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A terrible Top 10 list takedown

produce department myths-2

Did you know that fresh produce is often dirty because it’s grown outside in the dirt?

Of course you did. That’s why you tell people you know to wash their fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking them.

Readers of a summer column from couldn’t have gotten much worse advice or information in “10 Dirty Secrets From Your Supermarket Produce Departments.”

Rarely do we produce professionals come across such a misinformed piece of modern “journalism.” So, I have to go point-by-point to show just how wrong this is. (Hat tip to the tweet by Chris Yli-Luoma, the

  1. “Produce isn’t washed before it’s put on shelves.” This is true except for ready-to-eat items like fresh-cut. This is why every produce and nutrition professional advise consumers to wash their fruits and vegetables to remove dirt, dust and pesticide residue. I thought we were past this!
  2. “The most accessible food is usually the least fresh.” This point tries to say that stores that use “first-in-first-out” means consumers pick the least fresh. This is a silly complaint. Even when stores rotate product this way, produce clerks cull items not fit for sale. Turn-over is very quick in the produce department, so this is no concern.
  3. “The average supermarket apple is over a year old.” Where did they get this? It’s possible an apple bought in late August was harvested the previous August, but that’s very rare. U.S. apple harvests are generally August through October, and some of those apples are shipped right away. Some are put in storage for later in the year, but that system works because the fruit stays high quality. Then there are southern hemisphere apples in the summer.
  4. “Employees often don’t follow health policies.” This point tries to blame workers for not being clean, but there’s no evidence of this, and besides, wash your produce first!
  5. “Your fellow customers are also part of the problem.” People touch produce in the produce department. That’s true. Again, wash your produce.
  6. “The displays are designed to trick you.” Alert! Produce managers arrange their fruits and vegetables to look fresh and appealing! Doesn’t every store selling something do this? Is this a trick or just merchandising?
  7. “There’s no such thing as ‘in season’.” This is one of the most baffling ones. Just because you can buy some items year-round, doesn’t mean there’s no season. Did the author try to buy fresh cherries in April? I bet not. The author also quotes a former produce director who says most chains “won’t purchase locally grown.” Simply not true. Nearly every retailer offers and promotes locally grown when in season. Consumers get the best of both worlds.
  8. “Supermarkets seriously jack up produce prices.” There are mark ups on most fruits and vegetables and most food in most stores everywhere. So? Produce, when in season, meaning high quality and high volume usually grown nearby, is usually marked down because it can be, and the retailer can still make a profit. But you’d have to believe in seasons…
  9. “Rotten greens make their way into the salad bar.” This is no doubt true sometimes. A store should keep an eye on this. But is this really a “dirty secret of the produce department”? Most consumers would just not put rotten greens in their salad bowl.
  10. “Some fruits and vegetables are especially risky.” Ugh. The story cites the Dirty Dozen, which we cover and debunk every year.

How about that for 10 awful points about the produce department?

Here’s one thing to think about the end of my rant. The sub-headline of the story says, “The scary details will have you sprinting to the farmers market.”

Now, for those 10 points, don’t about all also apply to farmers markets?


Greg Johnson is the Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services.