by Charles Weller

There is no doubt about it – eating more fresh, natural foods is definitely better for your health. While it might not be as easy as roaming out into your backyard and picking out the ingredients for your next meal, with a quick trip to your local grocery store or farmers markets there is sure to be a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Selecting the best ones, as well as the way in which you prepare and store your produce items, can make a big difference in taste and the amount of nutrients provided.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

If you are doing most of your produce shopping at a grocery store, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables provided by commercial farms have been picked long ahead of their ideal ripeness and then transported there. To prevent drying out, protect against bruising, and increase shelf life, non-organic produce is coated in wax. This might make them look more shiny, colorful, and ripe, but if soft to the touch, they could be mushy and rotten inside!

Synthetic petroleum-based wax contain solvent residues or wood rosins, and are less preferable to a carnauba wax, beeswax, or shellac from the lac beetle. The wax should not be ingested, especially because of other compounds that are often added to the wax. Simply washing won’t remove the wax or the layer of bacteria that could be trapped beneath it, so the fruit or vegetable must be peeled. Unfortunately, this will also remove the many nutrients in the skin or those lying just below it!

However, you won’t find synthetic wax on certified organic items, making them a better choice. And although waxes like carnauba or shellac are permitted, not all organic growers use wax. Shopping at a farmers market you are sure to get the freshest produce that is in season with no need for wax. Instead of guessing in a grocery store, you can ask the farmers responsible for growing the food exactly when it was harvested and how fresh it is. You will quickly appreciate what really fresh fruit and vegetables smell and look like, and more importantly – how they taste!

Using Your Senses

When it comes to picking out the best fruit or vegetable, you basically want to check how the item feels, smells, and whether it looks appealing to eat! For fruits, the surface should be largely smooth and even, firm to touch but with a little give. If it is rock hard that means it is not ripe. Check by feeling for pits and dents under the surface, which means the fruit has been bruised or is slowly rotting. Smell the fruit – it should have a light aroma, if it too strong or sweet it might be over-ripe.

Vegetables, on the other hand, should be as firm as possible, the gentle give you look for in fruit can indicate over-ripeness. The surface should be largely smooth and even, any leaves or stalks should be unbroken. Look for even coloring of the vegetable and avoid anything with dark marks and spots. You can check for cracks on the base of certain root vegetables like potatoes, garlic, and onions, which indicate that it is drying out.

Storing for Later

Once you have picked out your delicious fruits and vegetables, make sure you prepare and store them properly so they don’t go bad before you get a chance to eat them! Fruits and vegetables should be stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. If some fruits need to continue ripening a bit more, they can be left sitting out on a countertop. Wherever you put them though, make sure that you do not store fruits and vegetables together. Fruits tend to give off higher levels of ethylene, a ripening agent, and will prematurely ripen and spoil surrounding vegetables.

Fruits should be washed just before you eat them. Wash under running water, cut away any damaged or bruised areas, and peel if necessary to remove wax. Some vegetables on the other hand should be washed before storing. You should rinse and dry greens that might be dirty, remove any ties and rubber bands, and then thoroughly dry or wrap them in a paper towel before placing in a plastic bag. Make sure the bag has some holes punctured to allow for good air flow. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator – the closer they are, the quicker they will rot.

Charles Weller
Charles Weller