14 Things You Probably Never Knew About Grocery Store Produce
The rainbow of colors will seem a little less dazzling when you read these surprising facts.
Grocery store produce
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Apples, lettuce, limes, tomatoes, the list goes on and on. Typically, shoppers head right to the produce section when they get to the grocery store, but do they know everything they need to about the items they’re putting in their cart? The answer is most likely no. Keep reading to learn about the secrets about grocery store produce. You should also read up on these seafood facts that will change the way you eat fish forever.
Produce is a lot older than you think
Apples are primarily picked in the fall, so how are you finding them fresh in your supermarket in the middle of summer? Long storage, says David Barbour, co-founder of wellness company Vivio Life Sciences. “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.” That means your apple could be ten months old!
Pre-washed produce isn’t ready to eat
Don’t buy into the promise that the bag of lettuce or carton of strawberries you’re holding were washed for you. They may have been washed at one point, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready-to-eat now. Misting produce doesn’t make them clean either. “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. Her husband Zach, who worked in a grocery store for a decade, always makes her wash everything—everything. “All the produce is really dirty, and after putting out produce, his hands would be really black,” she shares.
Pesticides and waxes might be used after harvesting
Some produce is further treated with pesticides after they’re picked in order to slow ripening, says Samantha Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, CPT, the lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen. “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.”
It’s not protected from creepy crawlers
While they may have a cover on them in transport and storage, produce cartons and shipping containers are not always protected from the elements—or bugs. “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. If these secrets surprise you, here are 29 more things your grocer won’t tell you.
Organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free
If you instinctively reach for organic produce because you think that means you’re buying fruits and vegetables that were grown without pesticides, Brianne Bell, RD, creator of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen, says you may want to reevaluate. “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,” she says.
What’s more, organic isn’t license to skip any washing or cleaning steps once you get it home, says Chris Mathews, produce manager and founder of The Great Fruit Hunt blog. “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,” he says.
Your produce isn’t washed before it hits shelves
If you think your apples, avocados, or apricots were washed and rinsed before they were packaged and shipped out of the orchards, you might be in for a surprise, Mathews says. “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.” Also, make sure to avoid these cooking mistakes that could ruin your food.
The freshest produce is often hidden
If you want the freshest fruits and veggies—that is, the ones that were set out for customers most recently—you may have to do a bit of work says Nicolette Pace, chef, dietitian, and nutritionist. “Newer expiration dates are placed in the back of shelves, so if you need a longer shelf life, check the back of the shelf,” she says.
Health policies aren’t strictly enforced
Strict rules govern a lot of the supply chain for the country’s foods, but once it gets to the store, things get fuzzy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says employees should have protective elements on when handling ready-to-eat food. But an apple or bananas or a watermelon may not be considered consumable as is, so the rules are a little unclear. The guidelines read, “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
If your grocery store isn’t near a banana farm or plantation (and odds are, it isn’t), you can rest assured the fruits were picked long before they got to you, and they were nowhere near yellow. A scientific process allows banana farmers to harvest the fruit while they’re still very green, pause the ripening process, and then begin ripening them again just before the fruits are set out for consumers, according to NPR. If you’re always buying unripe fruit, you might be making a big produce mistake.