Most of us have had the experience of ripping open a bag of lettuce to make a salad at dinnertime only to find that we’re dealing with slimy, foul-smelling leaves, or cutting open an avocado for a sandwich and facing a brown, mushy mess.
If you’re someone who neglects your produce for days (or even weeks) on end, this kind of sad food experience is to be expected. But what if you went grocery shopping yesterday? Unfortunately, supermarkets and grocery stores are filled with not-so-great produce, so you have to be careful when picking yours.
We know what you’re thinking. Those raspberries seemed fresh when I bought them; that banana was bright yellow! It’s true that looks can be deceiving when you’re at the store, which is why we asked nutritionists for their best advice for picking produce that lasts.
Some general produce rules to keep in mind
According to registered dietician Tamar Samuels, it’s important to tune in to your senses when picking produce. “Look at the produce, pick it up and smell it,” she said. “Ensure that the produce is free from blemishes, lacks a rotten smell and that the skin is intact and firm. In general, produce that’s in season tends to be the freshest option.”
Organic labels can be a helpful indication of freshness, too. “While organic produce is more expensive, it is grown more naturally than non-organic produce,” Samuels said. “If you can afford it, prioritise buying organic produce to ensure high quality. If you are on a budget, check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to know which foods you should or shouldn’t buy organic.”
Finally, if you’re really looking for produce that lasts, it might be worth it to skip the grocery store completely and shop at your local farmers market.
“Not only are farmers markets beneficial to local community businesses, but the produce is often cheaper than what’s at the grocery store and it’s grown more naturally,” Samuels said. “Local produce doesn’t have to travel as far – less transportation time ensures higher quality, fresher produce.”
If you don’t have a farmers market near you, Samuels suggests looking for produce that is not pre-packaged or pre-cut. “Try to buy produce in its most whole form,” she suggested. “For example, buy a broccoli head as opposed to pre-cut broccoli florets.”
Signs to look out for in specific fruit and veg
If you’re looking for more specific guidance, here’s how to know when certain popular pieces of produce are fresh and when they’re not:
When shopping for lettuce, DJ Blatner, registered dietitian for and nutritionist for Daily Harvest, suggests looking for firm, crisp leaves, and if you’re going for packaged greens, look for ones that are fluffy and perky. As for what to avoid? “Limp leaves. And for packaged greens, avoid those that have excess moisture,” she says.
When shopping for spinach, Blatner again suggests looking for light, fluffy leaves. “For spinach you’ll always want to avoid limp leaves, and for packaged spinach, avoid those that have excess moisture or beads of water or are smashed at the bottom of a bag,” she suggests.
Take a sneak peek at avocados by popping off that little stem that you see there on the top right.
Isabelle Rozenbaum via Getty Images
Arguably the most difficult piece of produce to shop for (how do they go from hard and green to mushy and rotten overnight?), Samuels suggests making sure avocados feel firm to the touch without any sunken, mushy spots. “They should not rattle when shaken, either,” she says. “The best avocados are the ones that aren’t too green, but also aren’t too brown. A good trick is to pick off the stem of an avocado. If the inside looks like a bright green, that’s a good avocado. If it’s mouldy or white, the avocado has gone bad.”
According to Kylene Bogden, RDN and co-founder of FWDfuel, mushrooms are nice and fresh if they’re plump and springy, but they won’t last long if they’re “slimy, have dark brown spots or are a little wrinkly.”
No one likes a mealy, mushy, tasteless apple. Luckily, there are some obvious indicators that your apple is fresh. “If it’s brightly coloured and crisp to the touch, that’s a good sign,” Bogden says. If it’s softer and has any brown spots, on the other hand, your apple won’t last much longer.
Bananas are like avocados in the sense that they’ll continue to ripen after you buy them. “If you plan to use your bananas throughout the week, you can buy bananas that are mostly yellow in colour with some green,” Samuels says. “As the week goes on, they will continue to yellow, start to brown in spots, and taste deliciously sweet. To eat fresh bananas, avoid buying ones that have already ripened and have brown spots.”
Mearaph Barnes, registered dietitian and Daily Harvest’s nutrition partner, says that blueberries are fresh when they’re blue and firm, and probably won’t last long if they’re dark and wrinkly. “Avoid buying blueberries that look moist or show moisture in the carton as these are likely beginning to rot and won’t last as long,” Samuels adds.
You’ll want to look for strawberries that are red and vibrant in colour. “Avoid strawberries with white or green portions, as this means they were picked too early,” Samuels says. “Since strawberries do not continue to ripen, these lighter strawberries will taste bitter. Avoid buying strawberries that look moist or show moisture in the carton as these are likely beginning to rot and won’t last as long.”
If raspberries are firm to the touch and a vibrant red, you can probably expect them to last. “But if a light touch turns them to a slightly watery mini pile of mush, they won’t last long.” Bogden says. “Throw them away as soon as you see white fuzz!”
Picking out produce that will last you more than a few days isn’t always easy. But knowing what to look for and what to avoid is a great first step – and you’ll be stocking your fridge and fruit basket with super fresh fruits and veggies in no time.