It’s strawberry season! Whether you’re harvesting a bounty in your own backyard or toting a week’s worth from the market or grocers, you’ll want to know how to clean strawberries and keep them fresh as long as possible.
Should I clean strawberries before or after storage?
There are a couple of schools of thought about cleaning strawberries. One is that you should not wash them until you’re ready to eat them because moisture on the berries can deteriorate them more quickly.
I prefer to wash strawberries as soon as they hit the kitchen. For one thing, I like them to be ready to pop in my mouth at a later date. For another, cleaning them properly right away (so that you kill any bacteria and remove any lingering pesticides) will help them last longer. (Just make sure to dry them well before storing.) In fact, berries cleaned this way and stored in the refrigerator should last a couple of weeks.
About those pesticides
Strawberries are number one on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for 2020. In other words, when tested, they were the fresh produce item most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues, even after they were rinsed in the field. More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries (and apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale) tested positive for two or more pesticide residues. So, unless you’re growing or buying organic strawberries, be sure to spend the time to really wash them well! (I try to buy organic of at least the items on the dirty dozen list.)
The best way to clean strawberries
When you get home with a batch of strawberries:
• Remove any less-than-perfect specimens.
• Place the berries in a bowl full of vinegar water (about 1 cup of vinegar for 4 cups of water). Swish them around to remove dirt. Why vinegar? The vinegar will take care of any decay-causing bacteria on the strawberries. Let them soak for about five minutes.
• Drain into a colander, and rinse well with fresh, cool water.
• Dry on a towel. Pat the berries really well (but gently) to get them as dry as possible before storing them. (Some people like to use a salad spinner for this job, but this might be a bit rough on the berries. If you use a spinner, line it first with a paper towel or cloth to soften the ride.) Leave the berries to finish air drying, if necessary.
Should I add salt?
If you’re absolutely panic-stricken by the idea that there might be a teeny bug in your berries (or any other produce), then you can follow the trending advice to soak your berries in saltwater. (The salt draws out the critters.) But keep in mind that salt won’t rinse out well, so you’ll likely wind up with at least slightly salty berries. And the fact is, if you’re eating fresh, healthful produce, you’re apt to swallow an occasional little critter. It won’t hurt you. Washing well with vinegar and water (see above) will take care of most unwanted substances on your berries, including bugs.
What about a hot water bath?
Another method of killing bacteria before storing your berries is to give them a 30-second hot water bath (about 130- to 140 degrees). I prefer the cool vinegar water. For one thing, I feel like I’m partially cooking the strawberries and am afraid I’ll make them mushy. For another, the vinegar rinse is easy; you can’t mess it up!
In the refrigerator
Place clean, dry strawberries (with or without the stems removed) in a container lined with a clean kitchen cloth (or paper towel). You can use the grocery container, or whatever storage containers are your favorites. Don’t seal the lid tight; leave it cracked to allow a little moisture to escape.
Store the container of strawberries in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. It’s designed to keep them cool and from drying out.
On the counter
If you’re going to serve the berries in the next day or so, it’s perfectly fine to leave them out of the refrigerator on your countertop.
In the freezer
Option 1 — Store whole berries:
Take the stems off the berries and wash and dry them. You can then just put them all in a freezer bag or container and place in the freezer. One caveat: you might wind up with a solid mass of strawberries when you take them out (because they’ll freeze together).
To be able to take out berries individually:
• Spread them out on a cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer.
• Slide the sheet into the freezer to flash-freeze the berries.
• Once they’re frozen solid, put them in freezer storage bags, label, and pop back in the freezer.
Option 2 — Store prepped berries:
Fold about 2 cups sugar into about a quart of cut berries. Place in freezer containers, label, and place in the freezer for up to a year.
Do you store strawberries for the long haul? What’s your favorite method — do you make jam, or freeze berries whole for smoothies? What’s your favorite ways to eat strawberries? One of the wonderful things about strawberries is their versatility — they can garnish a summertime drink, partner in a fruit salad or pie, top a stack of pancakes, or star in a shortcake!