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  • Noshing on

    Happy 2019! It's a new year--time for a restorative. Me? Bok choy broth with tofu for lunch. The purple tinge is not your hangover talking to you--I added purple and gold "black" carrots to the bowl and it got a little Rose Parade on me.

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    Copyright 2008-2019Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Why you shouldn’t buy precut veg

I know perfectly well that I’m preachy about buying bulk produce because it’s cheaper by far, the supposed “convenience” of precut amounts to less than a minute’s time difference in many cases, and the fiddly little precut plastic bags are a lot less fresh. But the current recall for a number of precut packaged veg products at Trader Joe’sand elsewhere reminded me of something my mother (who cooks reluctantly, very reluctantly) used to point out when I was a kid.

She would wash everything well under the tap and then (in a rare show of good lab technique) trim the cut ends off further because, as she pointed out, a lot of the produce is cut out in the field, where dirt and pesticides abound. People harvesting out in the field are not washing their hands or their knives every few minutes, nor are they in a position to wash the produce well before cutting it off the stalk or vine. It wouldn’t really improve things that much if they did.

The fancy precut veg producers are doing the washing and cutting up under less dusty conditions, but they’re actually creating more risk of contamination. Every time you cut into a vegetable, you’re exposing an inside surface. That’s usually fine when you’re cooking or serving it right afterward. But let it sit around, especially in a plastic bag, under dubious refrigeration, for several days, (how many more questionable conditions can I pile on here)–as the precut prepackaged veg does in the supermarket, and you’re pretty much begging for something to go wrong. The peel is there for a reason–it seals and filters out a lot of the bacteria and fungi that are always around in the soil, the air, the water, your hands.

Usually when fruit and vegetables are hand-harvested with a knife, it’s on an inedible stem or stalk, and if left in the open air, the cut will dry and more or less seal over–think how cauliflower and celery stumps look, or the dryish root ends of broccoli or cut asparagus. Not particularly appetizing, and generally that’s the bit you’d discard. The rest of the vegetable stays pretty fresh for several days–it’s essentially still alive (sometimes, as with bok choy, even still growing new shoots from the cut stump), so the plant’s own internal chemistry provides another natural hedge against outside bacteria.

But when it’s bagged and cut in small pieces, all the exposed surfaces provide a lot more opportunity for contamination and the plastic bag lets whatever moisture is lost collect on the outside of the pieces. Not good. So the less your vegetables and fruits are cut up before you buy them, the fewer chances to contaminate the inside parts of the vegetables.

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