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Veggies -- handle with care

August 12, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Use these preparation and storage tips to enjoy the abundant summer produce at its peak of flavor, appearance and safety.

Prevent cut fruit from turning brown. Keep cut fruits, such as apples, pears and peaches, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. You could also use a commercial anti-darkening preparation with fruits. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.

Another method to prevent browning is to mix cut pieces of fruit with cut pieces of acidic fruits such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruit or other citrus fruit or with pineapple. Prepare the acidic fruit first. Then, cut the other fruits, mixing them with in the acidic fruit as you cut them.

Cut fruits as close to serving time as possible. Cover and refrigerate cut fruit until ready to serve. Refrigerate peeled or cut fruits and vegetables so they are at room temperature no longer than two hours altogether.

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Salad dressing slides off wet salad greens and collects in the bottom of the salad bowl. You'll get more flavor with less dressing (and fewer calories) if you wash and dry salad greens before tossing your salad with dressing. A tablespoon of an oil and vinegar dressing may be all it takes for two cups of dry salad greens.

Put salad greens on spin dry. 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.

Pack greens lightly into the spinner to avoid overcrowding and bruising them. After spinning, pat off any remaining moisture with clean paper towels.

Wash fruits and vegetables correctly. The Food and Drug Administration recommends the following preparation tips for fresh produce:

Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.

All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly rinsed before eating. This suggestion includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce that is purchased from a grocery store or farmer's market. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking.

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.

Scrub the exterior of 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.

Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Keep fruits and vegetables separate from other foods. The Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping 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.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry or seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.

For added protection, kitchen sanitizers can be used periodically on cutting boards and countertops. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.

If you use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards, wash them in the dishwasher

Keep fruits and vegetables separate in the refrigerator. Store fruits in a refrigerator crisper drawer separate from the one in which you store vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas that can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality.

Know which fruits continue to ripen after they're picked. Apricots, cantaloupe, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums continue to ripen after they're picked. The tomato, which is actually a fruit, also continues to ripen after picking.

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.

Fruits that you should pick or buy ripe include apples, cherries, grapes, strawberries and watermelon.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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