Keep It Fresh, Keep It Safe

Keep It Fresh, Keep It Safe

Spring has arrived.  It is fresh produce season.  The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Select a rainbow of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to enhance your diet.

farmers market with produce

Keep It Fresh
Photo Source: UF/IFAS

There is a bountiful supply of fruits and vegetables during the Spring and Summer months.  Grocery stores, famers markets, and backyard gardens abound with abundant supply of fresh produce.

Recently fresh produce has been linked to various outbreaks of foodborne illness.  These problems are becoming more common and it is important as a consumer to know how to handle fresh produce safely.

Safe Produce Handling Tips

 Purchasing

Purchase vegetables and fruits that look and smell fresh.  Purchase only the amount you will use in a few days.  Most vegetables and fruits with the exception of apples, potatoes, and citrus don’t store well for long periods of time.

Storing

Put produce away promptly.  Most whole produce will keep best stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper drawer where the humidity is highest.  Tomatoes and potatoes are two exceptions.  Tomatoes taste better if stored at room temperature.  Potatoes stay fresh longer if stored in a cool, dry, dark place.  Cut produce should be stored in the refrigerator in covered containers.  Bacteria can grow on cut surfaces of produce.

Washing

Rinse whole produce thoroughly under clean running tap water, just before you are ready to use.  Do not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent.  Scrub or rub as needed to remove surface contamination.  Wash produce such as oranges and melons even if you don’t eat the rind or skin.  When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, any bacteria that is on the surface can be transferred to the inner flesh.  Check the label instructions on fresh bagged produce.  For example; use by date, pre-washed, and ready to eat.  Discard stored fruits and vegetables that appear moldy or smell musty.

It is essential to our health to preserve the nutrition that is found in fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that the body needs to maintain optimal health.  Following those easy safe produce tips can help preserve freshness and assure safe produce handling.

Produce Pointers – Okra

Although not well-known outside of the South, okra is a staple in Louisiana’s famed Creole cooking. The green pods have a rigid skin and a tapered, oblong shape. When cooked, okra gives off a sticky juice that will thicken any liquid to which it is added.

Use & Preparation

Wash just before cooking only. If pods are very fuzzy, rub them in a kitchen towel.

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

To cook whole okra, trim just the barest slice from the stem end without puncturing the pods. This way, the juices won’t be released, and the okra won’t get gummy.

Boil or microwave whole until just tender. Dress with lemon juice & ground black pepper.

If okra is used in a soup, stew, or casserole that requires longer cooking, it should be cut up and the juice allowed out.

Selection

Choose pods 2 to 3 inches long, deep green, firm, and blemish free.  Pods should snap easily and puncture with slight pressure.

Storage

Refrigerate in a plastic bag up to 3 days.

 

Okra & Tomatoes

2 pounds okra, cleaned and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (14 1/2 oz.) can whole tomatoes, undrained

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Sauté onion & green pepper in oil over medium heat until tender. Add tomatoes, vinegar, salt, and pepper; stir well. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Add okra; cover and simmer 1 hour.

 

Okra, Tomatoes, & Corn

1 pound okra, in 1/2-inch slices

2 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 cup corn kernels

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 small green pepper, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt margarine in a pan; add onion and green pepper; cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add okra and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, corn, and oregano. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

 

Nutrition Information

Fat and cholesterol free

Very low in sodium

Low in calories

Good source of vitamin A, folate, thiamine, & magnesium

High in vitamin C

Available Fresh

June – October

Produce Pointers – Pumpkins

Produce Pointers – Pumpkins

UF/IFAS Photo by Amy Stuart

Pumpkins are not vegetables they are fruits! Pumpkins, gourds, and other varieties of squash are all members of the Cucurbitaceae family.  Pumpkins have been grown in the Americas for thousands of years.  There was probably some kind of pumpkin served at the first Thanksgiving Feast.

Use & Preparation

To prepare fresh pumpkin for uses in baking, roasting or adding to casserole dishes, scoop out the seeds and cut the pumpkin into quarters and lay the pieces in a pan of water, filled to about one inch.  Bake until the pumpkin is tender.  Peel and mash.  Put cooked pumpkin through a strainer or sieve.

Selection

Small to medium size pumpkins are best for baking and cooking.  Look for heavy pumpkins, and ones that do not have a hollow sound.

Storage

Pumpkins should be stored in a cool dry place.  Store pumpkins upside down so the stem end is on the bottom.  Fresh field pumpkins can last 3 – 4 months.  Cooked refrigerated pumpkins last 5 to 7 days and up to one month in the freezer.

Roasted Pumpkin Seed (in the microwave)

  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  1. Remove any fiber clinging to pumpkin seeds
  2. Wash and drain well.
  3. Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry, stirring occasionally.
  4. Line a 9-inch microwavable dish with two layers of paper towels. Sprinkle seeds on the towels.
  5. Microwave at HIGH 10 – 14 minutes or until seeds are dry but still white, stirring every 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes.
  6. Place butter in a 2-cup measure, microwave until melted. Add seeds and salt, stir to coat.
  7. Serve as a snack.

Pumpkin Pie

FILLING:

  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated low-fat milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh pumpkin (cooked and drained)

CRUST:

  • Frozen 9 inch deep pie crust

TOPPING:

  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Position oven rack to lowest position.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare fresh pumpkin as directed above. Be sure to drain the pumpkin after cooking.  Now you are ready to use the pumpkin in recipes.   To prepare filling, combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.  Add pumpkin, and stir with a whisk until smooth.  Pour pumpkin mixture into the crust.  Place pie plate on a baking sheet.  Place baking sheet on lowest oven rack.  Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees  (do not remove pie from oven); bake an additional 30 minutes or until almost set.  Cool completely on wire rack.  To prepare topping, beat cream with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form.  Fold in the powdered sugar until blended.  Serve with pie.  Yield 1 Pie, about 6 – 8 pieces.

Available Fresh

Harvested September – October

 

 

Produce Pointers – Corn

Produce Pointers – Corn

Strictly speaking, corn is not a vegetable, but a grain native to the Americas. The sweet, or sugar, corn we enjoy today is a mutation of Indian field corn. Nothing is as American as corn-on-the-cob, and sweet corn has plenty of complex carbohydrates and fiber.

Use & Preparation

Boil:  Remove husks and cook 8 to 10 minutes in rapidly boiling unsalted water.

Sweet corn is a favorite among home gardeners. As long as the space is available, it’s not difficult to grow. Photo source: UF/IFAS

Microwave (on High):

1 ear – 3 to 5 minutes

2 ears – 4 to 9 minutes

3 ears – 9 to 12 minutes

4 ears – 12 to 17 minutes.

Rinse and dry corn with husk pulled back. Pull husks up to cover corn, then rinse with husks on. Do not dry. Arrange like spokes on paper towel; cover with wax paper; cook. Let corn stand for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking. Carefully remove husks, using heavy toweling to avoid burns.

Selection

Look for healthy green husks, plump kernels, and silks that are moist and light golden, not brown and brittle.

Storage

Use fresh corn as soon as possible. Refrigerate unhusked in plastic bag for up to 2 days.

Herbed Corn on the Cob

6 ears fresh corn

2 tablespoons margarine

1 teaspoon dried salad herbs (available in stores, optional)

Prepare corn for microwaving according to directions above. Microwave on high for 16 to 18 minutes, turning corn around/over after about 8 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then remove husks. Combine softened margarine and salad herbs. Spread 1 teaspoon of margarine mixture over each ear of corn.

Corn Chowder

1 tablespoon margarine, plus

3 tablespoons margarine

1 onion, chopped fine

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

3 cups water

2 cups corn kernels

3 cups milk

Salt and pepper

Brown onion in margarine, cook for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and water, cover and cook until potatoes are just tender. Add corn and milk and cook 5 minutes more.  Before serving, add the margarine and salt and pepper to taste, and reheat.

Nutrition Information

Low fat & cholesterol free. High in fiber. Very low in sodium. Good source of vitamin C and carbohydrates.

Available Fresh

June – September

To learn about fresh Florida corn, please read our fact sheet: Panhandle Produce_Corn.

For more delicious produce preparation tips, please visit: http://www.panhandleproducepointers.com.

 

Produce Pointers – Melons

Produce Pointers – Melons

The taste and fragrance of a cool, juicy slice of fresh melon in the summer just can’t be beat.  Melons have been a favorite fruit for many centuries.  They appear in Egyptian tomb paintings dated to 2400 B.C., and they are mentioned in the writings of the early Greeks and Romans.  Mark Twain called watermelon “the food that angels eat.”

Uses & Preparation

Watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe are excellent cut up in salads, as a dessert, or alone as a cool, refreshing snack anytime. To save space and cooling time in the refrigerator, cut up the melon and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

UF/IFAS Photo

Selection

Thumping watermelon to judge ripeness is not always accurate, because you can’t tell if it is ripe or overripe. Instead, look for a well-proportioned melon with full ends, a dull outer skin, and the bottom a yellowish color, or turning from white to pale green.

Cantaloupe should have no sign of a stem, be nicely rounded, and the netting should be evenly distributed. Golden-colored melons with a mild melon odor are the peak of ripeness, while green ones will ripen in a few days if kept at room temperature.

A ripe honeydew melon has a creamy yellow rind that is soft and velvety. The best – tasting honeydew smells slightly fruity. Hold a honeydew at room temperature for a few days for even tastier fruit.

 

Melon Salad

Arrange balls or slices of watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew melon, alone or in combination, on lettuce.  Serve with French dressing. Diced apples, diced pears, nuts, and chopped celery may be added for variety.

Chicken & Watermelon Salad

5 chicken breast, boned, skinned, cooked and cubed

3 cups watermelon, cubed

3 cups pears, cored and cubed

1/2 pound sliced mushrooms

1/2 pint low-calorie Italian dressing

Combine all ingredients, toss gently. Refrigerate on hour, stirring occasionally. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Nutrition Information

Low in sodium.  Low in calories. Good source of vitamin A.

Available Fresh

June – August

To learn about fresh Florida melons, please read our fact sheet: Panhandle Produce Pointers – Melons

For more delicious produce preparation tips, please visit: http://www.panhandleproducepointers.com.