I’ve heard people say they don’t buy
berries fresh or often because they go bad quickly.
I’m meticulous when we buy regardless of where we purchase them from. It’s sucks finding what appears to be the perfect box of strawberries to realize that the ones in the middle and toward the bottoms are completely molded.
While many choose to eat organic, did you know that you should wash your produce regardless of how it was farmed (Leff & Fierer, 2013)? Washing produce isn’t just about reducing or eliminating the pesticide or chemical residue, it’s also about reducing and eliminating bacteria.
Bacteria is everywhere.
It’s in the soil that produce is grown.
It’s on the gloves that harvested the produce.
It’s on the surfaces and containers that the produce has been in contact with.
It’s at the market that you buy your produce – both in the store and locally.
The presence of bacteria that can speed up spoilage. These bacteria can thrive in moist and warm environments, which is why it’s important to dry off or wipe off your produce after purchase, before storage. It’s another reason why produce left on the counter in warmer weather months may mold quickly (Price & Sowers, 2004).
Not all bacteria are created equal. While not all bacteria will be harmful to us, some bacteria can also cause illnesses.
On average, the shelf life of fresh produce is about 5 days, it may be a few days less or a few days more depending on storage method.
So how can you decrease bacteria and possibly increase shelf life of your produce?
Wash them in vinegar water solution before storage.
Did you know that vinegar is an acid and can break down the cell barrier on most bacteria that we find on our produce like salmonella and e. coli?
Acetic Acid is an active component of vinegar and is an effective and safe disinfectant for consumption (Entani, et al.,1998).
Remember, not all disinfectants will kill all bacteria and it’s because all bacteria are unique.
Add 1-part vinegar to 3 parts of cold water is a good ratio to clean your produce – You can add this to a spray bottle or mix in a bowl and soak your produce. The temperature of the water and the amount of vinegar does matter in the elimination of bacteria.
Prior to washing with the vinegar solution, make sure to remove any visible soil or debris otherwise you risk decreasing the effectiveness of the vinegar solution (Pezzuto, et al., 2016).
Spray or soak your produce for five to 10 minutes. After washing, use a strainer to gently rinse with cold water.
Drying on a paper towel or clean kitchen towel prior to container storage will help prevent or lessen the chance of other bacteria from growing. Storing produce on the top shelf so nothing can drop on them or with a lid is recommended.
Shelf life extension can depend on the kind of produce you’re washing, the potential bacteria on the produce and how it was harvested, however, it’s possible to extend the shelf life by a few days.
While it’s not perfect and contamination can still occur causing illness or spoilage, this does help kill bacteria and decrease likelihood.
Entani, E., Asai, M., Tsujihata, S., Tsukamoto, Y., & Ohta, M. (1998). Antibacterial action of vinegar against food-borne pathogenic bacteria including Escherichia coli O157:H7. Journal of Food Protection, 953-9.
Leff, J. W., & Fierer, N. (2013). Bacterial Communities Associated with the Surfaces of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. PLOS ONE, 1-9.
Pezzuto, A., Belluco, S., Losasso, C., Patuzzi, I., Bordin, P., Piovesana, A., . . . Ricci, A. (2016). Effectiveness of Washing Procedures in Reducing Salmonella enterica and Listeria monocytogenes on a Raw Leafy Green Vegetable (Eruca vesicaria). Frontiers in Microbiology, 1663.
Price, P. B., & Sowers, T. (2004). Temperature dependence of metabolic rates for microbial growth, maintenance and survival. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 4631-4636. ff