Longer Lasting Produce

Summer brings an abundance of fruits and vegetables that, unfortunately, arrive in homes only to spoil very quickly.

It is possible to prolong the life of your summer produce, says Chris Kimball, founder and editor of Cook's Illustrated magazine. Kimball visited The Early Show with ideas to extend the fruits and vegetables' shelf-life a little longer.

Outside the Refrigerator

Kimball says not all produces should be refrigerated. Mangos, papaya, Haas avocados, bananas and tomatoes can be placed in a bowl on the counter, according to the editor, because they will ripen on their own.

Kimball recommends purchasing avocados that are very firm, since they will not be bruised. (Hass avocado skins turn dark, purple-black when ripe and the fruit yields slightly to a gentle squeeze when held in the palm of your hand.)

Tomatoes are almost never worth purchasing from a supermarket, says Kimball, even the vine-ripened type. He explains it is not fully mature on the vine. As a result, they tend not to have as much flavor. Kimball recommends buying locally grown tomatoes. And, he suggests a fully ripe tomato to be refrigerated, to keep it fresh.

How long the fruits will last from date of purchase depends on how far into the ripening process they were on the date of purchase. If you do refrigerate these items, they tend to dry out, become brown internally or become pitted.

Refrigerate, But Where?

The average refrigerator varies in temperature throughout. Certain foods, Kimball says, thrive better in certain shelf areas. The warmest spot in the refrigerator is the middle shelf in the door and the front of the bottom shelf in the main storage area. The meat compartment is the coolest area. The backs of the shelves are colder than the front. The warmest areas can be up to 43 degrees F and the coldest around 34 degrees F.

  • Middle Shelf Front: This is a moderate temperature area where melons and beans, both green and wax, can be stored.
  • Bottom Shelf Front: This is a warmer area that is good for sub-tropical fruits such as berries, citrus fruits; plus mushrooms and corn.
  • Bottom Crisper Drawer: This is a moderate to cool area, good for leafy greens, celery, asparagus and broccoli.
  • Top Shelf Back: Kimball says this is a cool area that is best for apples and grapes.

    Special Produce Requirements

    Most refrigerator produce can be stored as it was purchased, says Kimball, but there are some exceptions.

  • Kimball says to only wash salad greens when you get them, home-wash the rest when you intend to use it.
  • Mushrooms are best left in their sealed packaging but if purchased loose, store them in a container and cover with a damp paper towel, he says.
  • Lettuce should be washed when brought home because most lettuce is sprayed at the market and water gets into it. After the wash, thoroughly dry the lettuce, Kimball says. Store in the inside bowl of a salad spinner lined with paper towels with some water in the bottom of the outer bowl. (Slightly wilted greens can be refreshed for a few minutes in ice water.)
  • Grapes are best stored in the plastic bag they came in (to keep them from drying out) and any cut foods should be stored in plastic.
  • Berries are best washed in a large bowl of cold water and swished around.

    Fresh Herbs

    Stack the clean, dry herbs in loose layers separated by parchment paper or paper towels in a plastic container that is sealed tight, Kimball says, for hardy herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme. For delicate leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, parsley and chervil should be stored in water on a shelf in the refrigerator, covered with a plastic bag. The herbs should be cut at an angle like flowers before being placed in water.

    Store Fresh Fruits

    Fruit should be frozen with sugar syrup or sugar to enhance fruity flavor and retard solubility, says Kimball. Try sugar syrup, which uses 2 cups of sugar in 4 cups water heated until dissolved.

    Label and date a zipper-lock bag or freezer container with wax paper and lid

    Fill your container of choice with two cups fruit and pour in sugar syrup to cover, or with two cups tossed fruit with sugar.

    Raspberries, strawberries and nectarines can be used as sugar syrup fruits. Blueberries, peaches (peaches require an ascorbic acid as well as sugar to prevent browning) can be used for sugar fruits.

    Make sure the bag or container is not over-crowded to allow room for expansion when freezing.

    To thaw, Kimball says to defrost the fruit overnight in refrigerator.

    Fruit Smoothy

    Kimball says too much ice can make a smoothie too watery, but fresh fruit can take a long time to freeze. To make a spur of the moment cold smoothie, lay out the sliced fruit on a baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes in freezer.