From bananas, apples, and mangoes, to spinach, cucumbers, and tomatoes (or any other fruit or vegetable you like) most people prefer to buy produce from supermarkets, as they can find everything they need in just one trip to the store.
But do you know everything there is to know about grocery store produce? I’m sure you don’t. Read on and find the secrets about grocery store produce.
Produce is most of the time not freshly picked
If you assumed the produce you are buying at the grocery store is freshly picked, you are far from the truth. Just think about it, apples are usually picked in the fall, and yet you can find them in every season at the supermarket. According to David Barbour, co-founder of wellness company Vivio Life Sciences, that’s because produce is stored for a long time.
“From the farm, apples are rushed to controlled atmosphere storage, and along with growing pesticides and coating chemicals, they are processed for storage until they come out the next apple season,” he says. “A generic grocery apple is of last season’s harvest.”
Pre-washed produce still needs to be washed before eating
The carton of strawberries or the bag of spinach in your cart still needs to be washed before you actually eat them. Even though they’ve been washed at some point, that doesn’t mean they’re clean, so make sure you don’t eat them without giving them another wash.
“Things in containers or bags should be washed before eating because even if it says they’re pre-washed it’s not always the case,” says Brianna Nash, creator of Balance + Lift.
She added that her husband worked for several years in a grocery store, and he always argues the importance of washing everything. “All the produce is really dirty, and after putting out produce, his hands would be really black,” she shares.
Produce can be treated with pesticides and waxes after harvesting
According to Samantha Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, CPT, the lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen, in some cases produce is treated with pesticides after they’re picked, this way they’ll last longer while still looking fresh.
“Non-organic citrus, especially oranges, are often sprayed with pesticides not only during the growing process but also after picking to maintain freshness. If you look closely at your bag of oranges, you might see a message like the following, “Treated to maintain freshness in transit with Imazalil, Sodium o-phenylphenate and/or Thiabendazole” or “Coated with food-grade vegetable-based, beeswax-based, and/or lac-resin-based wax or resin,” Presicci says.
Produce is not protected from bugs
Even though produce is transported and stored in containers, that doesn’t mean they’re protected from insects. That’s why it’s always important to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
“Rodents will crawl on them, and bugs like spiders, frogs, flies, etc. So, don’t trust that it’s clean. Always wash the produce you buy,” Nash says.
Organic produce is not pesticide-free
If you opt for organic produce just because you live under the impression it was grown without pesticides, you couldn’t be more wrong, Brianne Bell, RD, creator of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen says.
“As a dietitian, one thing my clients are shocked to learn is that organic produce is grown with pesticides, too. They often mistakenly think that organic equals pesticide free, but in reality, it just means pesticides deemed ‘organic’ are used,” Bell adds.
Additionally, Chris Mathews, produce manager and founder of The Great Fruit Hunt blog still urges people to wash produce even though it is labeled as organic.
“Consumers think it’s okay to eat organic produce without washing. With organic farming there can actually be an increase in food safety concerns because of the close contact with natural fertilizers, such as animal manures and the use of organic pesticides,” Mathews adds.
Don’t assume that produce was washed before being put on the shelves
No, your fruits and veggies haven’t been washed before hitting the shelves, so the produce you put in your shopping cart is the same produce that was stored previously in containers, without any additional cleaning, Mathews explains.
“One thing that would surprise a lot of people is that there is not a lot of checks and balances for certain foods before they arrive,” he says. “Some literally come straight from the field to the grocery store floor. For example, there isn’t any sort of cleaning, sanitation, or processing of most berries before they hit a grocery case.”
The freshest produce can be hidden
According to Nicolette Pace, chef, dietitian, and nutritionist, if you want to buy fresh produce, always look in the back of the shelves.
“Newer expiration dates are placed in the back of shelves, so if you need a longer shelf life, check the back of the shelf,” Pace says.
Health policies are unclear
According to The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ready-to-eat food must be handled by employees carefully and only with protective equipment (gloves). However, those rules are quite vague, as fruits might not be considered consumable.
“FDA recommends that employees wear clean clothes and any additional outer items (e.g., hairnets and beard covers, lab coats, aprons, and appropriate footwear) that will help protect fresh and fresh-cut produce from inadvertent contamination during processing.”
Bananas are chemically ripened
Bananas are usually picked unripe and green, so most of the time they’re chemically ripened. According to NPR, the ripening process starts just before the bananas are set out for costumers.
Grapes are usually full of spiders
The fear of spiders is called arachnophobia. Imagine having arachnophobia and seeing a spider in your freshly bought grapes. Heart attack on the way. It’s true that fruits are often treated with pesticides after being picked to eliminate any unwanted intruder, but sometimes spiders manage to survive.
And we’re not talking about small spiders here. Costumers have witnessed huge black widows in their grapes and deadly Brazilian wandering spiders, so imagine their panic. According to Scientific American, if you happen to find a spider, you should scoop them up, not squish them.
The store’s employees are not the only one handling produce
Fruits and veg are touched by hundreds of hands every day, from the produce department employees to the customers that usually squeeze, poke or thump them before deciding to buy it.
And that’s another reason to always wash your produce, because it surely has more bacteria than you’d think.
Stores mark up their produce a lot
“Produce is way overpriced; it’s usually marked up 60 percent,” Nash says. If you ever wondered why produce is way more expensive in supermarkets is because they usually sell it for twice the price.
So if you want to buy fruits and vegetables at a smaller price, you can always look for farmers’ markets in your area and community-supported agriculture (CSA) groups.
Pre-cut fruit won’t stay fresh for long
I know you can be tempted to buy pre-cut fruit as it’s very convenient and time-efficient, but you’ll pay a lot more for a small quantity of produce. Additionally, another downside is that pre-cut fruits usually don’t stay fresh for long.
Also, according to Consumer Reports, the process of cutting and packing the fruit exposes it to oxygen, light, and heat, so don’t be surprised if its vitamin content gets affected as well.
Old produce is used for the pre-made salad or soup bar
Old produce is not always thrown away. According to Forbes, grocery stores often use old fruits and vegetables in their pre-made salads and hot bar offerings. But there’s no reason to worry, these foods aren’t harmful or bad for your health.