What is the best way to store cucurbits like zucchini and cucumbers for several days? Should they be refrigerated?
Answer: Contrary to common belief, washing zucchini or cucumbers prior to storage is not recommended. If the fruit is muddy, then wash it, but make sure it is completely dry before boxing it. If you pick squash and cucumbers that feel gritty, it is best not to wash them, as doing so could reduce the fruit’s shelf life.After the fruit is dry and boxed, deciding whether to refrigerate or not depends on what is going to happen with the fruit after it is boxed. Boxed squash or cucumbers should never be stored in the sun. The cardinal rule of post-harvest handling of fresh vegetables is that once they are off the vine or the plant, they should never be exposed to the sun again. If you are going to be selling the fruit yourself at an open-air farmers market, you should put it into an air conditioned room, rather than refrigerate it, if that is possible. If you can get the temperature of the fruit to drop to less than 80 degrees F overnight, it will last much longer.If you are going to sell the fruit to a retail grocery store or to a local wholesaler, then you should refrigerate the boxes as soon as possible. If you will be delivering the fruit from your place of business to the retail store or to the local wholesaler in a refrigerated truck, then you should store the boxes at 50 to 55 degrees F. If you will be delivering the fruit in an unrefrigerated vehicle, you should only cool the fruit down to about 65 degrees F. Avoid cooling the fruit way down to 50 to 55 degrees and then delivering it in an unrefrigerated vehicle. This dramatic swing in the internal temperature of the fruit is not good. Under no circumstance should you put summer squash or cucumbers in a cooler that is less than 50 degrees F.To learn more, read “Harvest/Post-Harvest Handling and Food Safety ? Field Exercise,” from the Western SARE Farm Internship Curriculum and Handbook. It is available on the ATTRA website at https://attra.ncat.org/intern_handbook/harvesting.html.