When you eat a lot of real food, you buy a lot of produce. Making sure that produce lasts all week (or two) is tricky matter! The key is all in how you store it and when you wash it.
And you are washing all your produce, right?
We have the dirty dozen and clean fifteen list, but despite the organic label, produce still has some level of gunk coated on it. Organic farms will use allowed pesticides. But I’m also talking about plain ole dirt. In that dirt we find bugs, parasites, bacteria, and other toxic residue.
Think about natural fertilizer options? Yeah, there might be some not so lovely things on our produce. Not to mention the number of hands that have touched your food on its way to the market.
More reasons to grow a garden.
But before you are completely grossed out at your strawberries, let’s learn how to clean and store them!
Cleaning Produce Naturally
Strawberries are one of the fruits that needs to be cleaned right before you eat them. If you clean them and store them, you may end up with mushy strawberries. Same goes for other berries, mangoes, peaches, pears, eggplants, and tomatoes. Fruits and vegetables with softer outer layers are typically best washed right before use.
Fruits and veggies like apples, avocados, melons, celery, bell peppers, and radishes can be washed ahead of time and stored. Surprisingly, lettuce can also be washed ahead of time and stored. They sometimes stay fresher longer when washed early.
Buying a natural produce wash from the store can be a little pricy. To save on money there are several options of making your own produce wash with ingredients you already have. One of my favorite methods is using apple cider vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is one of those miracle ingredients. You can clean the counters, soak your grains, make salad dressing, detox your body, keep heartburn at bay, and even remove moles. Plus, you can make it yourself from apple scraps.
I know. Why wouldn’t you have this in your kitchen?
The steps to cleaning produce in apple cider vinegar are very simple.
- Dilute 1 Tbsp ACV in 1 cup of water.
- Add fruit or veggies.
- Soak and stir for about 5 minutes.
- Rinse well and dry.
Does it Work?
See for yourself. The bowl on the left is a clean batch of apple cider vinegar and water. The bowl on the right is the used batch that held strawberries.
You can see some remnants of the strawberry seeds on the bottom, but there’s dirt down there too. Wondering what those black specks are on the side of the bowl?
Eating bugs just isn’t appetizing. Now each morning after breakfast, I pull out a variety of fruit that will likely get eaten throughout the day, wash them all at once and set them to air dry on the towel.
A nice little bonus is that with the fruit washed and laying out, the kids can just grab a bite whenever they want to. No need for me to spend the day washing at their beck and call.
Tips for Cleaning Produce
- Agitation is key. Make a point to stir the produce a time or two while soaking.
- Obviously you can’t scrub strawberries, but pick up a bristle brush like this one the next time you’re near a dollar store and use it exclusively on washing produce.
- Get all the nooks and crannies well; pesticides can hide there too!
- Just because you don’t eat the outside of cantaloupe and mangos, doesn’t mean you not should wash and scrub them too. Cross-contamination from the knife to the cutting board and into the flesh of the fruit is completely possible.
- Wash big batches directly in the sink. Fill up the sink with water, add a few big splashes of apple cider vinegar and soak away (don’t forget to stir!).
- Another method includes spraying the produce with the apple cider vinegar/water mixture and letting it sit for five minutes before rinsing. Leave simple spray bottle like this one on your counter for a quick wash.
- Some produce can be hand dried, like apples and berries.
- Some produce is better air dried like peaches and tomatoes.
- Make sure produce is completely dry before storing in the fridge.
How to Keep Fruit Fresh Longer
Now that your fruits and veggies are clean. How long can you store them?
Like I said before, produce with softer outer layers do better if washed right before eating. The day of is ok too.
Produce with thicker skin can be washed ahead of time and stored in the fridge.
For optimal storage use the following guidelines for these common fruits and veggies:
Air-tight container or plastic bag in the fridge
- bell peppers
Ventilated container or plastic bag in the fridge
- snap peas
*Greens and lettuce can be washed ahead of time and stored in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. This will actually keep them fresh a little longer!
Ventilated on the counter
What if I need to prep ahead of time?
One of the biggest struggles of a real food kitchen, is the time it takes to clean, cut, and cook from scratch. One of my biggest tips to save time is to prep food ahead. This becomes a struggle with the fresh produce.
It would be nice to finish a big trip to Costco and take a half hour and prep all the veggies for the week and not have to touch a knife again. But that doesn’t always keep your food fresh.
I’m not telling you not to prep, because that will save you a lot of time. But when you do prep, make sure your meal plan is set accordingly. If you prep strawberries and bell peppers, eat the strawberry vinaigrette salad you have planned that same day (or the next). The peppers will last a few days longer so the stir fry can come later.
The bottom line, however, is that fruits and veggies will only stay fresh for so long. So have a plan if you score big on fresh berries or loads of tomatoes. Preserve by dehydrating, freezing, or canning. Then you have plenty of fruit in the off season for granola bars, smoothies, or topping your toast!