How fresh is fresh? Comparing produce from the grocery store, farmers market and grown in your own home

20 Oct 2013 05.45 am by Renny Wijeyamohan

For the better part of the 20th century, nutritionists, food scientists, gym junkies and public health advocates have touted the benefits of fresh food. The “fresh is best” mantra has resulted in greater availability of fresh produce in grocery stores, local farmers markets and, of course, homes and backyards. But what exactly does “fresh” mean?  And how fresh is the “fresh” produce on offer near you?


In search of fresh

“Freshness” refers to the overall quality of a fruit or vegetable and implies that it is at its maximal levels of taste, nutritional value and appearance. With fresh fruit and vegetables the general rule is that the longer it takes to get from the grower to you – the less nutritional value the food will contain. This means that if you are looking for truly fresh fruit and veg then you need to reduce the time window from farm to kitchen table.


At the Grocery store

At most large supermarket chains, produce has to be transported long distances to get from the grower to the consumer (in some cases the supply chain takes up to 2 weeks). This means that fruit and vegetables are picked before they are ripened and therefore lack maximal nutritional value, while exposure to heat and light during the transport process can cause degradation in less resilient nutrients like Vitamins C and B1. This means that in some cases frozen fruit and vegetables are, nutritionally, a better option since they are allowed to ripen fully on the vine before they are snap frozen – so they have a higher initial nutritional value. But the cleaning process prior to freezing (using hot water or steam) causes a reduction in Vitamin C and B1 content. Once the fruit and vegetables are frozen, their nutritional value will remain stable.


At the farmers market

Great deals on fresh produce can be found at local pop up farmers markets that avoid distribution and storefront costs that supermarket chains must bear. Most farmers market will pick and pack produce in the week before sale which means that fruit and vegetables can be anywhere from 1-6 days off the tree or out of the ground. Since you are dealing directly with growers it’s easy to find out exactly when the batch of fruit or vegetable on sale was picked.


Growing your own

Of course if you grow your own fresh produce you can pick ripe fruit and vegetables and cook and eat them immediately. Thereby eliminating the transport window that causes degradation in nutrients. If you’re harvest is more than you can eat and you don’t want to end up with damp or mouldy vegetables in the bottom of your refrigerator you can always freeze any excess produce. Just chop up those surplus carrots and broccoli and freeze it in zip lock bags. This can be a handy way to get the best of both worlds.


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