A trip to the grocery store is a chore for some, but for fruit and veggie lovers, the produce section is like a candy store. Markets today stock a greater variety of produce than ever before, including out-of-season and exotic items from the other side of the world.
If you enjoy shopping for produce, the idea of growing your own may seem unnecessary. However, though it does take time and effort, it’s worth it once you know the hard, sometimes gross, truths about the produce you buy at the grocery store.
Grocery store produce can make you sick.
Produce is grown in the soil and handled by many people on its way to the grocery store. It starts in the dirt on a farm, then farmworkers harvest and package the produce, and it is put on trucks or trains and shipped across the country. Finally, grocery store workers unpack and handle produce.
This long path from farm to table means that many opportunities exist for contamination with pathogens, especially harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. These bacteria can cause severe and life-threatening illnesses, known as food poisoning. When produce gets processed in the store, like cut vegetables or sliced watermelon, another door to contamination opens.
These bacteria have always been present and have long posed a risk when you don’t know how your produce has been grown or handled. Now, another issue plagues the produce section: COVID-19. Shoppers handle loose produce with little care, potentially spreading the virus throughout the store.
Your grocery store produce isn’t as fresh as you think.
The produce you see in the store often looks fresh and sparkling. Farmers and retailers go to great lengths to make it that way, but the truth is that many of the fruits and vegetables are old. For example, farmers only harvest apples once a year. That means, the apples you buy in summer can be up to ten months old.
Other types of produce are manipulated to keep longer. Your lettuce may be treated with preservatives and then stored for weeks. Bananas are often cooled down to delay ripening and then stored. And, if you have ever compared the taste of a tomato from the garden to one from the grocery store, you won’t be surprised to hear they are often six weeks old once they hit shelves.
Grocery store workers rotate produce on the shelves, putting the fresher fruits and veggies in the back or bottom. When you reach for those grapes on the top of the pile, you’re probably getting the older fruit.
The organic produce may not be totally organic.
If you spend more money on organic fruits and vegetables, you want them to be truly free of pesticides and other chemicals. While they may have been grown to organic standards, once the produce hits the grocery store, it’s no longer guaranteed.
Unless you buy from a certified organic grocery store, there are two ways your produce could be contaminated:
- Only certified stores are required to keep organic produce from touching other produce. Co-mingling allows chemicals to rub off on otherwise organic veggies and fruits.
- Certified stores also verify that any chemicals used in the store, such as cleaning products or pesticides, do not touch organic produce.
- Certified stores also take responsibility for ensuring the products they sell come from organic sources and that there is truth in labeling on foods.
Grocery store produce isn’t clean.
It usually looks clean, but the vegetables and fruits sold loose in the produce section do not get cleaned before shelf stocking. The produce has traveled a long way to get to the store, picking up dust and dirt. Insects and rodents may have been crawling over it too. When you don’t bag produce, it also picks up dirt and germs from the shopping cart and the checkout belt.
A lot of produce gets treated with wax and pesticides after it has been picked. These help preserve them during storage and transportation. Produce you pick up may look clean, but it all needs washing before you eat it.
Grocery stores waste a lot of produce.
Food waste is a significant issue in the U.S. We take for granted how accessible, and generally affordable, food is. In 2017, the U.S. wasted 40.7 million tons of food. Three of the biggest reasons for food waste involve produce:
- A significant proportion of fruit and vegetables get lost during production, packaging, and distribution.
- Grocery stores reject produce that doesn’t look nice because people won’t buy it.
- Restaurants and grocery stores often overstock, and produce ends up not selling in time.
In a report grading grocery stores on food waste, most stores failed to meet the mark. Only three major chains have committed to zero food waste by 2025.
Be a Part of the Solution – Grow Your Own Produce
Take matters into your own hands and to grow your own fruits and vegetables. There are so many good reasons to start a vegetable garden and plant a few fruit trees:
- Know where your produce comes from and control cleanliness, pesticides, and organic growing practices.
- Organic gardening at home is better for the environment and reduces your carbon footprint.
- Avoid food waste by growing what you need and preserving harvests appropriately.
- Know how fresh your produce is when you eat it. Fresh produce contains more nutrients, so your garden harvest is both tastier and healthier.
- Enjoy the rewards of growing your own food and knowing that your hard work resulted in this bounty.
- Fresh produce from your garden is healthier, and gardening is good exercise.
- Growing produce is a great family activity and provides essential lessons for kids.
- Save money by growing your food.
Growing produce at home takes planning, time, and hard work, but it is so, so worth it. Now that you know the truth about what goes on at the store store, how can you not give gardening a try?