How fruits and vegetables have turned from healthy to risky

The fresh aisle of grocery stores have changed.  Where once there were whole melons, stacks of plastic clamshell containing pre-cut melons exist.  Fresh heads of romaine lettuce have been replaced by pre-chopped and bagged lettuce. Don’t want to cut up a butternut squash – no problem, just grab a container of pre-cut squash cubes.

In the last couple of years, pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables have been not only one of the fastest growing segment in the produce aisle, but also a growing profit center for grocery stores. When the trend emerged, from 2015 to 2016 dollar sales of chopped squash went up by close to 41%.  Cut mango sales rose by almost 40%.  Chopped cauliflower by 38%.  Cut cantaloupe increased 28%.  Sliced peppers by 24% (is it really that hard to slice a pepper?). And the list goes on.

Convenient? Or risky?

As convenient as these clamshells or bagged pre-cut products are, they have introduced a degree of risk into the food system. Experts tell us that the demand for convenience comes at a cost.  The last two food scares in the US, bagged pre-cut romaine lettuce and chopped melon, stand out as examples of how processing fresh food can lead to a rise if food safety scares.

“The problem with processed produce is that much like when you get a scratch on your skin, once it’s been cut, it loses a layer of protection and is exposed to [possible contamination],” says Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, Canada.

Time and distance between harvest, processing and your plate increase the chance of a contaminant being introduced along the way in fresh produce and fruit.

What’s the safest bet?  Local.  Know where your food comes from and avoid mass produced and processed foods.  Locally sourced food is better for the environment, requires less processing, provides local jobs, and is higher in nutrition.  Who wants a slimy sliced pepper when a fresh, local whole pepper awaits?