02.How to pick fresh
CHOICE’s tester went shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables with expert Dr Stephen Morris from the Sydney Postharvest Laboratory, and for meat with Ben Barrow, Head Teacher, Meat & Allied Trades, at Granville College of TAFE in Sydney. Here is what they found.
Fruit and vegetables
The quality in supermarkets is highly variable. While some is good, there’s also plenty of poor quality and products that are far from fresh. Examples we found were:
- Limp broccoli with brown discolouration where the stems were cut;
- Hard and tasteless apples that had probably been stored using 1-MCP;
- Grapes showing damage from long exposure to sulphur dioxide;
- Silverbeet packaged in a pool of water that would promote spoilage by micro-organisms.
Neither of the two big supermarkets is any better or worse than the other. The overall quality in each store depends largely on the competence of the staff responsible for fresh fruit and vegetables.
We also examined the quality and freshness of the fruit and vegetables sold at a farmers’ market. While again there’s no guarantee, the overall freshness and quality appeared to be better than equivalent produce in supermarkets – and stallholders often provide slices of fruit, such as apple, so you can taste before you buy.
When comparing cuts of lamb and beef in supermarkets and independent butchers (see our steak report for more information), Barrow says that, generally, the supermarket meat shows a poor standard of butchery (steaks, for example, not correctly cut). Both chains appear to be using inexperienced or poorly trained staff, or are not giving their butchers enough time to do their job properly.
Woolworths: According to Woolies, most of their supermarkets have in-store butchers. Some of the meat is on black plastic trays covered with cling film (toxic chemicals can leach from the cling film into the meat where there’s contact). Some is in modified atmosphere packaging or vacuum-packed; we found no obvious quality issues.
Coles: Fewer Coles supermarkets have an in-store butchery. Their meat is all pre-packed, some vacuum-packed, but most is in modified atmosphere packaging. We found lamb loin chops that were clearly far from fresh. There was discolouration round the bone and a stale meat smell when the packaging was opened. A vacuum-packed beef rib roast had lost its seal where a bone had pierced the plastic film, increasing the risk of contamination by harmful bacteria.
For current information about which fruits and vegetables are at their best, see www.seasonalfoodguide.com or the following websites for specific areas (follow links to seasonal produce):
NSW and ACT: www.sydneymarkets.com.au
(search for “in season”).