Shopping wise and returning bad produce – The Boston Globe

I never buy a single fruit or vegetable that isn’t cold. Room-temp apples are a dead giveaway to decay problems down the road. All the citruses I put into my cart are firm without soft spots. I don’t buy bags of fruits because there’s always a rotten culprit somewhere in the sack. I even stopped buying clementines because a couple of the little rounds at the bottom of the box are always near death (though the boxes make great kindling wood).

My fridge temp is where it should be (40 degrees, according to the US Department of Agriculture). In the two crisper drawers, fruits are separated from vegetables because many fruits produce ethylene and hasten spoilage of other produce. In season, fresh berries go into a covered container with a paper towel on the bottom of the fruit, another on top, like little blankets. Parsley is washed, dried, rolled in paper towels, and stored in an airtight container. And if I photographed my fridge — which I did for a while, until blog readers told me how obnoxious it was — you would develop fridge envy.

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Yet, even with all these good practices, food goes bad way before the pull date. I am the annoying consumer who brings everything back. It’s not the money. I’ve been known to tell my local farmstand not to refund me if they promise to tell the produce manager that the broccoli crowns I bought a few days ago turned yellow within 48 hours. I return food because I want the department managers to know that something is wrong with their system. Maybe the milk was left on the loading dock on a warm day too long, or the microgreens have the wrong sell-by dates (don’t get me started). Should cukes turn mushy days after I get them home?

Sometimes I buy things at Whole Foods that should be cooked so quickly, I wonder if I need a police escort for the ride home, and someone there who has already preheated the oven. Perhaps that antibiotic-free chicken was hanging around the meat case a speck too long because when I open the package that night, the bird smells awful.

If you are looking at your woeful produce purchases and tossing them into the compost heap as you grumble about the market where you shop, know that I am doing the dirty work for you. At the customer service desk, I am just another anonymous shopper. And let me tell you, the variety of responses is amazing.

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They range from such compliance and genuine interest (Whole Foods) that I wonder if I should try bringing back the sweater I bought at Filene’s Basement 20 years ago that never really fit right. To rudeness (store name withheld): If I don’t have the original receipt, I will not be refunded the $2.99 for lettuce whose leaves decomposed two days after I got them home. I only have one comment for this manager. It would take quite a long time to make any money at $2.99 a pop, not including time spent on the endeavor.

In the dairy case, I always take a minute to look at the sell-by dates on yogurt, and pull the yogurts from the back (always fresher, of course). I don’t understand why anyone wants to buy something like a large container of yogurt that has to be eaten in three days.

I know markets run on the FIFO system — the rotation method of “first in, first out” — and so does my fridge. One year we decided that the best way to mark the oranges in the fruit drawer was to take a sharpie and write “first out” on the older ones. We were dashing to a neighbor’s Chinese New Year’s party and wanted to bring the hostess something for good luck. So we grabbed a bunch of oranges and piled them in a cellophane bag.

A couple days later she called. “What does ‘first out’ mean when it’s written on an orange?” she asked.

It means your guest is a fool.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.