Do’s and Don’ts for Buying and Storing Fresh Produce
It’s my hope that you relish and enjoy all the beauty and delicious nutrition that fresh produce has to offer. But keep in mind that fresh produce was once part of a living organism, and living organisms tend to attract and be surrounded by other living organisms, and not all living organisms are friendly to our health.
Thankfully, there are some strategies we can employ that will help keep our experience of enjoying fresh produce a healthy one. When shopping at stores or farmers’ markets, remember to:
- Keep raw meat separate from other foods. Sometimes packages will leak (especially if your 9-year old likes to pretend he’s Shaquille O’ Neal and throws packages into the grocery cart and ends up damaging/breaking seals in the process) and the meat juices may cross contaminate ready to eat items like fresh produce. Also, make your meat and dairy selections last, if possible. While not conducive to most store layouts, I gather my unperishable items (canned goods, cereals, nuts, anything in a box in the middle of the store) first, then produce, then meat, then dairy, and save frozen items for last and always make sure they’re sitting close to my dairy products as an extra cushion of coldness.
- Make the store/market your last stop. Don’t stock up on groceries then run errands afterwards. There’s a chance your food could spoil (especially in hot weather) or lessen in quality.
- If your drive home from the store/market takes longer than an hour, use a cooler/insulated -bags to keep the food fresh and safe.
- Before consuming ANY produce, it’s important to thoroughly wash the items under hot running water even if you are not eating the peel as dirt can transfer from the outside to inside. So yes, this means I’m recommending you wash your onions! It’s not necessary to wash with soap or special commercial produce washes; clean running water is enough. Clean scrub brushes are helpful when washing tough or dimpled skinned produce like potatoes and melons.
- When you get home from the grocery/market, make sure to store your produce properly to maintain its quality and safety. See the chart below for storage guides.
|Storage Location||Fruits and Melons||Vegetables|
|Store in refrigerator|
(<40°F) *Keep in moisture-proof bags with a few homes to retain moisture while allowing for air flow to prevent condensation.
Apples (>7 days)
(Any fruit that has been peeled or cut open)
(Any veggie that has been peeled or cut open)
|Ripen on the counter, then store in refrigerator|
|Store at room temperature|
Apples (<7 days)
Basil (in water)
Peppers (can be refrigerated)
Cucumbers (can be refrigerated)
Dry Onions (in well-ventilated area)
Eggplant (can be refrigerated)
Potatoes (in well-ventilated area)
Sweet Potatoes (in well-ventilated area)
Garlic (in well-ventilated area)
When possible, make an effort to shop at farmers’ markets as they are an excellent opportunity to visit with local farmers and learn more about your food. Plus, it’s more fun than shopping at the grocery store. But do be aware that farmers’ markets should be displaying good food safety practices to ensure that the products’ quality and safeness are maintained.
Here are some things to look for:
|Food Type/Category||What to Look For|
|Fresh Produce||Clean, looks fresh, no cuts or nicks|
|Cut or Peeled Produce||Surrounded by ice and looks fresh and cold|
|Meats, Eggs, Cheeses||Product is in cooler or on ice|
|Milk||Must be pasteurized (KS/MO regulation)|
|Juice, Cider||Pasteurized is safest|
|Hot prepared foods||Vendor should be using thermometer and lids on pots/pans and should see steam rising from pots/pans|
|Home-canned Foods||Ask how it was prepared and handled|
|Booth, Personal Cleanliness||Vendors have clean clothes, hands, maintain good personal hygiene (not wiping nose, playing with hair, etc.)|
|All Products||Ask vendors about their food safety practices|
Also, only purchase what you’ll consume in between shopping trips. This can be tricky if you have a small or single household. According to the USDA, 31%, or 133 billion pounds of food in the United States ends up in the landfill.