5 Things You Shouldn't Do in the Produce Section at the Grocery Store (and 5 You Should)

The food is more fragile, so your behavior should be on point.

Woman Grocery Shopping in Produce
Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images.

We've all witnessed or been guilty of rude behaviors in the produce section of the supermarket. Some are obvious (removing that bottom grapefruit so the tower comes tumbling down); others are much easier to miss.

The stakes are highest here because produce is perishable, fragile, and expected to be pristine — why stores end up throwing so much away. These 10 dos and don'ts will help you do right by your grocer and your fellow customers, as well as save you time at checkout.

5 Things You Should Never Do in the Grocery Store Produce Section

1. You separate two or three bananas from the bunch

When you need four bananas instead of six, don't tear off a pair and leave them behind. While someone else could pick up your spares, it's more likely that they won't get sold and will be discarded.

Instead, freeze those extra bananas for another recipe later. Use in banana muffins, banana cream pie, or a banana smoothie.

2. You trim veggies at the store

Leaving behind the skins of onions and garlic, the vines of tomatoes, and the green tops of radishes and beets is about as mature as a toddler leaving out their toys — you're just creating a mess for someone else to clean up. Do that prep at home, then repurpose those trimmings so nothing goes to waste: Use stems and onion peels in chicken stock and green tops in a pesto, salad, or sauté.

3. You tear off more produce bags than you need

People are more likely to tear a fresh bag from the roll than use the one you left in your cart or crumpled behind the avocados. Tear off and fill one bag at a time so you don't get more than you need (which is why those rolls are displayed everywhere).

Better yet, don't use plastic produce bags at all! These mesh produce bags are washable and reusable.

4. You swap or remove produce stickers

The stickers have a four-digit code that tells the cashier what the item is and what it costs per pound. Switching produce stickers for a less expensive variety is cheating, and it messes with the store's inventory and bottom line. If you remove the stickers, the cashier will have to look up the code (or you will at self checkout), wasting your time and theirs.

5. You're rough with the produce

We've all trained ourselves to only pick perfect produce at the store — why produce managers work so hard on their displays and why so much good food gets thrown away. When you rummage through a pile or squeeze and poke at tender fruits and vegetables, you are potentially damaging them to the point of being unsellable. If you wouldn't do it at the farmers' market, you shouldn't do it at the grocery store.

5 Things You Should Absolutely Do in the Produce Section

1. Make sure the four-digit code is visible

If you're buying a few of something like apples, make sure at least one has the correct sticker. For bunches of greens and herbs, the code is often on the twist tie, so be sure this is visible before you check out.

2. Use the produce scales

If you need a specific amount for a recipe (like a pound of zucchini for lasagna) or want to know the exact cost of what you're buying, the produce scale is your friend. Place in your produce bag first before weighing, then add or remove produce until you get the amount you need. It's better than discovering you've bought too much or too little when the cashier weighs it at checkout.

3. Look and smell first, then touch

You can tell a lot about the ripeness of a fruit or vegetable by its color, size, outer texture, and fragrance. When you do pick up a fruit, give it one very gentle squeeze — you'll be able to tell immediately if it gives slightly, too much, or not at all. Carefully put back whatever you don't want in the right place.

4. Return unwanted produce to the produce section

If you decide you don't want something, try to return it to where and how you found it. Since the store workers can't trust how long an item has been sitting on a different shelf at the wrong temperature and that it hasn't been contaminated, it's often thrown away.

5. Unload produce in the order you'd like it bagged

When it's time to check out, place produce onto the conveyor belt starting with the heaviest and heartiest items (potatoes, onions, carrots) and ending with fragile items (tomatoes, bananas, herbs). Different produce should also be in separate produce bags or grouped together if you're not using produce bags. This makes it easier and faster for the cashier to ring you up and pack your purchases.

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