Fresh Or Foe: The Truth About Supermarket Fruit And Veg

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by Paris Newman

Imagine this: you’re strolling down the street feeling rather peckish. In an attempt to be healthy, you suppress your desire to grab a burger and chips and instead you swing past a local supermarket to purchase a plumptious looking apple that catches your eye. Chomping and crunching away at your apple – the sweet crispness is so perfectly satiating your appetite. 

Alas – what if I told you that the apple you’re munching on isn’t quite as fresh as you may think? What if I told you theirs a possibility that your apple is over a year old?

The thought of eating any fruit or vegetable that has surpassed its first birthday would undoubtedly horrify the vast majority of consumers, yet unfortunately, in relation to many supermarket perishables, this is indeed the truth.

The standard process goes that certain fruits and vegetables will be harvested and placed into what’s termed a cold storage facility. Within this space, ultra-sophisticated technologies are deployed to regulate oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels, along with a significant decrease in temperature and humidity, all in order to suspend ripening.

Additionally, a gas called ‘SmartFresh’ is often utilised within cold storage facilities. This gas is designed to delay the release of an organic compound from fruits and vegetables, called ethylene, which catalyses ripening and deterioration.

Select fruits and vegetables stay within this cold storage facility for approximately nine to fourteen months, where they are essentially put to sleep. Once items are removed from the cold storage, regular ripening resumes. 

You may be wondering: why on earth would supermarkets do such a deceptive thing? Well, the harvesting time span of certain, popular fruits and vegetables simply does not match the year-round demand for such produce. So in order to satisfy customers’ cravings and to maintain profit, supermarket vendors have resorted to cold storage measures.

The only alternatives to such technology would be simply to not have supermarkets selling certain fruits and vegetables year round, or to import certain items from the Northern hemisphere when required.

However, as determined by multiple large-scale surveys, Australians deem it incredibly important for supermarkets to mainly offer locally sourced produce. Hence, cold storage seems to be the only solution for supermarkets to sell Australian fruits and vegetables, with naturally short harvesting periods, all year round.

While this process of preservation may be off-putting, or even quite revolting for some, cold storage is scientifically proven to be an entirely safe procedure for fruits and vegetables. The only drawback in terms of nutrition is that items that have withstood the cold storage process do not have the same concentration of vitamins as freshly picked produce; the vitamin intensity is slightly lesser amongst cold storage produce.

Moreover, perhaps the most unsettling thing about the whole matter is the fact that such information is not made common knowledge amongst consumers; such produce is sold to us as ‘fresh’ – yet, do fruits and vegetables potentially over a year old deserve such a title?

Ultimately it is a matter of personal preference. If this information has not startled you in any way, by all means continue shopping at mainstream supermarkets for fruits and vegetables. However, if this tale has entirely spoiled your attraction to supermarket perishables, your best bet is to shop at farmers markets to ensure that your fruits and vegetables are truly fresh.

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