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How to Clean Strawberries

Strawberries are delicious by themselves or when added to breakfast foods and desserts. Knowing how to clean them is especially important, whether you're going to eat berries right away or store them for later.. Learn about the many ways to clean strawberries and store them to enjoy all year long.

A handful of strawberries being washed.

Years ago I was at a friend’s house when she took a tub of store-bought strawberries out of the refrigerator and began eating them without washing them first.  I didn’t like the sight of that.  After all, we are warned to wash fresh fruit before eating it, whether we pick it ourselves, find it at the farmers’ market, or select it from the grocery store.  My friend got sick a few days later.  I can’t prove that the unwashed strawberries were the culprit, but it’s certainly possible.

Washing strawberries and other fruits are important.  Here’s a look at some tried-and-true methods for cleaning strawberries, along with tips on how to store them.

Related: 23 Different Types of Strawberries | How to Store Strawberries | Food Preservation

When to Wash Strawberries

First, you don’t need to wash fresh strawberries until you’re ready to eat them or put them in your favorite recipes.  Strawberries are like sponges; their soft, porous exteriors allow them to readily soak up moisture.  So, if you give them a bath and then store them, the water-logged produce will expire quickly.

How to Clean Strawberries

There’s more than one way to wash a fresh berry.

Water Bath

If you have locally-sourced organic strawberries, all you usually have to do is place them in a colander and rinse them under cool running water for 10-20 seconds.  Pat them dry with paper towels.  Then, the fruit is ready for eating or baking.  The Centre for Science and Environment reports that washing berries with cool water remove 75-80% of pesticide residue.

Vinegar Solution

If your strawberries were commercially-grown, they were likely sprayed with pesticides.  In fact, strawberry plants are one of the most highly-sprayed crops out there.  If you don’t wash them thoroughly, you will end up consuming some of those pesticides, too.  Thus, your berries will require a cleaning process that’s a little more involved.

Plus, your fruit may have made a long trek from the farm to the grocery store, so it’s been through a lot and handled by a number of people.  That makes washing fruit all the more crucial to remove bacteria and dirt.  To make a vinegar bath, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a large bowl with a 4:1 solution of water and white vinegar.
  2. Completely submerge the berries in the water-vinegar wash.
  3. Soak them for 20 minutes.
  4. Rinse the berries thoroughly under cool running water.  Pat them dry with a cloth or paper towels.  If you’ve rinsed the fruit thoroughly, you shouldn’t be able to detect the acetic acid that gives vinegar its unique taste.

Baking Soda

Soak fresh produce in a solution of 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 4 cups water. Leave it for five minutes, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry.

Salt Wash

This is another popular produce wash. Fill a bowl with a mixture of salt and warm water.  The rule of thumb for a saline wash is to add one teaspoon of salt for every cup of water.  Let the solution cool before you add the strawberries.

Then, leave them to soak for at least five minutes.  Next, remove them from the bowl and rinse them under cool, running water.  When you’ve washed off all the saltwater, you can pat the fruit dry with cloths or paper towels.

You can also use a variation of this method by combining 4 cups of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, and at least 10% salt.

Using salt to wash produce has been popularized by social media and for good reason.  Salt draws fruit fly larva from the fruit.  If your fruit has sustained an infestation, you’ll be able to see the evidence after a good salt soak.  After at least five minutes of immersion in the solution, you will be able to see little worms (the offspring of the tiny bugs) in the bowl.

Normally, you don’t have to worry about fruit flies in your produce unless it’s overripe, because that’s when it becomes a target for them.  However, one variety of flies, Spotted Wing Drosophila, lays eggs in fruit before it’s ready for harvest.

Fruit and Veggie Wash

Here’s another DIY solution you can make for washing produce.  Here’s what you need to put it together:

  • Paper towels
  • Scrub brush with soft bristles (You don’t need to use this on berries, but it is recommended for fruits and veggies with thick skins).
  • Spray bottle
  • Measuring cup and spoons
  • Water
  • Lemon Juice
  • Distilled White Vinegar
  1. In a spray bottle, combine 4 cups water, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  Shake well.
  2. Place berries in a colander in the sink.  Spray the fruit generously with the solution and let it sit for 2-5 minutes. (You can use this with most fruits and vegetables, too, including root vegetables).
  3. Use cool water to thoroughly rinse the fruit.  (If you are cleaning thicker-skinned produce, scrub it gently with the brush).
  4. Pat the food dry with paper towels.

How to Store Strawberries

(You can also use these methods with blueberries and raspberries).

Storing at Room Temperature

A bowl full of strawberries on a wooden table.

If you’re planning to eat your berries almost immediately after buying them, you can keep them on the counter at room temperature.  They won’t be quite as vibrant if you stick them in the fridge.  And if you’re going to eat them right away, why not keep them as fresh as possible?  There’s no need to chill them if you don’t have to.

Storing in the Refrigerator

A woman taking a piece of strawberry out of the fridge.

If you want to eat the berries later, place them in the refrigerator.  Properly-stored strawberries will stay firm and flavorful in there for up to a week.  For best results, follow these tips.

  • Keep berries dry and cold.  Don’t wash them prior to refrigerating them.  Exposing them to moisture for prolonged periods creates the ideal breeding grounds for mold spores. But do wash the fruit before cooking or eating.
  • Leave the stems on your strawberries intact.  These little guys protect the interior of the fruit so it lasts longer in the fridge.
  • Store berries in a single layer.  Strawberries don’t do as well when stacked, as the bottom berries are susceptible to being crushed by the ones on top.
  • Line a shallow glass bowl, plate, or baking sheet with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  Place a single layer of berries on the paper towel base.  Cover them with a lid or plastic wrap.  You can keep them in the refrigerator this way until you’re ready to use them, preferably within one week.
  • Check on your berries throughout their stay in the fridge.  Mold spreads with amazing speed.  So if you notice one or two berries going bad, throw them out right away before the entire batch goes to rot.

Storing in the Freezer

There are multiple ways to store strawberries in the freezer.  You may want to try all of them to find the one you like best.

Standard Method

Freezing is recommended if you want to store your berries for more than a week.  Here are some tips for maximum quality and freshness. You can freeze berries for 3-6 months.  Adding a little dusting of sugar will increase their shelf life a bit.

Don’t wash berries before storing them.  Remove the stems from the berries before freezing.

Cut the strawberries into thin slices or quarters.  Line a plate or baking sheet with parchment paper, and place the berries on it.  Freeze them until they solidify completely, which usually takes about 30 minutes.  Next, transfer the berries to a resealable bag.  Then, you can easily take out what you want whenever you are craving a strawberry snack or smoothie.

Storing Whole Berries

A woman taking out frozen strawberries out of the freezer.

You can freeze whole berries individually.  Here’s how to do it.

  1. Wash and gently dry the berries, but don’t soak them, as this will reduce their flavor and nutrient content.  Check your supply of berries and get rid of any that are going bad.
  2. Place whole berries on a baking sheet, making sure that they don’t touch each other so they won’t stick together.  Freeze them until solid.
  3. Transfer the fruit to an airtight container or freezer-safe plastic bag.

Old School Strawberry Syrup

A couple of frozen strawberry popsicles on a plate.

This is considered an “old school” method because it’s been around forever.  You will need airtight containers or jars for the berries.

This technique involves placing the berries in a slightly-sweetened liquid, which makes for an excellent dessert in and of itself.  Another tasty option is to drizzle some of the syrup over ice cream or yogurt.  If you like strawberry shortcake, place some of the concoction onto scones topped with cream.  To make strawberry-infused syrup, follow these steps:

  1. Make a 4:1 mixture of water and sugar.  You can dissolve the sugar in hot or cold water.  But if you use hot water, chill the syrup before you use it.
  2. Place berries whole or sliced in plastic containers and pour sweet syrup over them.  For every pint of berries, use 1/2-1/3 cup of syrup.  Seal the containers and place them in the freezer.  When you’re ready to use them, thaw them in the refrigerator or on the counter.  Never use hot water for thawing frozen jars, as they’re almost certain to break.

Strawberry Coulis

This is a versatile sauce that goes well with breakfast treats and desserts.  You can scoop some on top of crêpes or pancakes.  It’s a tasty addition to chocolate cake and ice cream, or anything that you want to embellish with strawberry goodness.  Here’s how to make it.

You will need:

  • About a pound (2 pints, or 400 grams) of strawberries.  Be sure to cull any expired berries from the batch so they don’t end up in the sauce.
  • Sugar to taste (1 tablespoon should be enough)
  • 1/2 teaspoon citrus juice (lemon or lime)

Use a food processor or blender to combine the ingredients.  Pulse until the berries have a roughly chopped consistency.  Then, blend the mixture until smooth.  The sauce should have a glossy look.

Go ahead and sample some to make sure it’s sweet enough.  If needed, you can add more sugar.

This step is optional.  But if you think some citrus seeds may have gotten into your sauce, you can pass it through a fine sieve.

Pour strawberry coulis into 2 half-pint jars.  (Jars should have half an inch of headspace).  Place them in the freezer.

If you’re going to use the sauce relatively soon, you can refrigerate it for up to four days instead of freezing it.

This recipe yields 2 cups of strawberry coulis.  For larger or smaller batches, you can adjust the ingredient amounts as needed.

Strawberry-Limeade Concentrate

This is a great way to preserve strawberries that are bruised or otherwise look less than perfect.  Plus, you’ll have a tasty concentrate at the ready whenever you need to make a refreshing drink.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup strawberry coulis
  • 3/4 cup raw cane sugar
  • 1 cup lime juice (or the juice of about 8 limes)

Combine the ingredients and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays.

To serve, combine 2 frozen concentrate cubes and 1 cup of cold water.

Tip:  When I’m freezing anything in an ice cube tray, I like to use trays with lids to prevent spills and keep the tray’s contents from absorbing the odors of the freezer.  So, if your trays don’t have lids, you may want to use them to freeze the concentrate completely, which should take a few hours.  Then, you can transfer the cubes to a resealable bag to lock in the flavor.

FAQs

Can you use dish soap or a similar product to wash strawberries?

Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that you avoid cleaning your berries with bleach, dish soaps, and detergents, or even compounds specially formulated to wash produce.

While these products will probably do a good job of removing dirt and pesticides, they may also leave a soapy residue behind, which you will end up ingesting.  The jury is still out on whether it would be safe to consume a little non-bleach detergent along with your fruit, so it’s best not to use it at all.

Is white vinegar the only kind you can use to clean strawberries?

No.  You can also use apple cider vinegar.  This reddish vinegar may not smell the best, but it has a variety of health benefits and uses.  Washing strawberries and other produce with apple cider vinegar can prolong the amount of time you can safely refrigerate it before it starts to go bad.

What happens if you wash strawberries well in advance of when you plan to eat them?

Strawberries don’t do well in moist environments.  If you wash the berries with the intention of storing them for a while, it won’t be long before they succumb to mold.  The faster the mold takes over, the quicker your berries will deteriorate.  That’s why it’s recommended that you wash the fruit a few minutes before you plan to eat it or cook with it.

Does freezing strawberries change their consistency?

Unfortunately, yes.  You will notice that the berries are rather mushy when you thaw them out.  That’s why they are best used in smoothies and other beverages.  You can also eat them right out of the freezer before they’ve had a chance to get mushy.

How long do strawberries last when stored at room temperature?

Strawberries stop ripening once they are harvested.  That means they don’t remain fresh for long.  If you want to store them at room temperature, be sure to eat them within a day or two.

Do strawberries expire in the freezer?

No.  Properly stored, you can keep strawberries in the freezer for several months.  Over time, they may lose some of their flavors, but they are not unsafe to eat.  As long as they’re kept at a consistent 0°F, they remain usable for an indefinite amount of time.

 

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