It turns out the “fresh” apple you buy at the store might not be as fresh as you think – grocery store apples can be a year old, and you’d never know it.
How Apples Stay Fresh for Months
We often assume the fresh produce we buy from the grocery store was harvested just days or weeks prior to our purchase. However, someone might have picked your apple over a year ago.
So how do stores manage to provide these fresh-looking and crisp-tasting apples throughout the year?
Controlled Atmosphere Storage
Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage is an innovation that has revolutionized the way we store apples and other produce. By regulating the temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity levels within storage units, apples’ ripening process slows significantly. The low temperature is particularly crucial, often set just above freezing. Additionally, reducing the oxygen levels from the 21% found in the air we breathe to a mere 1-2% and increasing carbon dioxide levels keeps the apples in a state of dormancy.
This storage method doesn’t just slow down the ripening process but can also help in preserving the apple’s flavor, color, texture, and vital nutrients. In essence, CA storage puts the apples to “sleep.” That way, we can store them for extended periods without significant deterioration.
The Journey of Grocery Stores Apples
Let’s follow the journey of an apple. It gets harvested during the apple-picking season, which typically runs from late summer to early fall. After a brief initial inspection and cleaning, instead of heading straight to the grocery shelves, many of these apples make their way into CA storage facilities. They might remain there for several months or even over a year, depending on the demand and variety of the apple.
When the market needs replenishment outside of the apple season, food purveyors get out their stored apples, wash them, and sometimes wax them to enhance their shine. After they undergo quality checks, companies pack and ship to grocery stores nationwide.
A common question arises: do these “aged” apples differ nutritionally from their fresher counterparts? The good news is that the CA storage process retains most of the apples’ nutrients. While there might be slight decreases in some vitamin levels, such as vitamin C, over extended periods, the overall nutritional profile remains largely intact.
Embracing the Benefits of Preserved Grocery Store Apples
Understanding the age of grocery store apples isn’t meant to deter individuals from purchasing them. In fact, CA storage has many benefits. It reduces food waste by allowing us to store apples longer, ensuring they don’t spoil before reaching consumers. It also ensures apples remain available year-round, not just during the harvest season.
However, for those who prioritize consuming fruits at their freshest, this information might influence purchasing decisions. Buying apples during their natural harvesting season or directly from local farmers’ markets can often guarantee a more recent harvest. Moreover, it’s always a good practice to ask store representatives about the sourcing and storage practices for their produce.