If you're eating healthier these days, congratulations! Most likely that will mean you're filling your refrigerator and pantry with more fresh fruits and vegetables, i.e., foods that spoil more easily. Learning how to properly clean and store produce is important, even if you're grown it yourself or you've purchased organic items. Not only will this keep your healthy food for longer, it will help you to save money. Who doesn't need to do that these days?
If purchasing it from a supermarket or farmer's market, as many as twenty people may have touched your produce before you do. Plus, why would you want to eat dirty, gritty lettuce or berries? Not to mention that it's incredibly important to support good health and avoid food-borne illnesses.
My recommendations are simple. Using good old-fashioned water is plenty. There's no need to use any of the commercial washes on the market. They haven't been proven any more effective than water for removing pesticide residue so aren't worth the added price.
Use a steady stream of water and your hands to clean the produce, using an inexpensive vegetable brush on harder items, like potatoes and carrots. Even items that have peels you don't plan to eat, like bananas and oranges, give them a rinse, anyways. If there are any bacteria present on the rind, your hands or a knife might contaminate the edible portion.
There are more suggestions on cleaning each type of produce item, but these are some basic recommendations to start with.
Also, there are ways to properly store each individual produce item, but for now, here are a handful of helpful methods for the items generally found in people’s kitchens. If you’re interested in more each method, email me.
First of all, make sure your refrigerator is kept cold enough, under 40 degrees F. Also, leave enough space in your refrigerator for the cold air to circulate. If your fridge is too cramped, your food will spoil faster.
Store garlic, onions, and potatoes in a cool, dark pantry and can keep for up to four months.
Berries are best left unwashed in their original container in the refrigerator. Portion out the amount you want in one sitting and wash and eat. Strawberries in particular are very perishable and should be eaten within 48-72 hours.
Refrigerate lettuce leaves unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer. A plastic bag from the grocery store is enough. Lettuce will keep for up to five days. Do not store lettuce with melons, apples, pears, bananas, peaches, plums, and apricots, as they emit the gas ethylene and they will cause the lettuce to turn brown.
Herb are notoriously tricky to keep from wilting. Keep them in an airtight container wrapped in a damp paper towel for up to ten days. Or, store washed and sealed in a plastic bag, in the freezer for up to a month. They’ll defrost immediately upon cooking.
I also strongly urge labeling and dating foods before you store them. This will help eliminate that moment of, "What is this thing in the back of the refrigerator/freezer? It looks like a science experiment!"
Learning to properly clean and store produce isn't challenging, but it is important. Produce can be tricky to keep fresh for very long and if you don't learn these tips, you'll have a bunch of wasted produce, wasted dollars, and an unhealthier lifestyle to contend with.