Washing and Storing Summer Berries: 5 Tips We Learned the Hard Way

updated May 2, 2019
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Berry Pineapple Fruit Salad (Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Some of the best lessons in the kitchen are learned the hard way. For me it took puzzling over why the heck my raspberries were always moldy, year after year, when I usually only keep them for a day or so. After talking to food folks we know here in Seattle, my favorite farmers’ market vendors, and my very trustworthy relatives, I learned a few tips I really should have known before, tips that would guarantee clean summer berry success…

By nature, summer berries are small, soft, and delicate, so cleaning and storing them is much more of a challenge than, say, a hearty melon or stone fruits. And there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about the best way to wash them. (Some folks say you shouldn’t wash them at all, actually.) After many summers of doing it wrong, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Timing is everything: Only rinse berries right before you use them. Water increases the liklihood they’ll start to mold.

2. Don’t soak: Place them in a colander and rinse water over them instead of fully submerging them.

3. Give them a quick chill: You know how sun-ripened, warm berries have that delightful soft messiness to them? Well, that is what makes them taste just like summer, but it’s also what makes them incredibly delicate and difficult to wash. So a good tip is to refrigerate them for an hour or so when you bring them home from the market. They’re easier to rinse when they’ve had a chance to firm up just a bit.

4. Storage is key: After washing berries, let them rest in a colander in the refrigerator and another vessel that has some air circulation. This will help them dry out more considerably than if just placed in a bowl.

5. Avoid the crisper: Many people believe that berries will go bad more quickly if kept in the crisper because the air has a higher humidity and doesn’t circulate as much as throughout the rest of the refrigerator. In a very unscientific sampling, I find this to be true and follow this myself.