Tis’ the season for farmer’s markets, community picnics, sunshine, and plentiful seasonal produce! Let’s look at a few rules and guidelines for maintaining the shelf life and quality of your seasonal bounty:
Breads, Cereals, Flour and Rice:
Breads should be stored in the original package at room temperature and used within 5 to 7 days. When bread is stored in the refrigerator it will have a longer shelf-life due to delayed mold growth. Expect a 2 – 3 month shelf-life of bread stored in the freezer. Cream style bakery goods can be refrigerated when they contain eggs, cream cheese, whipped cream and/or custards, but no longer than 3 days.
Cereals may be stored at room temperature in tightly closed containers to keep out moisture and insects. Whole wheat flour may be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to slow the rancidity of the natural oils.
Store raw white rice in tightly closed containers at room temperature and use within one year. Brown and wild rice stored at room temperature will have a shorter shelf-life (6 months) due to the oil becoming rancid. Rice shelf-life may be extended by refrigeration. Cooked rice may be stored in the refrigerator for 6 to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Removing air (oxygen) from the package, storing the vegetables at 40°F (in the fridge), and maintaining optimum humidity (95 to 100%) may extend shelf-life of fresh vegetables. Most fresh vegetables may be stored up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Always wrap or cover fresh leafy vegetables in moisture proof bags to retain product moisture and prevent wilting. Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, on- ions, etc.) and squashes, eggplant, and rutabagas should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated place be- tween 50°F and 60°F.
Remember- tomatoes continue to ripen after harvesting and should be stored at room temperature. Remove the tops of carrots, radishes, and beets prior to refrigerator storage to reduce loss of moisture and extend shelf-life. Corn and peas should be stored in a ventilated container. Lettuce should be rinsed under cold running water, drained, packaged in plastic bags, and refrigerated. Proper storage of fresh vegetables will help maintain their quality and nutritive value.
In general, store fresh fruit in the refrigerator or in a cold area to extend their shelf-life. Reduce the loss of moisture from fresh fruit by using covered containers. Always store fresh fruit in a separate storage area in the refrigerator because fresh fruits may contaminate or absorb odors from other foods. Prior to consumption, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under cold running water to remove any possible pesticide residues, soil, and/or bacteria. Peeling, followed by washing of fresh fruits and vegetables, is another effective method to removing residues.
Ripe eating apples should be stored separately from other foods in the refrigerator and eaten within one month. Apples stored at room temperature will soften rapidly within a few days. Remember to remove apples that are bruised or decayed prior to storage in the refrigerator. *Do not wash apples prior to storage.*
Green pears and apricots should be ripened at room temperature and then stored in the refrigerator. Expect up to a 5-day refrigerated shelf-life for these fruits. Unripened peaches may be ripened at room temperature and eaten after 2 days. Store ripe peaches in the refrigerator but consume at room temperature. Grapes and plums should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten fresh within 5 days of purchase. Store unwashed grapes separately from other foods in the refrigerator and wash prior to consumption.
Ripe strawberries can be stored in the refrigerator separately from other foods for approximately 3 days. Citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, and ripened oranges, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Grapefruit may be stored at a slightly higher temperatures, up to 50°F.
Melons, such as the honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and watermelon, may be ripened at room temperature for 2, 3, and 7 days, respectively. Store ripened melons in the refrigerator. Avocados and bananas should be ripened at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Never store unripe bananas in the refrigerator, since cold temperatures will cause the bananas to rapidly darken.
Use these helpful tips to maximize the shelf life and freshness of your spring/summertime bounty! Be sure to check out the NC specific seasonal Fruit and Vegetable Availability chart for reference as well.