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Tips for Buying the Best Summer Fruit

July 10th, 2015
Center for Food Safety

It’s officially summertime, which means all of the delicious summer fruits are finally here. With the season in full swing, the markets are bursting with great produce for you and your family. But how do you know which watermelon is ripest? Which berries are freshest? Here are some tips for picking and storing the best summer fruit at the market.

As always, buy local and organic if you can for the best quality, variety and flavor—farmer’s markets are great for this!

1. Watermelon

Look: Avoid any melons with bruising, soft spots, or cracks. When a watermelon is ripe it should be dark green but have a dull, not shiny, appearance. Pick melons that are uniform in shape with a creamy yellow “field spot” where they touched the ground—if this is white or non-existent they will be under-ripe.

Touch: The melon should feel heavy for its size. Hold it like a baby in your arm and slap it on the bottom—if it’s ripe it should sound like you’re hitting a jug of water.

Smell: Watermelons don’t have a strong scent.

Storage: If your melon feels hard, leave it at room temperature for a few days to soften slightly. Once the melon feels like it has the right amount of give, refrigerate it.

2. Strawberries

Look: Look for strawberries with a full, red color—any white or light green means they were picked too early. A shiny berry is a fresh berry. If the shine is off the berry, it’s a good chance it’s several days off the plant. Always inspect the berries for mold; one moldy berry can quickly ruin others.

Touch: If they are in a plastic clamshell, give it a shake to make sure they move freely. If not, there are likely moldy or soggy berries hiding in there. Check the bottom of clamshells and avoid any with stains.

Smell: Ripe strawberries will smell sweet and very fragrant.

Storage: If you plan to eat the berries that day, leave them at room temperature. Otherwise, refrigerate the berries and keep them dry. Never wash strawberries until you are ready to use them.

3. Peaches

Look: Avoid any peaches with bruising, soft spots, or dents. Look for fruit with a deep orange or yellow hue, with no signs of white or green.

Touch: Peaches should be firm but give slightly when pressed.

Smell: A ripe peach smells delicious. If it doesn’t smell great, it will lack flavor.

Storage: Peaches get softer and juicier after they are picked; if they are firm, leave at room temperature and they will soften over several days. If the fruit is already ripe, refrigerate.

4. Figs

Look: Buy figs with smooth, firm skin. Small cracks are okay as long as they are not leaking. Make sure none are moldy, have soft spots, or leaking liquid.

Touch: A perfectly ripe fig will be plump and juicy; it will feel tender when lightly squeezed. A ripe fig is a soft fig that still holds its shape.

Smell: Ripe figs will smell fresh and mildly sweet.

Storage: Figs get softer and juicier once picked, but they don’t get any sweeter. Refrigerate them in a paper bag or on a plate. They should keep for a week.

5. Raspberries and blackberries

Look: Look for a deep uniform color—red for raspberries and black for blackberries. They should have full drupelets and be plump, dry and firm. Avoid any that are mushy or moldy.

Touch: Give the container a gentle shake to make sure the berries move freely. If not, there are likely moldy or soggy berries hiding in there. Check the underside of the container to make sure it isn’t stained with the juice of crushed berries.

Smell: The berries should smell subtly sweet and fragrant, with no moldy odors.

Storage: Ripe berries don’t store well. If you are eating them that day store them on the counter, but otherwise keep them refrigerated and totally dry.

Check back next time for a guide to buying the best summer vegetables. Until then, enjoy the bounty of the season!