Insights by Goldie
Eat more fruits and vegetables!

Sound Consumer | March 2008

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

That’s the unified message from all nutrition and health experts. The federal dietary guidelines and the food pyramid urge us to eat at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, to use many varieties, and include several of each color.

Research indicates that the most colorful produce brings an array of powerful disease-fighting, immunity-boosting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant nutrients and frequently is also the most flavorful. (See The Organic Advantage, February 2008 Sound Consumer.)

Frozen, canned and dried organic fruits and vegetables all have a role, but most of our time, effort and money involve choosing the freshest, highest quality, raw produce. Sadly, Americans toss out about 25 percent of purchased produce, valued at some $600 annually — about $12 a week. That’s unacceptable, unsustainable — and usually unnecessary.

Many shoppers lament that their ideal would be the “European” shopping pattern: buying most delicate produce and other perishables daily. Some shoppers who buy fresh produce at least twice weekly say it makes a significant difference in savings and reduced waste — plus they eat more fresh produce.

But that’s not always an option. Since the object here is to actually eat more produce while it’s still fresh and vital, learn good produce storage and cleaning methods!

Storage:
Store foods at home the way they were at the market, whether dry or moist, refrigerated or not. When you wish to store delicate refrigerated produce for a week or longer, some storage products available at PCC may help keep it fresh.

Evert-Fresh Green Bags, located in PCC produce departments, can be rinsed, dried and reused several times. Extra Life is a hard plastic cartridge that goes in the refrigerator’s crisper bin to preserve produce longer.

These and other bags and cartridges, available online, all work on the same low-tech principle. They utilize non-hazardous mineral compounds to absorb and/or block naturally occurring ethylene gases that are constantly emitted by raw fruits and vegetables as they age.

Ethylene is nature’s way of causing ripening, and also, ultimately, of decaying. (See www.ethylenecontrol.com/about.html for a helpful list of items to avoid storing together.)

I’ve tested both the bags and the cartridge. The bags did a better job — even on greens stored for two weeks, which kept a fresh appearance and taste. But since I tend to avoid eating things incapable of spoiling (like Twinkies!), I wonder whether this is “fresh” or merely “fresh-appearing?” I do know produce wholesalers use ethylene blockers in storage and, conversely, utilize ethylene to ripen foods such as avocados. But I’d sure like to see good research comparing nutrients before and after long-term storage.

Cleaning:
Consumers frequently ask if cleaning can remove pesticides on produce and what cleaning products are recommended. Some pesticides will be lessened with cleaning, but most pesticides are intended to stay on in all weather. “Systemic” pesticides are actually in the food, and cannot be removed. (See www.foodnews.org/reduce.php for advice on pesticides in produce.)

As for produce washes, several university lab studies agree that no products result in cleaner, safer produce. They warn against trying bleaches, alcohol, detergents or other substances.

The consensus is to first thoroughly wash hands and work surfaces with hot soap and water. Wash and rinse produce in plain, cool water, using full immersion, vigorous swishing and rinsing under running tap water if possible. Some cautioned against allowing greens to soak in dirty water, as bacteria can be drawn into the greens.

For roots, tubers, apples and other firm items, scrub vigorously with a good produce brush and your fingers, and rinse under running water. For fragile items, such as berries, wash gently and drain just prior to use. And a reminder: before cutting unpeeled fruits or vegetables, wash the outside to prevent dirt from being carried on the knife.

PCC carries a produce wash by BioKleen, a long-time vendor of fine, safe cleaning products. I asked the company for its comment or any studies showing effectiveness of such washes. BioKleen said, in effect, “We feel it’s like hand-washing; you wouldn’t do that as well without using some soap.”

An interesting perspective, I thought. The formulation is food-safe, and based on natural citrus compounds. I think if a consumer feels more reassured of achieving safer, cleaner produce by using a spoonful of such a product, they may be more likely to eat more health-giving, delicious produce — and that’s the underlying objective, after all!

More about: food storage, fruit, health concerns, nutrition, vegetables

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