Secrets to selecting produce

Jan 4, 2008 at 1:26 p.m. ET

We all know buying fresh is best, but when it comes to shopping for fresh produce, it is not always easiest. In fact, it is a little tricky and can be time consuming. Here are a few of our secrets to shopping smart for the fresh stuff in the produce aisle.

Buy produce that is in season: Foods that are in season are at the peak of freshness, flavor and affordability. If you don't know if an item is in season, ask the producer manager.

Buy locally grown produce: Even the big grocery stores buy local produce, and you can also buy local produce at the farmer's market or straight from the farm. Depending on where you live, transportation from the farm to the market takes quite a long time and often does the most damage to produce.

Buy produce that is on special: An item on special moves much faster off the shelf than other items. Faster moving items are fresher than slower moving items, because they are ordered and restocked more frequently.

Use your senses: Smell it, look at it and feel it. Not all produce has brilliant aroma, but none of it should ever smell moldy or mildewed. Fresh produce should not be shriveled or have soft spots or bruises. Colors should be vibrant and pleasant. Bagged and packaged items should be free of mold and liquids.

When in doubt � just ask: The produce manager is knowledgeable and often very helpful. There is nothing wrong with asking when an item arrived at the store or seeking their advice on how to tell if an item is ripe. If he's not around, don't be shy - ask another customer for an opinion. They're usually more than willing to share with you.

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