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Tips for Buying the Best Summer Vegetables

August 14th, 2015
Center for Food Safety

Summer is in full swing, and the markets are bursting with great produce. Following our last post about summer fruit, here are some tips for choosing the best summer vegetables at the market. And yes, we know that tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers are actually fruits – but we list them as vegetables here because that’s how most people think of them. Read on for advice about picking the ripest tomatoes and the freshest corn, as well as how to store them. As always, buy local and organic if you can for the best quality, variety and flavor—farmer’s markets are great for this!

Tomatoes

Look: The color of the tomatoes, whether, red, purple, green, yellow, or orange, should be full and ripe. Avoid tomatoes with wrinkled skins, but cosmetic cracking doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Touch: Tomatoes should be firm but not too hard, although some varieties do get softer on top when ripe. Choose tomatoes that feel heavy for their size.

Smell: A fresh tomato should smell great—choose tomatoes that are fragrant and smell earthy at the stem.

Storage: Never refrigerate tomatoes—the cold temperature will ruin their taste and texture. Keep them at room temperature, on a surface away from any sunny windows.

Summer Squash

Note: Some summer squash (yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, and zucchini) may be genetically engineered—always buy organic to avoid GE squash.

Look: Check the stem end of the squash to see how fresh it is; there should be a little juice coming out of the stem. Buy squash with shiny, unblemished skin—dull, scratched skin means that the squash is older.

Touch: Squash should be nice and firm. Avoid any that have soft spots or are limp.

Storage: Store squash in a plastic bag at the front of your refrigerator. Eat within a few days of purchasing for the best quality.

Green Beans

Look: Green beans should have full, bright color and be slender in size.

Touch: Choose beans that snap rather than bend—they should be crisp. Buy beans that feel a little fuzzy, and avoid any dried pods.

Storage: Fresh green beans taste best the day you buy them, as they lose their moisture and sweetness quickly after harvest. However, if you do buy more than you can eat, put them in a paper bag inside a plastic bag and refrigerate in the crisper for 2-3 days.

Corn

Note: Make sure to avoid genetically engineered corn by always buying organic.

Look: Buy corn with bright green husks and a fresh-looking silk tassel. Peel back the husk to make sure the kernels are full, plump, and not too dry.

Touch: the silky tips should be moist but not slimy or mushy.

Storage: Corn does not keep well—take it home immediately and refrigerate it, unhusked in a plastic bag. Cook it as soon as possible, preferably the same day that you buy it.

Cucumbers

Look: Choose cucumbers that are uniform in color and not too big. Yellow lemon cucumbers and small green Japanese cucumbers are both excellent alternatives to the bloated hothouse cucumbers found year-round in supermarkets.

Touch: Cucumbers should be firm—any limpness or signs of shriveling mean that they aren’t very fresh.

Storage: Cucumbers do not store well. Buy only what you can eat within 2-3 days, and store in a container in the refrigerator.