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October 2014



Grocery Store Wars: Three Foods Grocery Stores Maintain Artificially.

Written by , Posted in Food, Sustainability, Technology

Grocery Store Wars: Three Foods Grocery Stores Maintain Artificially.


There is an expectation when you go to the grocery store that you’re buying food at its optimum freshness. What exactly does that mean? Well frankly, you’re hoping the bread isn’t stale and flakey, the mushrooms aren’t growing fur, and the fruit isn’t dripping into a rotten puddle of goo. As an aside, it’s a good thing that my house isn’t the grocery store. With only one person eating from the fridge this week I’ve had stale and flakey bread, gooey rotten fruit, and just this morning I threw out a flat of furry mushrooms. On a good note, with only me here I haven’t had to go grocery shopping.

As time progresses, the nutrients in our food waivers. With every passing day, the vitamins and nutrients bleed away. There can be no question that a vegetable eaten shortly after picking has more nutritional value than if it sits in a transport truck for a few weeks before getting to the grocery store.

I’m not saying that all grocery stores are monsters lurking in the dark. I know many grocery owners and they are fine upstanding individuals. Grocery stores are stores however and in the business of selling stuff, mainly food. Mainly. Well, maybe not so mainly. The following is a list of food items at a grocery store that may not be as close to the optimum freshness as they are marketed.

1. Red meat

All good things come to those who wait. That’s why smaller producers hang their beef for as long as a month letting the meat break down so it’s tender when it hits your plate. The beef that ends up in a grocery store doesn’t have that luxury however. In fact before it’s sealed in the packaging it is either mechanically tenderized, by pin injections, which increases the risk of E-coli, and/or through injections of chemicals such as papain which artificially breaks that meat down. There’s as little as a week from abattoir to your plate. Yum.

Now, red meat won’t stay red for very long when it’s left under the lights of the display counter. That’s why the packages are injected with carbon monoxide. This makes the meat stay red longer. It doesn’t however make the meat stay fresh longer. It may look red, but that slimy goo on the outside of the meat is bad.

Another little trick you can catch the grocery store playing is when the meat is getting older on the shelf. Rather than freeze the meat, some distributors will dye it. Instead of a hunk of drabby grey meat, it looks like you’re still getting a delicious red morsel worthy of the BBQ. The thing is, when the meat gets dyed, so do the strings tying the rotten chunks together. So the next time you can’t see the string in the meat, run. Think of it like buying a red Porsche and finding out it’s only a yellow taxi under the paint.

2. Eggs

As a general rule of thumb your eggs should stand up. Fresh ones do. But what about the ones you got from the grocery store last week? For the record, yolks shouldn’t fall apart like water. We can’t blame the grocery store of course. It takes time to get the eggs from the farm to the store, especially when they sit on a truck for a few days or weeks. The average egg is already as old as a month before it goes into your cast iron skillet. You do the math. Oh, as a matter of note, that’s also a month after the protective coating on the egg has been washed off. I think I’ll take “dirty” farm eggs over the ones you get from the grocery store.

3. Fruits and vegetables

When someone says, “fresh,” you envision a cornucopia filled with fruits and vegetables. Well, at least I do. The food is juicy, soft, and succulent. More often what we get was picked several weeks earlier when it wasn’t fresh, and in fact wasn’t even ready to be picked. It’s thrown in shipping container and banished. At some point during the transport they throw what’s called an ethylene bomb into the truck which artificially ripens fruit or vegetables. Suddenly what you have looks ripe, but really really isn’t. Bananas are a perfect example. You have a yellow banana that’s as hard as a rock and tastes chalky. After a day on the shelf it almost instantly turns black and gross. And yes, this is the fruit I had to have a funeral for this week.

Many grocery stores also spray the veggies down to make them look fresher. Glistening veggies means fresh right? Not so much. Unfortunately, it’s kind of like dousing your hands in water and hoping they’ll be moisturized. They end up dry and cracked.

In general, there are some other tricks to keep the older stock going off the shelf first. Always remember that if you’re looking for the freshest product, look to the back of the shelf. Produce is stocked so the oldest stuff is sold first. And make sure you check the best before date instead of just taking what’s up front.

In a perfect world everyone would go directly to the producer to get their groceries, but this isn’t feasible. Instead, we have to use grocery stores for the majority of our food. They however have a goal of making money and sometimes that includes selling food, while at others, it includes selling a close approximation. You’re mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be aware of the tricks they play to make the food appear more fresh than it actually is.
Don’t just accept that it’s fresh because they told you so. Test it, and deny it if it’s not right.

Have any other tricks grocery stores play? Or perhaps you own a grocery store and disagree? In either case, have your say.