Cooking Prep – Produce
It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.
People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something undercooked. They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable. It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.
So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Beks Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.
This week, we are talking about fruit and vegetable safety. Something that everyone can agree is important.
The Importance of Produce
Produce is what is supposed to make up the majority of our diets. These plants and fruits that come from the ground, the trees, and bushes are the things that give us most of the nutrients that are tantamount to our survival. It is the byproduct of the millennia of ancient ancestral labor, one of the first few marks of early civilization. And, it’s accessibility is something that still very much drives our local and worldwide economy.
Because produce is so important both as a source of life and plays a key role in our anthropological origin story, it is only fair that we should keep that tradition alive by understanding how to prep, store, and cook our produce.
There are three important aspects when it comes to dealing with produce. Knowing what produce grows in which season, and their shelf life, are the biggest advantage that you can have in your kitchen. Especially when you are just starting out in understanding meal prep.
Produce and Seasons
Eating fruits or vegetables “in season” sounds something that could be compared to a fashion statement, or a fad. This isn’t the case. When people talk about produce being “in season” they are stating that a piece of produce is more available. The reason we have a variety of fruits and vegetables in the first place is that different plants have different growth cycles.
Each plant has an ideal climate, water intake, soil environment, and reproduction cycle. There are some plants that are hardy, and grow year round, like carrots and cabbage. There are others that peak during a select season, such as pumpkins during autumn or rhubarb during the end of spring.
It is often ideal to eat a fruit or vegetable in season for a few reasons.
- The first being that it is just less costly.
- If someone buys produce locally and in season, it tends to be cheaper than something that is imported or out of season.
- The second is that you are more likely to get better nutrition out of it.
- According to Mind, Body, Green, “Plants get their nourishment from the sun and soil. Seasonally fresh produce is picked when they’re ripe and fully developed. The plant has had more sun exposure, which means it will have higher levels of antioxidants!”
- The third is because the produce is more flavorful in season.
- When produce is frozen, chilled, or picked early for transport, the flavor suffers because the texture and tastes start to warp.
Fruit and Veggie Shelf Life
When someone cooking talks about “shelf life”, they are referring to the amount of time that a piece of food before it becomes too rotten to eat. Food, especially produce, will continue to ripen and react long after it has been harvested because plants just run on their natural life cycles.
Thanks to a combination of cross-cultivation, and the cellular structures of plants, they will react to things at different rates. Some of them will rot within a few days, others will keep for weeks at a time.
The Pioneer Woman, a celebrity chef and kitchen icon explains the concept in better detail than I do.
“Some vegetables last longer than others, which is why I mentioned that you may need to do your vegetable prep two times a week for certain vegetables. Harder vegetables, such as carrots, peppers, and broccoli and cauliflower florets, typically last through the week, while softer vegetables (think tomatoes and cucumbers) usually max out at 3 or 4 days.”
However, it is important for anyone ready to experiment in the kitchen to understand the properties of each ingredient they are working with. CookSmarts.com has a handy dandy chart that explains in detail just how long certain types of produce keep.
But that isn’t all that you need to know about shelf life.
Produce Prep and Safety Tips:
For health and safety reasons, you still need to wash your produce before you start cooking. This is because produce grows in the dirt. Sometimes with fertilizer. The last thing that you want you or your family to be exposed to is the harmful bacteria that is commonly found in both dirt and animal feces.
- Wash your hands properly.
- So, after you get done washing your hands as part of prep work, you can start washing the produce.
- The best way to do this is to hold the fruit or vegetable underneath running water while rubbing the fruit gently.
- Do not use soap to wash vegetables unless you are wanting to poison someone.
- Wash your produce before you chop or peel anything. That way, germs, and harmful bacteria won’t transfer from the peel to the knife and to the fruit.
- Refrigerate any produce or ingredients you want to preserve at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- Depending on the fruit and vegetable, if you expose it to water before trying to store it for long term prep, you are going to make them rot faster. Just wash them before you cook them and not before storage.
- Store chopped ingredients or leftovers in airtight containers when refrigerating.