How To – Extending the life of Store bought Produce Vegetables

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    Everything is going up in price and it will be a trend that never reverses… unfortunately when you can’t rely on your garden for fresh vegetables you will have to buy what you can and look for the best deals.

    Most stores will have rotating sales for their produce offerings.. I have found a few local stores that will put bananas on sale one day a week just to get customers shopping. This is a pretty good deal if you can find it but another thing stores do is offer sales on similar items every other or every third week.

    For instance you may find that by looking through that old pile of store circulars you will  see a pattern.. Some stores will place lettuce, onions, carrots, oranges and apples on sale quite often in rotation and they will place other items like grapes, pineapples, broccoli and other vegetables in a similar rotation.

    To take advantage of lower prices means that you may want to purchase 2 bags of apples or oranges when they are on sale so you have enough to make it to the next sale. I do this because we have a second refrigerator in our garage that can store any items that I will transfer into the house for the next week.

    If you don’t have the space or just can’t depend on sales then you need to take the same steps to extend the life of your produce so it will last as long as you need it to before  eating.

    Having worked in a extremely busy produce department where we sold on average $12,000 dollars of produce every day I had the chance to learn all of the different steps you need to take to preserve produce and prepare it for the floor.  I will give you a few tips that you must take whenever you buy fresh produce.

    Tips while Shopping for Produce

    The first thing you need to understand when you are shopping for Produce is that about 80% of the produce that is on the floor to be sold will be sold within the next 24 hours. This is because most supermarkets have a just in time ordering system where they get deliveries of produce every morning.

    The reason they get daily deliveries is two fold .. first they don’t have to store product and the back rooms can be designed smaller so the building cost is less.  So is the refrigeration cost for storing product.

    The second reason they like to get everything on the floor sold within a day is because produce that is delivered from suppliers outside of your local area can take a week to get to your store.

    If you ever grew tomatoes or lettuce in your backyard then you know that once you pick the product it will go bad in a few days. Not to mention products like bananas that travel thousands of miles or fresh fruit from south america in the winter.

    Tips for buying include

    Buy a mixture of ripened product if you can Green Bananas will take longer to go bad so buy a bunch that are green and one or two that are ripe for eating in the next day or so.

    If you are buying produce that should be refrigerated in your home then buy it refrigerated in the market. Cucumbers, Lettuce, Cauliflower, Broccoli should always be picked from the refrigerated section. If they are having a sale and the product is stacked .. put the back of your hand to the bag it is in and make sure it is cold to the touch.. not room temperature or warm.

    If you are buying packaged product like Hearts of Romain then check the dates on the bag and look at the bags place in the back they are almost always dated farther ahead giving you more time once you bring it home.

    It is also a custom to place the fresh produce higher on the rack so if you see a angled display of three cases of tomatoes you know that the greenest or newest ones are at the top. Mix your selection so you have a few ripe ones for today but mostly product that will need to ripen in your home over the next week.

    Potatoes … Never buy a wet bag of potatoes or a bag that stinks.. That is a sign of bad potatoes. Always smell the bag it should smell like dirt not sewage.

    Strawberries and other fruit in containers. Always look on the underside of the container. Look for fuzzy mold and liquid. If your berries or fruit are wet because they are too ripe they will leak juice.

    Cauliflower… Never buy any that has black spots on it. Black spots will quickly grow into larger mold spots in just a few days.. they should be bleach white.

    Try to buy fruits like peaches, nectarines, apples and pears without dents or breaks in the skin. Some fools like to squeeze or thumb the peaches to tell if they are ripe .. the smallest dent in a produce department will mean a bad piece of fruit in just a few hours.. in your home it will take a day but it will be a piece of fruit you don’t want to eat.

    Wash your Produce when you bring it home

    I can not emphasize this enough that every piece of produce that you bring home that can be washed should be washed before you store it in your refrigerator.

    You should do this to reduce contamination that may have occurred in the field or on the trip to the market but MOST OF ALL there is bacteria on the product that must be washed off or it will go bad in your home much faster.

    Bananas are a main culprit that most people don’t think about. You must wash them when you get them home then put them in a bowl that provides full air flow .. to do that you break the bananas apart gently then stack them in layers crosswise X so that air can get into the bottom of the bowl. Or you can hang them in a basket maybe.. but in a produce market bananas have a special plastic sheet that must be removed from the box to allow air flow or you will find dozens of boxes going bad before you can get them to the floor later in the day..

    So remember wash it when you get it home…

    Put it in a New plastic bag .. I like to save supermarket bags then turn them inside out for lettuce and all my other items that i need to store..

    Storage of Produce in your home Extending Shelf Life

    Almost all produce can be refrigerated there are a few exceptions but once they are prepared by you then all produce can be placed in the refrigerator.

    Tomatoes should be allowed to ripen or almost fully ripen on your countertop this will get the most flavor out of the tomato but don’t be afraid to place them in the refrigerator if you buy a bunch on sale or they are fully ripe and you won’t have time to eat them.

    Pineapple is pretty much the same way … once you can smell a pineapple then you know its getting ripe you can prepare it and store it or refrigerate it and use it in a day or two however even unripe pineapple is refrigerated in a produce department so don’t be affraid to put it away if you won’t be eating it for a few days.

    Onions and Potatoes can also be refrigerated some people say they should stay out but this is not the case if you are going to be eating them over a few weeks rather then making a big batch of potato salad the next day.

    Everything you refrigerate must be dry.

    This means after you wash it you should let it drain and dry or bacteria will grow on it.

    Final Note

    I hope these tips will allow you to get the most out of your purchases.

    Always wash all of your produce then dry it.

    Store it in a 38F to 42F refrigerator.

    If it begins to get ripe you can prepare it and add the juice of a lemon to keep it from browning for the next few days.

    And remember if something goes bad don’t take a chance and cut out a section of a peach or nectarine.. it is not so expensive that you must risk getting sick.. which will result in lost time from work or a lot more hassle then a 5ocent peach or half a box of strawberries is worth.

    And remember to use these same tips if you grow your own.

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