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New Study Aims to Ensure Store-Bought Strawberries Stay Fresh as Long as Possible

Courtesy photo.

Why don't strawberries stay fresh as long as we'd like? It all has to do with keeping them cold.

Researchers at the University of Florida and University of South Florida are working to ensure the strawberries you buy at the store stay fresh as long as possible.

As anyone who’s ever bought strawberries knows, sometimes they last for days in the fridge, and sometimes they...don’t.

“We know that in a lot of cases produce looks good and then like overnight the next day it’s not good. And everybody knows that...they see that at home...like the strawberries look good today and you open them up from the refrigerator and you’re like, what happened? Now I can see decay, they’re shriveled or whatever.”

That’s Jeff Brecht, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor.

He says this doesn’t happen because they’ve been on the shelf for too long at the store — strawberries are typically only on the shelf at the store for one day—but because they might not have been kept cold enough on their journey from the field to the store.

Strawberries are picked and then shipped in refrigerated trucks, hopefully as close as possible to the ideal temperature of 34 degrees. If they get any warmer, strawberries lose some of their sugars, vitamins, and antioxidants, and can more easily bruise and decay.

Brecht's research team placed sensors in strawberry shipments to monitor the temperature during their journey. That helped them determine that if the strawberries are allowed to get just a few degrees warmer at any point during their roughly 4-day journey, it can make a substantial difference in how long they’ll stay fresh once they get to market.

This research is all about reducing waste. Brecht says most waste happens at the consumer level because things don’t last as long at home as expected.

“If retailers were armed with this information everybody in the consumer world would consistently get better quality produce because they would be much less likely to get these items that don’t last as long as they should,” Brecht says.

But, he says if retailers knew the temperature history of the strawberries they receive, and had a model that told them what the expected remaining shelf life is, they could use that information for whether to accept the shipment, and know how long it should stay fresh.

And, he says if you want your strawberries to stay fresh as long as possible definitely keep them in the refrigerator at home.

Copyright 2021 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Mike Kiniry is producer of Gulf Coast Live, and co-creator and host of the WGCU podcast Three Song Stories: Biography Through Music. He first joined the WGCU team in the summer of 2003 as an intern while studying Communication at Florida Gulf Coast University.