Summer is the ideal time for fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables. Whether buying from the market, or growing your own, warm weather typically affords more bountiful harvests compared to other seasons.
However, an increase in produce that issues of preservation become all the more important. After a harvest, fruits and vegetables begin to lose the water and nutrients once provided from their natural sources, resulting in deterioration. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to prolong the life of your produce and deter it from spoiling.
While the quality of fruits and vegetables are largely determined by how effectively they’re grown and harvested, their flavour and freshness will depend on how well you store them afterwards. However, be aware that many fruits and vegetables should only be stored at room temperature, or should only be refrigerated minimally. This is because refrigeration can spoil or prevent the ripening of certain produce. Bananas, for instance, blacken at chilled temperatures and fail to ripen, while sweet potatoes take on different, unnatural flavours. On the other hand, watermelons lose their flavour and pinkness if refrigerated for longer than 72 hours. Then there are other fruits, like Bartlett pears, which can be refrigerated without spoiling, but only after they’ve ripened. Knowing what you can and can’t refrigerate (and when) can be tricky, so refer to a guide if you’re unsure.
Preparation and handling
Proper handling is another vital part of preservation which helps prevent bacteria forming among your produce. Be sure to separate all fruits and vegetables from raw foods, even during purchase. This includes meat, poultry and seafood, which can cause cross-contamination and easily spoil your produce before it’s even prepared.
Next, ensure that your bench area and kitchen utensils are clean before preparing your produce for transport, which should then be refrigerated as soon as possible. Alternatively, wash your produce under running water and remove any bruised or discoloured areas if you’re preparing for immediate consumption. In the event that your produce is packaged as ready-to-eat, washing and rinsing is generally not required.
Lastly, the careful transportation of your produce will help get it to your required destination undamaged and uncontaminated. Ensure that all fruits and vegetables are packaged in food-grade bags, or sealed containers which have been properly sanitised beforehand. If you don’t possess food-grade packaging, take practical steps to prevent the spread of bacteria among your products. For example, try lining your containers with clean fabric that can be washed between uses.
When loading up for the road, also take care not crush or damage your produce, as physical cuts can create entry points for bacteria. Moreover, ensure that you haven’t overloaded your transport, as adequate ventilation will help prolong the life of your produce. Finally, take care and drive sensibly during transportation (particularly on rough roads), which will limit your produce being thrown about and damaged.