Why You Might Want To Reconsider Buying That Freshly-Misted Produce

Turns out those misters aren't there for the reasons we thought they were.

Fresh produce at the grocery store being sprayed with water from automatic misters
Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

You plan on making a salad for dinner tonight and head to the produce section in the grocery store. The misters are showering the lettuce and scallions and leaving the veggies covered in drops of water making them look ultra-fresh. But are those misters really at work to ensure you have the freshest produce possible? While 80% of U.S. grocers use these popular misters, only about 1% of other global retailers use them, according to US Water Systems. So what's the deal?

Why Do Grocery Stores Use Misters?

Like us, you may have thought those misters in the produce section were for keeping the vegetables fresh and crisp. Well it turns out it's really more for marketing. Retailers want to create a shopping experience where you find the produce at its most appealing and the droplets of water on the lettuce leaves can bring about images of produce growing in the fields and covered with raindrops. In short: It's visually appealing, making you more likely to buy.

Retailers also want to prevent any reduction in size of the produce and want to preserve it in as close to the state it was when freshly picked. For example, a head of broccoli can lose up to 4% of its weight during a 16-hour period of time if left dry.

The Downsides of Misted Produce

Food Safety Concerns

Fresh lettuce can wilt pretty quickly if not properly stored. The misters work to plump up the displayed salad greens. The only issue? The misters get water from hundreds of feet of plastic tubing which run through the store. If that equipment isn't properly cleaned on a regular basis, it can actually create unsanitary conditions in the watering system and lead to the spread of bacteria on your food.

Added Weight

Another issue to consider is the misted water adds weight to the saturated produce—which is good if it's keeping the water inside the produce keeping it crisp. But you don't necessarily want to pay for the water that's sitting on top of the produce, meaning you might be paying extra for water weight rather than veggie weight.

Faster Wilting

When it comes to salad greens, placing soaking wet greens into a plastic bag that doesn't offer air circulation makes them more likely to wilt quickly. So for tender greens, stick to the salad mixes in bags and plastic clamshells vs. picking your own from bulk bins.

The Benefits of Buying Loose Produce

More Choice

One of the top reasons shoppers want to choose produce from the bin where they are openly displayed is that you can see exactly what you're selecting. You can rummage through that pile of loose Brussels sprouts to find the nicest ones that are also the right size. You can closely inspect the head of broccoli for firm stems and tightly closed green buds. Loose produce allows the shopper to be able to see the vegetables up close and look for telltale signs of freshness. When you buy pre-bagged you are at the whims of whatever you get in the bag.

Less Waste

If you bring your own reusable produce bags to the store, buying loose produce cuts down on single-use plastic waste. Plus, those cloth and mesh bags increase airflow, preventing the wilting problem you would get by tossing wet veggies into a plastic bag that would trap the moisture.

The Bottom Line

Buying loose produce that is freshly-misted may look like the nicest option, but in reality that extra water may be adding bacteria and weight (more money), plus making your greens wilt faster than the pre-bagged vegetables. But, you do get more choice with buying loose produce, and if you bring your own reusable grocery bags, you can cut down on waste and keep your greens from wilting as quickly. At the end of the day, do what's best for you. But we recommend skipping the freshly sprayed tender greens and opting for bagged or boxed greens instead.

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