It's not easy being green

A little knowledge can help keep produce in top form
Wednesday, March 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:43 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Every week Rachael Been buys $10 to $15 worth of vegetables.

And, every week she throws bunches of them away.

Been is trying to shape up for the arrival of spring and has been buying healthier foods such as broccoli, cucumbers and lettuce.

But she says she has had little success with these items.

“I get frustrated when I buy (produce) because I have to get rid of it so quickly,” she says.

She says she finds it equally frustrating to have a limited diet since the best buys in vegetables department come in bulkier quantities.

“I get sick of eating the same thing all the time,” she says. “And that’s what happens because you can’t buy just a small amount.”

To solve the problem of Been and many others, food experts say look to greens — vegetables that is.

It all starts in the grocery store.

When entering the supermarket, fight the urge to follow the lay out of the store. Most stores place the department you should visit last at the entrance. The produce section is right in front to welcome you with life. For your produce’s own good, you must resist the urge to shop there first. The produce section should be the last place you visit in the supermarket.

Once you get there, Casey Cute, who stocks the shelves of a Gerbes produce department, has a few tips about picking the best vegetables.

He says the easiest indicator is the color. This sounds obvious, but even the slightest discoloration may be a sign of wilting.

“If there are darker green colors around the edges, lettuce especially, I wouldn’t take it,” Cute says.

The same is true of other green vegetables — any dark green or brownish color is not a good sign. For example, broccoli is best if it is firm and the tips have a slightly lighter hue. Being observant can help ensure a good selection.



After picking your produce, how do you protect them while they sit in your cart? Many veggies bruise very easily. Avoiding putting them in the bottom of your cart can help. Banged up produce will wilt at a must faster rate. To be sure that your produce is protected, get it last and place it on top of your basket.

When you get home, it should be the first thing you put away.

Once you pick a winner, how do you make the most of its bountiful life? For Been, keeping produce fresh is the problem. Like many, she puts it all in the little drawer labeled “crisper.” But food experts say this is not the optimal spot for storage.

Most people don’t know that they can double the shelf life of most produce just by putting it in specific spots of the fridge.

The Agriculture Resource Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s scientific research agency, says that lettuce can last up to two weeks by keeping it in on a cool middle shelf away from refrigerator fans. Cucumbers should be kept near the door on upper shelves so they stay slightly warmer. Avocados should steer clear from the fridge all together. They are best kept at room temperature.

For some vegetables, the trick to extending its shelf life is this: It’s not only where you store it, but how you store it that counts., a Web site dedicated to all things produce, said asparagus can last up to 14 days if placed stem end down in an inch of water.

High respiration veggies such as broccoli, scallions and spinach also need water to keep them at their best. said to keep them wet and iced.



But for most veggies, moisture is an enemy. Lettuce is especially sensitive. It can be preserved by only washing it as you go.

A simple trick to keep moisture sensitive items fresh is to wrap them in paper towels before putting them in airtight containers. This ensures that the moisture is on the towel, not the veggies.

Another tip to keep those greens alive — throw away the old stuff. It seems obvious, but just because it looks OK doesn’t mean it is. One bad apple, or broccoli stalk, will spoil the bunch. says if you keep old veggies near new ones, you’re asking for them to go gooey on you.

With these simple solutions to a common problem, now you can buy your produce and eat it, too.

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