Robin Keefe/ShutterstockYou can’t go wrong with apples, right? They’re great for you, they’re tasty, and they have lots of surprising uses that don’t involve eating. Well, it turns out that this classic fruit might be hiding an unappetizing secret.
If you buy apples at the grocery store, you probably don’t question how the fruit gets from the apple tree to the produce section. It turns out that that path is not quite as direct as you might think. In the United States, apples are only harvested once a year: from August to November. That’s it. So if you’re eating an apple in the winter, spring, or summer, and that apple came from the supermarket, it was picked the previous fall—as long as 10 months ago, if it’s July. (Not too grossed out yet? Here are 29 more things your grocer won’t tell you.)
So how do fruit growers possibly keep these apples fresh for that long? Well, they refrigerate them, and there’s two different ways they do it, depending on how long they want the apples to last. The growers put the apples that will be sold by December into refrigeration warehouses, which have a temperature between 34 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This keeps them fresh until it’s time to ship them to a grocery store to be sold.
But… what about the apples whose sell dates are after December, but before the next harvest season? These fruits go into what’s known as CA, or Controlled Atmosphere storage. Here, the apples sit in a sort of stasis—the temperature is low, and oxygen levels are at a mere 2 percent (as opposed to the 21 percent in the air we breathe). The low oxygen levels keep the apples from ripening; some growers call it “putting them to sleep.” There they stay until it’s time to sell them.
Before you panic, though, this doesn’t mean these apples are bad for you in any way. Though keeping them in this low-oxygen area does leach away some of the fruit’s acidity, the taste—and overall nutritional content—should be unaffected. This process “doesn’t do very much to vitamin or mineral content,” according to James Mattheis of the United States Department of Agriculture.
However, if the idea of eating nearly year-old apples still makes you squirm, buy them locally grown or pick them yourself. The fruit that keeps the doc away is nutritious either way—and their smell could actually help you lose weight!