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Photo: Supermarket News

Most of us know the feeling of buying fruits or vegetables only to find out that they're either already spoiled on the inside or so under-ripe that they need to be left out for days before eating. Thankfully it's easy to pick fresh produce, as long as you remember a few basic tips.

Beautiful Doesn't Mean Delicious:

Sub-par conventional produce is bred to look waxy, glistening, and perfectly symmetrical, while prime fruits and vegetables are often irregularly shaped, with slight visual imperfections outside but a world of flavor waiting inside.

Use Your Hands:

You can learn more about a fruit or vegetable from picking it up than you can from staring it down. Heavy, sturdy fruits and vegetables with taut skin and peels are telltale signs of freshness.

Shop with the Seasons:

In the Golden Age of the American supermarket, Chilean tomatoes and South African asparagus are an arm's length away when our soil is blanketed in snow. Sure, sometimes you just need a tomato, but there are three persuasive reasons to shop in season: it's cheaper, it's better, and it's better for you, according to Eat this, not that.

What to look for when buying vegetables?

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Photo: Eat This, Not That
  • Avoid vegetables with visible bruising or broken skins unless you want to cook it that day, as damaged spots can quickly turn mouldy.

  • Green vegetables should be crisp and green. Yellowing and a soft feel to things, such as cucumber or zucchini, are signs the vegetables are past their best.

  • Check the stems of broccoli, cauliflower, whole cabbages and lettuce for signs of rot. Dr MacTavish-West says avoid broccoli that's been stored on ice.

  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale can wilt quite quickly after picking. Wilted spinach is fine to buy if you're going to cook it straight away. But if you want it to last a bit longer, look for crisp leaves kept in a refrigerated section.

  • Mr Hinrichsen says brown onions are harvested when green and sat to dry under cover before going on sale. He says a firm onion with the skin on should last a few weeks if kept in a dry, dark place. "You shouldn't peel or cut an onion and keep it. Once cut and left in the open they suck in micro-organisms which can make them dangerous to eat."

  • Whole pumpkins should be firm and sound hollow when tapped. An undamaged pumpkin can last a long time in a dry, dark spot. But once cut it needs to be in the fridge and cooked fairly quickly to avoid mould.

  • Carrots should be firm and crunchy and have a brightness about them. Mr Hinrichsen says the industry calls it a "bloom", which is a certain eye appeal of a carrot. Carrots should not bend and feel squishy, but if there's no mould, you can still cook and eat a bendy carrot.

  • Mushrooms should look plump, not shrivelled, and not feel slimy to the touch. Store them in paper to prevent the slimy feel.

  • With potatoes, pick firm ones with no green patches or sprouting. Robert Cerchiaro, general manager at a potato growing company, says potatoes with dirt can last a bit longer than pre-washed ones. This is because the washing takes off some of the skin from the potatoes, allowing air to get to them. Store potatoes in the dark and keep them cold if you need them to last longer.

  • Dr MacTavish-West says if you're buying pre-cut vegetables, such as pre-made salads, stir fry mixes or cauliflower rice, check dates on the packaging and avoid ones with excess water in the packet.

  • Plastic-wrapped fresh vegetables will last longer because it keeps the air off them. Mr Hinrichsen suggests putting vegetables in air-tight containers in the fridge to help keep them fresher for longer if you want to reduce plastic, as cited by ABC Life.

Trust Your Senses

It's worth noting that most commercial farms pick fruits and vegetables long ahead of their ideal ripeness and then transport them to your local grocery store. Try to see through the regular washings and coats of wax they get, and trust your nose and sense of touch as much as you do your eyes. An apple that's shiny, evenly colored, and heavily waxed but super-soft to the touch is probably mushy and no good.

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