Enter any supermarket and the sight of pre-cut, packaged vegetables and fruits is almost impossible to miss. True, everyone wishes for the mundane chopping, cooking, slicing, and dicing work to be over sooner than possible, but are we trading our health in the bargain? Research reveals that pre-cut vegetables and fruits have far less nutrient content, particularly that of Vitamin C, and also Vitamin A, E, and Folates – all essential for a healthy immune system with the latter being critical to preventing birth defects in babies. As hectic urban routines eat into cooking time, working women, singles, and couples are choosing pre-cut vegetables over whole produce for the sheer convenience, even though the former are priced 20-50% higher.
Slice, Dice, and Chop Your Way to Better Health
While we are all for making cooking easier, simpler, and enjoyable, we bring you 4 compelling reasons to stop reaching for that bag of convenience laden pre-cut produce.
#1 Pre-cut vegetables leave a larger carbon footprint: The concept of food miles i.e. the miles a food item travels from farm to your fork has been gaining momentum globally. Pre-cut vegetables, fruits, and other frozen food items require significantly higher amount of energy for packaging, transporting, and storing them as compared to fresh whole foods. More energy consumption means higher carbon dioxide emissions and higher environmental impact. Research shows that eating fresh, seasonal produce sourced locally can help cut your carbon footprint by around 7%.
#2 They are not as clean as you think: Although most pre-cut vegetable and fruit packets have labels mentioning they don’t require to be washed again as they have already been treated with a chloride solution and pre-washed extensively, research suggests otherwise. There have also been instances of disease causing food borne bacteria such as Salmonella being found in pre-cut produce. The real problem lies in extensive care required in handling and storage of these items. Pre-cut vegetables and fruits require proper refrigeration through every step of the production process. Cutting also increases the surface area of food making it more prone to being infected. If you are buying pre-cut vegetables, do wash them as you would other whole vegetables and while you are it, think again about the convenience and time saving you thought you were getting. Isn’t that a total farce?
#3 They are high on pathogens: The microbiological hazards in pre-cut vegetables and fruits far outweigh the convenience offered by them. Green leafy vegetables form the area of greatest concern in terms of harbouring food borne pathogens. They are followed by berries, green onions, melons, sprouted seeds and tomatoes as the second high-risk group. The bacteria found range from Salmonella, E.Coli, Vibrio Cholerae, entero parasites to faecal coliforms, and more.
#4 Pre-peeled and pre-cut vegetables are more damaged: Cutting and processing of vegetables and fruits in a factory processing unit impacts the respiration rate of plant cells and damages them. Though the respiration rate impact differs for different vegetables, food researchers do not recommend cutting up vegetables and fruits any further ahead of time than absolutely necessary to decrease the chances of damage. Hand-peeling and hand-tearing of vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach are known to be better than machine processing as hand-peeling and cutting inflicts less damage thereby carrying a lower risk of bacteria like E. coli and Listeria innocua being present. Researchers recommend purchasing most vegetables in the whole form and then peeling and cutting them at home by hand rather than purchasing pre-peeled and pre-cut vegetables.
Vegetables and fruits are meant to be enjoyed fresh
When it comes to food, the golden rule is to stick to what your grandparents did. With the pre-cut fruit and vegetable (F&V) segment set to grow by over 50% in the total F&V sales in Indian supermarkets, it’s easy to get carried away with shelves lined with neatly packaged produce labelled as healthy and fresh. Scratch the surface and you are likely to discover that not only are the companies charging an overly high rate for these F&V but are also selling you a can of worms, quite literally. While convenience is a critical factor in urban homes, upcoming meal-kit delivery services like Awesome Chef are doing a great job by offering pre-measured ingredients to help you make gourmet style meals at home. However it would certainly do your more good to do the slicing and dicing yourself. You could even involve the kids in it and turn it into a fun family activity! There’s no better place to enjoy a hearty meal than your own home, in the company of family and friends.
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