Abundant, summer-fresh fruits and vegetables can prompt buying sprees, but over-buying may drive up food costs, even when seasonal crops are lower in price, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.
"Buy quantities that you can reasonably use within one to three days," said Blakeslee, who offered this example: Bananas ripen more quickly in warm weather. If you typically eat one banana a day, buy a two or three-day supply so that bananas can be eaten before over ripening.
"Be picky -- look for fruits or vegetables that are free of cuts, bruises or signs of mold, said Blakeslee, who offered these shopping and food storage tips:
- Consider cost and use. If your family likes potatoes and you have a cool, dry place to store them, buying a 10-pound bag may offer convenience and savings. If potatoes are allowed to soften and/or sprout, however, the savings will be eroded by waste.
- Allow fruits and vegetables to ripen. Produce may be harvested before it is fully ripe. Some will ripen during transport to the point of sale, but fruits and vegetables may need a little TLC at home. If, for example, fresh peaches are fragrant, but hard and not yet ripe, place them in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter to ripen.
- Check recommendations for food storage. Fresh-picked tomatoes will ripen on the kitchen counter at room temperature. For optimum flavor, serve fresh tomatoes at room temperature; cover and refrigerate any unused portion of the tomato after cutting.
Storing melons at room temperature also is recommended. Chill before serving, if desired, and, once cut, wrap well and refrigerate.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables in cool running water before serving. If fresh from the garden and noticeably dirty, washing and drying before storage is recommended. Washing melons before cutting and slicing also is recommended, as melons grow on vines where they may come in contact with naturally-occurring bacteria in the soil. If not washed, the bacteria that may be present on the outside of the melons will be transferred to cut pieces.
- Use technology to your advantage. Read manufacturers' instructions for your refrigerator and freezer and heed the recommendations:
Crisper drawers and some utility compartments are designed specifically to protect fresh produce.
- Cover food storage containers to reduce cross contamination and accidental sharing of flavors.
- Store fresh-cut vegetables such as carrots or celery in a cold water bath (covered) for a day or two to help keep them crisp.
- Browning can result when certain enzymes in fresh-sliced fruits such as apples or peaches, are exposed to air. Browning can be eliminated by adding a little ascorbic acid (marketed as "Fruit Fresh") or citric acid as in lemon juice.
- Buy too much? Freeze or can excess produce before quality deteriorates.
"Food quality typically begins to deteriorate at harvest," said Blakeslee, who fields food and food safety questions daily as coordinator of K-State's Rapid Response Center. She recommended the following Web sites and publications to learn more about choosing, using and storing seasonal fruits and vegetables: K-State Research and Extension, www.oznet.ksu.edu, click on publications and search for MF661, "Harvest and Storage of Fruits and Vegetables;" Texas A&M, tcebookstore.org and search for "Safe Storage of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables;" and Clemson Extension, hgic.clemson.edu, "Selecting and Storing Fruits and Vegetables." More information also is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices.