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Storing and Purchasing Fresh Produce

Storing and Purchasing Fresh Produce

Culinary Institute of America

Purchasing Produce

Produce should look fresh: It should be free from bruises, mold, and brown or soft spots; the colors and textures should be appropriate for the type of food; and any attached leaves should be unwilted. Dried fruits should be plump and somewhat flexible.

Traditionally, fresh, local, in-season produce is best. These foods have been minimally handled and shipped, the time between harvest and table is brief, and often the flavors are more pronounced, the colors brighter, and the nutrient levels higher. Sometimes, though, the dictates of common sense make this impractical: It would mean, for example, that many chefs could never use lemons, or could use asparagus or tomatoes only a few months of the year. Foods that have been shipped, frozen, dried, or canned are also acceptable.

Fresh produce should be purchased in sufficient quantities to last between deliveries, with care taken not to purchase too much. Overpurchasing leads to degradation in quality, nutrient content, and eventually a costly loss of raw material.

When purchasing dried, frozen, or canned produce, choose brands of high quality. Be aware that many canned products contain added sodium, and that dried foods tend to be concentrated in calories.

Tomatoes offer a good illustration of the factors to take into account when deciding which form to purchase. Fresh tomatoes, when in season locally, have an incomparable taste. After the local growing season is over, however, you may prefer to use canned tomatoes because they have a better flavor than the pale, watery versions that are engineered to survive early picking, ripening rooms, and long-distance shipping.

Because many nutrients are unstable, fruits and vegetables should be handled with the preservation of nutrient content in mind. Nutrition content starts to decline immediately after harvesting, and this loss continues as the produce ages. To minimize nutrient loss, store produce away from light, air, moisture, and heat. When cooking, be aware that some metals, as well as alkalis and extremely acidic conditions, can affect nutrient content. Additionally, When proper purchasing and storage practices are observed, most food-service establishments do not store fresh produce for more than three or four days.

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