be used to dry washed clusters of grapes. Note: If you are preparing small clusters of grapes for garnishing, cut the clusters with scissors. This helps keep the grapes attached to the stem.
7. Keep Fruits and Vegetables Separate From Certain Foods
“Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood — and from kitchen utensils used for those products,” advises the FDA. FDA gives these additional recommendations:
• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
• For added protection, kitchen sanitizers can be used on cutting boards and countertops periodically. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.
• If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher.
8. Prevent Cut Fruit From Turning Brown
Keep cut fruits, such as apples, pears, bananas and peaches, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Or use a commercial anti-darkening preparation with fruits, such as Fruit-Fresh® Produce Protector, and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Another method to prevent browning is to mix fruits that can turn brown with acidic fruits like oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and other citrus fruit or pineapple. Prepare the acidic fruit(s) first. Then, cut the other fruits, mixing them within the acidic fruit(s) as you prepare them. Cut fruits as close to serving time as possible. Cover and refrigerate cut fruit until ready to serve. Refrigerate peeled/cut fruits and vegetables so they are at room temperature no longer than 2 hours, TOTAL time.
Source: UNL Extension in Lancaster County