Spring is in the air, which means fresh produces coming our way!
Remember: soak in water, spin to dry, store in a clean container or a plastic bag with a paper towel.
As a personal chef, I’m at the grocery food store between four to five days a week. Sometimes, I can be found gazing dreamily over the selection of produce (yes, I am that geeky!) Most of all, I love to see the differences between local/organic and “regular” produce.
Growing up in Colombia, it was very common to pick a piece of fruit from a tree, polish it with my t-shirt and eat it. Right there. No thought or worries about contamination, pesticides, fungicides, etc.
Now, even though the impulse is the same, the thought that crosses my mind when I see a lovely piece of fruit is whether or not it has been loaded down with unwanted chemicals.
For example, did you know that just rinsing your produce in running water will reduce, but not eliminate, pesticides? And if you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables from the Dirty Dozen List (see below) each day, you’ll be ingesting an average of 10 pesticides a day?
In my opinion, the best way to keep chemicals out of your produce is to follow the Environmental Working Group’s list of The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. Basically, the Dirty Dozen are those fruits and vegetables that have a tendency to absorb anything that’s sprayed onto or around them. So when grocery shopping, try to find them in as organic and local a form as you can.
Similarly, the Clean Fifteen fruits and veggies are tough enough to keep chemicals where they belong: on the outside. For these, if you choose not to go organic, the consequences are likely to be a whole lot easier to stomach.
Remember these lists the next time you go shopping:
The Dirty Dozen (Buy organic):Apples, Bell Peppers, Blueberries, Celery, Grapes (imported), Nectarines (imported), Kale and Collard Greens, Lettuce, Peaches, Potatoes, Spinach and Strawberries.
The Clean Fifteen (Lowest in pesticides):?Asparagus, Avocados, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Mangoes, Mushrooms, Onions, Pineapples, Sweet Corn, Sweet Peas, Sweet Potatoes and Watermelon.
Clean your fruits and vegetables well, not only of dust but unwanted pesticides.
The way you clean your fruits and veggies after you get them home can also make a difference. Soaking, for instance, is generally much more effective than rinsing. For squeaky-clean fruits and vegetables, follow this simple formula:
- Fill a large bowl with enough cool water to cover all the produce you want to clean.
- Add 3 Tbsp of baking soda or Cider Vinegar, and 2 Tbsp hydrogen peroxide (optional), per gallon of water.
- Soak your produce for a few minutes, but don’t forget them! Soaking too long will leach away the nutrients along with the chemicals.
For smaller quantities, combine 1 cup of fresh water, 1 cup of distilled white vinegar, 1 Tbsp baking soda and the juice of half a lemon. Store in a spray bottle, shake well and spray fresh produce. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse and enjoy! (Don’t forget to clean the tip of the spray bottle before storing it away.)
It took me many, many shopping trips until the habit of bringing my reusable grocery bags with me became second nature. Many, many times they stayed behind, hanging from the doorknob or even right in front of my nose.
Now, I might forget my keys, my shoes or, some days, even my name – but I never leave home without my reusable grocery bags! In the unlikely event that I do forget them, there’s always a couple of “just in case” extra bags that live in the trunk of the car. Or, if I happen to be walking, there’s my tried and trusty “Mickey Mouse” foldable back that lives in my purse.
(Wondering about the name? Yes, it’s a bag with ears that folds into a miniature Mickey Mouse shape about the size of a small coin purse. A good friend of mine brought it for me from Disney World, and it has become a full-time extension of my purse).
In other words, when it comes to “green” shopping, all my bases are definitely covered. But try as hard as we might, there are still some things for which reusable grocery bags just don’t work. Take produce bags, for example. Since the farmers’ markets aren’t available all week, I often have to stop at the supermarket on my way to the kitchen. Most of their produce is drenched in water to preserve freshness, making it tough to pack it in with the dried goods and other items. The same is even truer for the meat and poultry department.
Which brings me to my dilemma – to use or not use plastic shopping bags. Lately, I’ve been hearing a number of news stories about the importance of washing your reusable bags to prevent the risk of food-born illness. This seems like common sense, right? You carry canvas bags, bags get dirty. What to do with dirty cloths? You wash them. If it isn’t a cloth bag, then you sanitize them with Lysol wipes. Use a basket instead of a bag? Water and soap will do.
So what’s a health– and environmentally-conscious shopper to do? Here are a few things I’ve found useful about grocery bags and how we use them:
1. Reusable grocery bags come in many different materials; most of them are hand– or delicate cycle– machine washable. All should be washed after each use. Hang to dry – don’t use the dryer even if they say you can. Some people also recommend bleaching your bags once a week to reduce or eliminate bacteria (1 Tbsp of chlorine-free bleach per gallon or 16 cups of water, or ¾ cup for your standard washer cycle).
2. Separate your bags into different categories, then use them only for those things that fit into their respective groups. For example, I use some bags only for produce, others for meat, and still others for carrying books, gym items and so on.
3. I still wrap meat, poultry and seafood in double plastic bags before putting them into the reusable shopping bags. Don’t forget to keep your meat and produce in separate bags. For things that have to be refrigerated, if I know they’ll be out of the fridge for more than a few minutes (even in Vancouver’s less-than-blistering-hot summers), I also put a cooler in the car with some ice packs.
4. To reduce produce bags, I always put a hand basket in the front of my grocery cart. I put all my produce that isn’t wet into the basket instead of putting it into plastic bags, then I hand the basket to the cashier and we pack all my lovely fruits and veggies loose in a reusable bag. If you’re a good seamstress or have a good farmers’ market or natural food store near you, you can also make or buy reusable produce bags – www.credobags.com/catalog has some good ones for bulk grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits.
5. One last tip? Go one step further, and consider bins over bags. Bins are sturdy, reusable, and easy to clean and keep dry.
What are your tips for a healthy, green and trouble-free shopping spree?