6 methods to get the most out of your produce

Don't let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. You spend a lot of your grocery money on fresh fruits and vegetables, so be sure to make the most of them by following these six suggestions for food storage and preservation.

6 methods to get the most out of your produce

1. Start with a good product

  • Surprisingly, some commercially processed foods may be more nutritious than fresh
  • Produce for freezing or canning is often harvested in peak condition and processed quickly to preserve its appearance and nutritional value
  • Many fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are picked before ripening and matured under refrigeration; they never reach peak flavour
  • Look for vine- and tree-ripened varieties, and buy produce in season

2. Store fruits and veggies in the refrigerator

  • Raw fruits and vegetables often slowly lose their vitamins when kept at room temperature, but tropical fruits deteriorate rapidly if stored in the cold
  • Most produce is best stored at about 10°C (50°F); if refrigerated, put it in the crisper section; the restricted space slows down moisture loss
  • Avoid storing fruits and vegetables for long periods in sealed plastic bags; they cut off the air supply, causing the produce to rot. Paper and ­cellophane are better storage materials, because they are permeable
  • Keep juice in a small container so that vitamins are not lost through exposure to oxygen

3. Utilize cold storage

  • In regions where winter temperatures average  –1°C (30°F) or less, fruits and vegetables bought in bulk can be stored in a cool basement or root cellar
  • Carrots, cabbage and lettuce keep well at about 0°C  (32°F)
  • To prevent rot caused by dampness during storage, wash produce just before using
  • Leave the stems on berries until you're ready to use them, and refrigerate peas and beans in their pods
  • Cut the green tops off root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips, or they will continue to draw nourishment from the roots
  • When stored below 4°C (40°F), potatoes develop a sweetish taste from the conversion of starch to sugar; the sweetness disappears when the tubers are returned to room temperature
  • Potatoes are often packaged in burlap bags or covered with mesh that protects them from light while still allowing air to circulate. Store potatoes in the dark, because exposure to light causes poisonous alkaloids, such as solanine and chaconine, to form

4. Blanch produce to help prevent deterioration

Freezing raw fruits and vegetables causes the water they contain to form ice crystals that break down cell membranes and walls, resulting in a mushy texture and a loss of nutrients. Deterioration of fruits and vegetables can also be caused by enzymatic activity; blanching prevents this problem.

To blanch:

  • Immerse vegetables for a few seconds in rapidly boiling water to deactivate their enzymes
  • Then plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process

Most fruits are not suitable for blanching, but you can prevent browning and deterioration by packing them in a solution of sugar, either with or without ascorbic acid.

5. Prevent freezer burn

All frozen produce should be wrapped air-tight to prevent freezer burn, which causes dry patches that have a rough texture and "off" taste.

Frozen vegetables should be cooked straight from the freezer; thawing encourages the destructive activity of residual enzymes and microorganisms. Do not refreeze produce that has been thawed.

6. Try home canning

  • The home-canning process preserves foods by the rapid heating of hermetically sealed containers
  • Heat destroys microorganisms and stops enzyme action
  • Vacuum seal prevents contamination
  • An improperly canned food may cause serious food poisoning. Cans and jars that have bubbles, incomplete seals or gas escaping on opening must be discarded

With all the healthy benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, it would be a shame to purchase a bounty of fresh produce only to watch it spoil from improper storage or preparation. Remember to follow these six storage suggestions to get the most out of your food.

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