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The first rule of thumb when you're buying local: eat it quick.

Fresh produce tastes better and has more nutrients if eaten as close to the picking time as possible, explained Ruth Linton, manager of Highland Orchards in Hockessin.

"Just eat it in a timely fashion. Don't expect it to last for two weeks," Linton said.

It's been said that farming is the backbone of Delaware's economy. Lucky for us, that means there's an abundance of options to buy local at fresh produce stands and markets throughout the state.

But in the summer, juggling work, vacations and kiddos can make meal planning and fresh eating endeavors more difficult.

There are resources on how to store specific produce at certain temperatures. The University of Maine's Cooperative Extension advises that most fruits, for example, thrive in cooler environments near the back of the refrigerator at between 30 to 32-degrees Fahrenheit. Green beans and cucumbers should be placed in slightly warmer areas that are 40-degrees, like near the door.

But who can remember those numbers on a daily basis?

So we talked to Linton and local dietitians Crystal Bouchard and Sharon Collison about their produce sparring hacks to avoid throwing mounds of vegetables and fruits away at the end of a busy week.

Here's what they had to say:

Invest in produce keepers

Produce keepers are more than just Tupperware.

Plants give off ethylene gas, a hormone that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen. Some, such as tomatoes, give off more gas than others,and if they are near ethylene-sensitive foods such as eggplants and lettuce, it will cause premature ripening.

The OXO GreenSaver Produce Keepers, sold on Amazon for $20, for instance, stops that process. The container has a carbon filter that absorbs ethylene gas and slows down the aging process.

Bouchard, with Bayhealth Medical Center, especially favors them for spinach.

"It lasts at least two weeks longer than normal," she said.

Take care to wash, store greens 

If you don't have a produce keeper you can still keep your greens fresh.

Rinse fresh greens such as Romaine lettuce and drain in a colander, said Collison, a behavioral health and nutrition professor with the University of Delaware who works at UD's STAR Health.

Wrap the lettuce in paper towels before placing it in a plastic bag back in the refrigerator.

Keep cool, but NOT in the refrigerator

Some vegetables that you'll pick up you don't need to refrigerate at all.

Potatoes, onions and tomatoes thrive away from the sun in cool, dry places, just not in your refrigerator.

"It actually ruins their flavor," Bouchard said.

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Don't rinse berries prematurely 

Don't feel pressure to wash fruit immediately when you bring it home.

"You never wash it until you are going to use it," Linton said.

Berries last longer without rinsing.

But, check them often so you can remove any berries that show mold, Collison added.

Share the wealth

If all else fails, however, and you can't make your produce work for the week, split your bounty with a friend or family member.

Embrace lemon juice, vinegar

Linton said some customers have suggested that washing produce in a mixture that contains about 10 percent of vinegar will kill bacteria and make the product last longer.

Lemon juice is also a good preservative, Collison said. For example, dip cut apples and avocados in a mixture of water and lemon juice to keep them from turning brown, she said. Then cover the goods in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Blanche veggies before freezing

Can't use at the sweet corn you got in the CSA this week?

Blanche it.

Blanching is a cooking technique that requires placing vegetables quickly into boiling water for a minute then immediately sticking them in a bowl of ice water.

Collison said blanching halts the natural ripening enzymes in the vegetables so they last longer when frozen.

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Outsmart herbs​

Collison places fresh herb stems of parsley and cilantro in a cup of water to help them stay fresh. You can keep them in the refrigerator, she said, but often they survive on the kitchen counter.

Highland Orchards hands out smaller bunches of herbs during the weekly CSA, Linton said, so they can only be used for a meal or two.

Otherwise, freezing works just as well.

They lose their color, Linton said, but they are usable, just as a freeze-dried herb.

"But still have the fragrance," Linton said.

Jen Rini can be reached at (302)324-2386 or jrini@delawareonline.com. Follow @JenRini on Twitter.

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