Saving Summer: A guide to preserving fresh fruits & vegetables

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It’s no secret that peak produce season is upon us here in Iowa. Local farm stands, markets, co-ops, and CSA’s are all wonderful places to find that fresh Iowa sweet corn to make your summer complete. Sometimes it just seems right to stock up on all those fresh fruits and veggies, but we may not be able to get to it before it gets bad in the blink of an eye. Food preservation techniques are a great way to extend the life of your produce, so that you can enjoy a little bit of summer all year long. Planning, storing, and preserving are all important factors to consider when it comes to reducing household food waste and making your fresh fruits and vegetables last.


Planning: Getting the most out of your fresh fruits and veggies begins long before they end up on your counter. Meal planning can be one of the best ways to ensure that your garbage can doesn’t fill up too quickly. Before leaving for the market or grocery store, take inventory of what you already have at home, and plan out what fresh ingredients you will need for that week’s meals. Plan to use produce that goes bad the fastest earlier in the week, and save your unripe or longer lasting foods for later on. For example, leafy greens, herbs, berries and bananas will spoil much quicker than your potatoes, onions, apples and citrus fruits. Oftentimes it’s hard to know how long that produce has been traveling or sitting on the shelf at the store. Make sure to take note of dates and conditions of your fresh foods before storing it. Pre cut fruits and vegetables spoil much faster and require refrigeration over whole produce, so be sure to keep that in mind when planning your weekly meals. 


Storing: All fruits and vegetables have different storage requirements, making it hard to decipher what to do with those avocados that seem to go from rock hard to mush in a matter of a couple days. Here are a few specific tips to follow when you get home from your weekly grocery or farmers market run! Store berries in airtight containers in the refrigerator – Mason jars work great for this! As you probably know, keep all kinds of whole potatoes in a dark cool place. Lettuce is best when stored in the fridge wrapped in a damp cloth or cut and placed in an airtight container. Fruits and vegetables all release ethylene, a hormone that helps produce ripen. Fruits tend to release more of this, so make sure to store fruits separate from your vegetables to avoid premature ripening. Sometimes your produce needs the best of both worlds – leave fruits and vegetables that need to ripen on the counter and then place them in the fridge to slow that ripening process down a bit. This is best for your avocados, peaches, pears, mangos, etc.


Preserving: Sometimes planning and storing still don’t stop the inevitable spoilage of produce that we just couldn’t get to in time. In order to save this food from the trash can, freezing, canning, and dehydrating are just a few ways you can save your fresh produce for a later date! 


Freezing: According to a study done by the Cambridge University Press, the use of frozen foods results in 47 % less household food waste than fresh food categories. Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve fruits and vegetables over long periods of time, while still maintaining nutritional value and freshness. Use ripened produce, wash and prepare as desired – removing seeds, pits, peels, etc. Be sure to find out whether or not the vegetables you are using need to be blanched prior to freezing. Pack in moisture proof, airtight containers or freezer bags, then store at 0F or lower and use within 8 to 12 months.


Canning: A tale as old as time. Canning has been a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables from the summer and fall seasons. Make sure to choose fresh, ripe produce and prepare as needed. Use jars with two piece lids that are in good condition with no cracks or dents. Canning can include raw or preheated fruits and vegetables as well as jams and jellies. Make sure to use reliable, pre-tested recipes, following all directions carefully to ensure a safe product.


Dehydrating: Dehydrating fresh produce is often overlooked due to the preconceived notion that a dehydrator is required in order to perform this process. Drying and dehydrating can be accomplished fairly easily using your traditional home oven. Turn your oven to the lowest setting, prepare your fruits or vegetables by washing and slicing them into thin pieces about ¼ in thick. Place them on a lined sheet pan and into the oven for the specified time based on your fruit or vegetable, usually 6 – 8 hours. Dehydrated foods are great for on the go snacking and are perfect for use in oatmeals and cereals! 


Food planning, storing, and preserving are great ways to reduce household food waste, while also getting the most out of your dollar. Any of these methods are sure to keep your perfectly good fruits and veggies out of the trash, but make sure to remember any safety risks that could arise and always follow your recipe! 


Want to learn more about preserving your food? Check out Iowa State Extension’s FREE ‘Food Preservation 101’ class, offered virtually this fall!

Emma Gellerstedt

Emma Gellerstedt

Intern, Dietetics Student at Iowa State University