Pick the freshest produce and meat

Food is freshest the instant it leaves the farm. The longer it sits around, the more nutrients—and flavor—fade away. But how can you tell the fresh from the not-so-fresh?


Choosing fresh fruits, veggies and meat

There’s almost no way to know for sure when an item was harvested, but there are some good common-sense shopping tips to help you pick the freshest produce and protein.

Think local.

The tomato at your farmer’s market was probably soaking up rays in the garden yesterday. The tomato at your supermarket might have been picked a week ago and trucked cross-country. Not only has that supermarket tomato been sitting around longer, but it was also picked greener to survive the trip. Even if it ripens on your counter, it will never burst with as much flavor and nutrients as a vine-ripened one.

Type your zip code into LocalHarvest.org to find farmer’s markets, pick-your-own farms, and CSAs (community-supported agriculture), which will deliver you a weekly food shipment direct from the farm. Or grow a garden or a few pots of herbs and veggies—that’s as local as you can get!


Think seasonal.

Sure, it’s possible to get cantaloupes in winter—but they’re pale, flavorless, and short on nutrition. Luckily, there’s plenty of winter produce that’s loaded with peak flavor and nutrients right now. Check out juicy tangerines and grapefruits, luscious persimmons, crisp kale. Some suggestions here: 5 weird  fruits to try, and 5 winter veggies to try.


Be careful with pre-packaged produce.

It’s pretty irritating to buy a big bag of apples or pre-washed salad greens, just to discover when we open it that it’s already going bad. You can do a little detective work in the store, though. Packaged salad greens spoil quickly; check the bottom of the container, because leaves rot there first. Flip clear plastic herb containers over, and glance over bagged apples and oranges, to check for mold. Mushrooms should look dry on the surface, with tight gills on the underside (spread-out gills and a slimy, darkening surface mean the mushroom is going bad). Check the date on pre-cut fruit and veggies—they’re convenient, but they spoil faster.


To find the freshest meat, avoid those with blood in the package.

Master butcher Ray Venezia offers this great tip at Chow.com: blood in the package is a dead giveaway that meat has been sitting around a while. Its juices have actually started to leak out—you’ll wind up with dry meat when you cook it. This holds true for beef, chicken, and pork.


Fish should look firm and tight.

The old adage, “Fish should smell fresh, like the ocean,” is definitely true. But what if you’re buying at a supermarket that keeps the fish behind glass? Look for firm, tight flesh. If the fish is softening and separating along the grain, it’s old.


Frozen is fine!

Often, frozen veggies and fruits are actually fresher than “fresh,” because they’re picked at peak ripeness and frozen almost immediately—no languishing on the shelf. And frozen fish is almost always fresher: the vast majority of “fresh” fish you buy was frozen anyway, and the store just thawed it out.