Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How Fresh is Fresh? (The date-stamping option)

Date-stamping may be one way out of the 'how fresh?' dilemma but this poses problems of its own. In addition to the higher cost incurred in wrapping the vegetables so they can carry a date, weight and price label, there's also the environmental factor. With concern mounting over the cost, both ecologically and economically, of wrapping (and then disposing of this wrapping), it may well be wiser to welcome a trend away from this type of labelling. However, there would be nothing ecologically harmful about enterprising supermarkets displaying point-of-sale boards above loose piles of vegetables, advising the shopper of exactly when the produce came into the store. In the absence of such public-spiritedness, however, most shoppers will simply have to go on relying on their own judgement.

Diet Start

Commonsense aside, the message for the consumer couldn't be clearer: If the fruit and vegetables in your local store leave a lot to be desired, the store manager is the one to tell. And if things don't improve, do what every consumer group in the country repeatedly advises - complain to the head office and/or vote with your feet. In other words, take your custom to another branch, or check up on the competition.

As regards the other examples of foodstuffs that we think of as fresh (such as milk, eggs, meat and fish), stringent government controls coupled with sophisticated distribution methods ensure quick transfer from producer to consumer. Meat, milk and fish produce is invariably shipped under refrigeration and some stores have in-store fish sections that can virtually promise a 24-hour service. Checkers stores in Johannesburg often have fish on the slab that has been landed early that same morning, then flown straight to the city, while coastal stores offer the same service but with a little less effort!

When it comes to eggs, smaller retailers may have a slight advantage over the larger chains. For example at a country Spar store, eggs come direct from the farm so they are only a day or two old at the most, but most larger urban stores are only a day or so behind on average.

Having examined the question of freshness, we should also consider the other side of the coin - the methods of preserving our foods that give us almost the same benefits as very fresh produce and often higher benefits than the not-so-fresh variety.

... andjoyohoxing