FARGO - While you're in the zone, scanning the grocery list in hand, quiet workers are busy making produce pretty. It takes an observative soul to notice, but these employees are not only putting out new produce but meticulously examining, culling overripe produce and replacing it with the freshest produce possible.
"We start fresh in the morning and then it is our employees' job during the day to keep turning that," says Dan Yamane, produce manager at Hornbacher's in Osgood. "Every time we bring something out, we'll be moving (the produce) again. That's why you'll see people pulling product up, layering down, pulling it back. It's an ongoing process all throughout the day, if you're doing it right."
Shoppers will notice that while most fruits are out in room temperature, more veggies tend to be refrigerated.
"Basically for that, it's shelf life. The longer you keep things at a 40- to 60-degree range, out of room temperature, the less chance you're going to have for those products going bad, softening up or wrinkling, Yamane says. "Once you get to room temperature, they tend to deteriorate fairly quickly."
Thankfully, choosing ripe vegetables is a little easier than finding the freshest fruit, according to Don Kinzler, a Forum gardening columnist and former NDSU Extension horticulturist.
"Some vegetables are good at many stages," he says. "For example, you can eat lettuce when it's little or big. Same thing with carrots, broccoli, onions, potatoes."
Here, Yamane and Kinzler share some tips for how to choose the freshest vegetables possible.
Like bananas, tomatoes improve their color with time.
"A lot of times you'll see them come in and they will be yellowish," Yamane says. "They will turn color as they sit at room temperature."
But perhaps one of the most important tips starts with storage.
"Some things you always want to leave at room temperature, like a tomato. It'll affect the flavor and the texture if you refrigerate it," Yamane says.
Hornbachers is home to the "ripe and ready" avocado, convenient for those looking to consume the product immediately.
"Basically this means the fruit has been pre-conditioned and started that ripening process," Yamane says. "If this program is working right - which it's not 100 percent - they should be ripe and ready. Some you're going to find are a little bit firmer."
While a darker color can indicate ripeness, Yamane recommends going by the feel - a ripe avocado will yield slightly to the touch.
For those who need to ripen an avocado more quickly, Yamane says to try the paper bag trick.
"If you want to get an extra half day-worth of ripening, take a banana, put it in with your avocados and seal it up in a paper bag," he says.
The ethylene from the banana will speed up the avocado ripening process.
"People also say 'Put it on the top of the fridge where it's warm,' " Yamane says. "Heat is another factor that leads to ripening."
Cucumbers and squash
When buying cucumbers, customers should hone in on texture - it should be firm on the ends and throughout. Check the stem ends as they tend to bruise and get soft.
"In terms of freshness, when you're looking at the stem end, it'll start to shrivel slightly when it gets older," Yamane says. "It doesn't really affect anything on the inside. It can be shriveled but you cut a half-inch off each side and you're fine."
Fans of mini cucumbers might find they go bad a tad faster ... but why is that?
"With that - and this is all just conjecture of course - but the skin is much thinner. Any time you have a thinner skin, you have less protection," Yamane says. "I'd suggest taking them out of the package when you get home. There again, just keeping the moisture off them."
Ripe squash can be determined similarly to cucumbers - firm skin and tip end.
While wrinkling on peppers can be visually deceiving, Yamane says it's just an indicator of age.
"Where it's going to start to shrivel will be right on that cap edge," he says. "If you're feeling the centers and it's firm, then you're still good to go."
"One thing you look for is the tips. You want them to be tight bunches, preferably avoiding feathering. When it feathers, it goes to seed, meaning that product is old," Yamane says, referring to the tips of spears that appear opened up when overmature.
Though you may sometimes see people snapping off the bottoms of the asparagus, it's less of a concern, Yamane says. The white portion is more fibrous and less edible but is typically cut off anyway during the cooking process.
Size is a matter of preference.
"I'm a California guy. In California, the size of asparagus we tend to get were much larger - we're looking at 3/4 inch to an inch. We used to market that as a premium grade because the cooks would prefer it. They said it was sweeter," Yamane says. "For most people, pencil up to your half-inch size here is optimal."
Corn on the cob
"Ten years ago, people would just grab corn and go. Nobody stripped it back and peeled it on the display," Yamane says, chuckling. "I just feel up and down the cob to make sure there aren't any blank spots, take a look at the top."
Kinzler says the tip of the cob is a good indicator - "the silky hairs on the tip should be brown and dry," he says.
In the garden, however, Kinzler says another test proves helpful.
"If you puncture the kernels with your thumbnail, the juice should be white, milky and not clear, watery. White and milky would indicate that they're nice and mature," he says.
While there isn't a trick per se for choosing the best potatoes, storage and handling is important.
"You don't want to refrigerate them if at all possible. It'll increase the starch," Yamane says. "
"You want to keep them in a dry, dark area. A lot of that is simply because your fluorescent lights will turn (them) green. I've heard anything from it's toxic to just less palatable, but basically it's just not something you want."
Tell us your foolproof tricks
Do you have a favorite trick for determining the ripeness of fruits or vegetables? We would love to hear from you! Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your answers via the Google Form at https://goo.gl/joqubc.