Most health guidelines state everyone should have at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
Many people have difficulty shopping for produce because they don't know how. How can you be sure that that delicious looking plum won't be sour or that beautiful peach is hard as a rock?
The handy tips on this page will help you choose the best tasting fruits and vegetables.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) establishes grade standards for fresh fruits and vegetables. Grades can be seen most on bagged items (onions, potatoes, apples).
U.S. No. 2 and No. 3 -- Much lower quality
Picking Produce -- Take A Stand/Shop Local
It's easier than ever these days to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables. Check with your local grocer to see what days they deliver produce. This will give you the pick of the crop and insure you get the best quality produce.
Locally grown produce is usually fresher and tastier than produce shipped long distances. Ask your grocery store if they carry locally grown produce.
Many communities sponsor farmers’ markets. Not all of this produce is grown locally, so ask questions about the origins of the produce you purchase.
Check with your Agricultural Extension Office to see if there are organic farmers nearby. You might also check into local growing co-ops where you can pick your own produce.
There is nothing like a home grown tomato. Often you can grow these in a large container on your patio.
Even apartment dwellers can enjoy fresh tomatoes in season.
Picking Produce -- Choose Well/Use Your Senses
Produce does not have to be picture perfect. Organic produce often is not as beautiful as the more hybrid varieties. Organic does, however, deliver higher quality nutrients and taste without all the chemicals and genetic alteration.
Use your touch, nose, eyes and ears. Some people can actually pick a perfect melon by thumping. This isn't always a fool proof method.
Use your senses. Certain fruits (melons and peaches) have a stronger scent when ripe and ready to eat. Pick up two heads of lettuce. Put one in one hand and the other in your other hand. Which one feels heavier? Pick the heavier of the two.
Picking Produce -- Shop Seasonally
The best produce is seasonal. You can get tomatoes in winter, but they are usually hydroponic and tasteless. Here’s some information on when certain fruits and vegetables are at their peak.
Spring: Asparagus, Blackberries, Green Onions, Leeks, Lettuces, New Potatoes, Peas, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Strawberries.
Summer: Apricots, Blueberries, Cherries, Eggplant, Herbs, Green Beans, Hot Peppers, Melon, Okra, Peaches, Plums, Corn, Peppers, Tomatoes, Zucchinni.
Fall: Apples, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Grapes, Kale, Pears, Persimmons, Pumpkins, Squash, Yams.
Winter: Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Citrus, Onions, Rutabagas, Turnips.
Picking Produce -- Wax Coatings?
Why are wax coatings used on some produce? Are they safe?
Most produce is 80 to 95 percent water. Some fruits and vegetables make their own natural waxy coating to preserve this moisture.
Produce growers repeatedly wash produce to clean off dirt and soil after harvesting. This may remove the natural wax coating. Produce growers apply wax to some produce items to replace the natural wax that was removed.
Wax coatings help:
- Retain moisture in produce during transit
- Inhibit mold growth
- Protect produce from bruising
- Prevents physical damage and disease during transit
- Enhances appearance
Only a small amount of wax is used (a drop or two) with water to insure even coating. The U.S. FDA regulates wax coatings to ensure their safety. Coatings used on fruits and vegetables must meet the food additive regulations of the FDA.
Research has not shown any problems associated with ingesting wax coatings. Wax is indigestible and passes through the body without being absorbed.
Produce growers, shippers and supermarkets are required by the FDA to label produce that has been waxed. Waxes generally cannot be removed by regular washing.
Your choices? Buy unwaxed produce (typically organic). Peel the fruit or vegetable to remove the coating.
Here is a list of some produce items that may be waxed by growers:
Apples, Avocados, Bell Peppers, Cantaloupes, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Grapefruits, Lemons, Limes, Melons, Oranges, Parsnips, Passion Fruit, Peaches, Pineapples, Pumpkins, Rutabagas, Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips.
Now . . . how about storage times?
Check out the Produce Storage Guidelines Chart below.
Note: I have utilized produce storage bags with great results. These bags prolong the quality and freshness. I highly recommend them.
Keep your produce fresh by using appropriate storage containers.
I hope the produce storage guidelines was helpful.
FOOD SAFETY, STORAGE & PRESERVATION
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