Health Department

Choosing Fresh Produce

June 13, 2011

Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director

Choosing Fresh Produce

Summer is the time to get outside and play with your children, go to the lake, take vacation, garden and go to the farmer’s market for fresh produce. Whether to grow your own produce or buy it from the grocery store or open markets, vegetables and fruit add tremendous benefits to meals. Fresh produce is low in fat, sodium and calories. When you eat fresh produce, you really do get more “bang for your buck.”

It is also important that you be picky about your produce. Whether you are a gardener or a consumer, all produce is not equal. Getting your fresh produce home to discover that it is rotten can be aggravating and is a waste of your hard earned money. Shop carefully where ever you purchase fresh produce.

Start by examining each vegetable individually. Sometimes you may find a single rotten piece mixed in with a good group of produce. Bananas are a good example. Look for bright color. Darkened coloring and browning is a sign of age in vegetables so they must be consumed in a short period of time. Check for firmness and crispness. Wrinkles are not attractive on humans or vegetables. Avoid wilt on leafy vegetables. Avoid potatoes that have soft spots, wrinkles, or are green. As you handle fresh produce, remember others have done the same.

Some foods taste better at room temperature. Bananas, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and winter squash can be stored in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.

Some produce ripen on the counter including avocados, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums. After they are ripe, they can be placed in the refrigerator. Other fruits need to be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below. Use the crisper drawer for whole produce. Store fruits in separate crispers from vegetables.

Fruits give off ethylene gas which causes vegetables to spoil faster. Vegetables also give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits. It is not recommended that you wash fruits and vegetables until you are ready to prepare them. Fresh produce has a natural protective coating that helps keep in moisture and freshness. Washing before storage causes spoilage.

Many fruits and vegetables can be purchased precut, bagged or packaged. Items like lettuce, spinach or pre-wrapped fruit are ready to eat. However, it is important that the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed. If you have fruits or vegetables that need to be peeled, wash the produce under running water. Do not use detergent or soap. If you purchase fresh squeezed fruit or vegetable juices, keep them refrigerated or on ice to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Buying and growing local is a great way to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables because you can ask the grower questions and you know exactly where the produce was grown. Buy local when you can or grow your own fresh produce for better health.