Little Miss Citrus: A Beauty Contest

If you have never bought produce outside of a grocery store, you may be confused when you receive your first Veggie Bin. While the vegetables often look more vibrantly colored and crispy than those at the grocery store, often our fruit is… how should we put this delicately? Less than perfect. As consumers we’re trained to look for the most beautiful, shiny, brightly colored and unblemished fruit possible. We’ve been taught that when it comes to fruit, looks are everything. Our ideal fruit bowls look like plastic props. Unfortunately, when it comes to the grocery store fruit bins, “plastic” may be closer to the truth than you might think.

Citrus tree – KYV Farms, one of several local Veggie Bin produce providers

Nobody’s Perfect

As consumers, it’s increasingly important to understand where our food comes from and how it is handled. If you’re buying locally, you’re in Florida, where we have a lovely subtropical climate. Oranges need a few nights of colder temperatures to fully turn orange, which Florida doesn’t always provide every year. This sometimes results in fruit that retains some of its natural green or yellow color. This doesn’t mean that the fruit inside isn’t fully ripe. It’s yummy, delicious and safe. However, we all know that if you’re at the store and given the choice between a totally orange orange and an orange with some green remaining, you’re going to choose the “fully ripe” orange.

Dyes

Processors know this as well. In order to provide you with the most orange orange possible, Florida law allows for the early season use of Citrus Red #2 dye, an FDA-approved colorant used solely for dyeing the skins of oranges that will be sold whole, not processed into other products. (Not to be confused with FD&C Red #2 which was banned by the FDA.) The use of the added color is strictly limited by law to fully mature fruit that hasn’t developed the orange pigments due to temperature.

Gases, Mileage, Detergents & Waxes

For fruits that don’t get a dye job but haven’t had enough cold to turn orange, “de-greening” with ethylene gas is often prescribed. Often, Florida oranges are shipped to other states to receive this treatment and shipped back to Florida to be sold as Florida oranges. It’s hard to believe as a Florida consumer that your Florida orange could have taken an out of state trip before you bought it.

After gassing, the newly-orange globes are often washed with detergent, colored with wax containing orange dyes and stored under refrigeration. [source] Nothing about this process has been proven unsafe, though food dyes of all kinds are increasingly being blamed for a host of issues, primarily in children. It’s just not something everyone knows or that everyone would be comfortable with – especially those who use orange zest in their cooking.

Citrus in our local box is grown, picked and delivered without any side trips to other time zones. Comparing a Veggie Bin orange may be confusing on the outside, but it’s the inside that counts.

Left – a Veggie Bin Red Navel Orange. Right – a Midknight variety chain grocery orange

Inside of the chain grocery store orange

 

Local folks have a lot of good reasons to support local farms

Veggie Bin Red Navel Orange

Deep down, we know that it’s just right to buy where you live, support local agriculture and keep our bodies healthy with the best produce possible. When it comes to produce, many are also concerned with the production methods used by the processors of our fruits and veggies. The last thing we here at The Veggie Bin want to do is scaremonger. Millions of people eat food produced by large scale operations and go on to lead healthy, happy lives. But we also believe that information is power and these practices are a motivating factor for our customers. We also know for sure that the beauty on the inside of that Red Navel was mighty, mighty tasty.

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all images copyright © 2011 the veggie bin • all rights reserved

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