Containing Strawberry Freshness

It’s strawberry season!  Those lush, first fruits of summer are starting to appear in home gardens, farmer’s markets, and u-pick patches.  How do you keep them fresh and enjoy them at their prime?

Freshly picked strawberries
Freshly picked strawberries.

There is nothing worse than having fresh strawberries go bad within a day or two.  Because it happens all too frequently, consumers have shared their ‘secrets’ or methods to thwart this disappointing situation.  Any number of recommendations on keeping strawberries fresh can be found by perusing the web.  One site, The Kitchen, put seven popular methods of storing strawberries to the test with the hopes of find the best method of storing strawberries longer.  The test findings revealed that rinsing the strawberries in vinegar water prior to storage proved to be the best. But is that really the best way?  According to food scientists, moisture is the enemy of strawberries.  So what do the experts recommend?

Rinse the berries and remove caps when you are ready to eat or use them.    

Keeping Your Strawberries Fresh (University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension) says that “strawberries are like small sponges and soak up all the water they come into contact with.  Once they have soaked it up, they are quick to turn to mush and mold even if they have been thoroughly patted dry.” This is also the reason that strawberries should not be picked when they are damp.  The same holds true for berries that have experienced heavy rain or several days of wet weather even though they are dry at the time of picking; they are on moisture overload and will not keep long regardless of how they are cared for or stored.

Therefore, strawberries should only be washed before eating or using to remove dirt and any potential bacterial contamination.  To wash, rinse the berries thoroughly under cool running water, drain in a clean strainer, and pat dry with paper towels.  For any berries showing signs of dirt, gently rub the berry under running water.  Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy (Linda J Harris, Food Safety Expert at UC Davis) recommends against washing strawberries in a sink filled with water as the standing water can spread contamination from one berry to another.  The use of soap or detergent is also not recommended or approved for washing fruits and vegetables because the produce can absorb detergent residues.

Refrigerate if not used right away.

Strawberries do not ripen after picking so putting them in the refrigerator does not slow the ripening.  It does, however, slow the progression of mold growth on or between the berries if they will not be used for eating or cooking shortly after picking.  If they will be used or eaten after picking, they will not deteriorate sitting on a counter for a couple of hours at room temperature.  Cold temperatures suppress the flavor of the berries so they will taste sweeter if you let them come to room temperature before eating.

Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy explains that the optimum storage conditions for strawberries is 32⁰ to 36⁰F with humidity at 90 to 95 percent.  Therefore, the refrigerator fruit crisper drawer is the best place to keep them.  Other suggestions include storing the strawberries in the plastic clamshell containers they are usually sold in. However, before refrigerating, the containers should be opened and the berries checked for any crushed or spoiled ones and removed. Fresh picked berries may do better if they are placed in layers between paper towels in a covered container.  The paper towels help to soak up excess moisture from the strawberries and to allow air circulation between the berries.  Stored properly under optimum conditions, fresh strawberries should last 7 days; however, shelf life depends on how ripe the berries are when purchased or picked.

Berries that have been cut or sliced should be covered and refrigerated if they are not eaten or used within 2 hours of preparation.

For longer term storage, freeze, dry, or preserve (jams and jellies). 

For best quality, strawberries should be preserved on the day they are harvested.  Select berries that are firm, brightly colored, sweet-scented, and have hulls (green caps) attached.  On average, 1 pound of fresh berries yields 1 pint of frozen berries. One pound of fresh berries is approximately 2/3 – 1 quart of fresh berries. A quart container of fresh strawberries is approximately 1½ pounds or 4 cups sliced berries.  Wash the berries as indicated and remove the caps.

Freezing strawberries is quick and easy and perfect for making smoothies, sauces, and jams at a later date.  Frozen berries are also great for baking.  Further, a lot of berries are not needed at any one time to freeze.  There are different methods for freezing—sliced or whole, sugar or no sugar, container or bag—all are acceptable personal choices.  What is important is that the berries are protected from freezer burn. The tray or flash freeze method is perfect for freezing strawberries as any amount can be done at a time. Spread whole or sliced prepared berries on a tray and freeze.  When frozen, remove them from the freezer, package in an air-tight container or zipper bag, and quickly return to the freezer.  The fruit pieces remain loose and can be used in whatever quantity is need. 

Drying strawberries reduces the amount of space needed for storage.  Berries can be left whole but dry better if sliced ¼ to ½-inch thick; they can also be pureed for a fruit leather. Pretreating with an acidic solution (soaking in equal parts lemon juice and water for 10 minutes) is not required, but keeps strawberries from darkening. A food dehydrator or freeze dryer produces the best quality dried strawberries.  Strawberries should not be dried in a microwave oven as they are prone to scorching and burning.  Proper drying temperature is 135⁰ to 140⁰F in a food dehydrator. The amount of time it takes to dry strawberries depends on their initial moisture content, the volume being dried, the size and thickness, humidity of the ambient air, and the dehydrator or freeze dryer. Berries dried in a dehydrator are dry when they are pliable but not sticky or tacky. Freeze-dried strawberries will be brittle when completely dry. Cool the dried berries thoroughly. Before packaging for storage, dehydrated strawberries should be conditioned. Once conditioning is complete, the fruit should be packaged in an airtight container or bag and stored in a dark location.  Dried strawberries can be rehydrated, use as a snack, or added to yogurt, smoothies, cereal and many other things.  For additional information on drying strawberries, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a publication, Drying Fruits and Vegetables.

Preserving strawberries in the form of jams, jellies or fruit spreads are rewarding ways to use ripe strawberries. (Canning strawberries is NOT recommended.) Preserves made with commercial pectin products are quick and easy to do; package directions should be carefully followed for success.  Jam can also be made without added pectin.  A good recipe can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Freezer jam is another option.  It is made with a modified pectin as freezer jams do not require cooking.  Freezer jam tastes more like fresh strawberries.

Enjoy those succulent strawberries while at their prime!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Freezing Strawberries

Freezing strawberries is a wonderful way to extend the season’s bounty and relish their fresh aroma and flavor throughout the year.  Strawberries add a natural sweetness to any dish while also providing fiber, potassium, folate, and antioxidants. Strawberries are one of the best sources of vitamin C, necessary for supporting a healthy immune system, collagen production in skin and bones and so much more. A serving of about 8 strawberries supplies our daily need for vitamin C, the same as an orange.  Strawberries also are sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low in calories and have a low glycemic index.   Freezing strawberries is a quick and easy process to retain nutrients and reduces food waste by not letting them spoil in the fridge.

Always start with ripe, firm berries.  Freezing does not improve the quality.  Freshness is best captured if the berries are frozen as soon after picking as possible. The longer berries sit, the more nutrients and antioxidants they loose. Freezing the day of picking locks in the antioxidants and nutrients.  Begin by washing and stemming (removing the caps) the berries.  Strawberries can be frozen without sugar, with sugar, or with syrup.

Freezing Without Sugar using the Tray Pack Method.   Spread sliced or whole berries in a single layer on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan.  Place the tray into the freezer for one to two hours to freeze the berries solid.  Transfer frozen berries to containers or plastic zipper freezer bags, remove air, label, and return to the freezer.  Berries can be taken out easily in quantities needed and can be used partially thawed or fully thawed.

Freezing Without Sugar.  Place sliced or whole berries into a freezer container.  Allow adequate headspace for expansion in freezing.  Label and freeze.  Berries will freeze solidly together requiring thawing before use.  Add sugar or artificial sweetener at time of use, if desired.

Freezing With Sugar.   Add 3/4 cup sugar to 1 quart (about 1 1/3 pounds) of strawberries.  Gently stir until most of the sugar dissolves and allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes before transferring into containers.  Be sure to leave adequate headspace to allow for expansion in freezing.  Artificial sweeteners can be used to replace the sugar.  Follow manufacturers directions.  Artificial sweeteners add sweetness like sugar, but do not protect fruit color as sugar does.  Berries will freeze solidly together and will require thawing to use.

Freezing With Syrup.  Put berries into containers and cover with cold 50 percent syrup, leaving headspace for expansion. Label and freeze.  Berries will freeze solidly together and will require thawing to use.

Regardless of method used, be sure to not overload the freezer and allow adequate space to quickly freeze the berries.  Frozen strawberries kept at 0°F can be used indefinitely but are at best quality if used within 8-12 months.

Whether it’s slightly thawed berries atop oatmeal for breakfast or ice cream for dessert, a frozen berry snack or berries pureed in yogurt, a slushy, or made into a sauce, frozen strawberries provide all of the nutrients of fresh berries (and maybe more when they are frozen quickly) and still possess their sweet, deliciousness.

Sources:
Health Benefits of Fresh, Frozen, and Dried Strawberries.  California Strawberry.com
Freezing Strawberries.  National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Preserving Strawberries:  A Guide to Freezing.  University of Florida.  IFAS Extension.

Reviewed and updated, 5/2025, mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Time to make Jelly

Strawberries are ready at the “pick your own” farm near my home. My family enjoys fresh strawberries, but if I pick more than we can eat in a few days I enjoy making strawberry jam.

These days we have several different options for preserving jams and jellies. We can make freezer jam or the cooked jam that can be preserved in canning jars. Any jam or jelly recipe should be followed exactly as written. You should not double or cut these recipes in half—the jelly may not set if you do.

Freezer jam is the easiest product to make. You simply prepare the fruit, stir in the instant fruit pectin and ladle the jam into clean jars. After a short standing period the jam is refrigerated or frozen. Remember, you can’t can freezer jam.

Strawberry jelly1
Strawberry jam ready to process.

Cooked jam or jelly takes a bit more effort. Fruit or juice is prepared, then heated, pectin is added to the juice or fruit, sugar added, product boiled for a minute, and lastly the jam or jelly is placed into clean jars with ¼ inch of headspace. The product is processed in a boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes (10 minutes if the altitude at your home is over 1000 feet and under 3000 feet).

If this puts you in the mood to make some jam, check out the recipes at these sites: Preserve the Taste of Summer publications through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Or, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also find recipes on the package inserts of commercial pectin packages. If you have any questions, please contact us at AnswerLine.

We are always happy to help you.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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