Unlike their frozen, dried or canned versions, some foods are best bought fresh to get the greatest value.
When shopping for food, there are many factors to consider, from taste, price, healthfulness, safety and convenience to retail source and brand type.
Perhaps chief among all factors, however, should be freshness, if for no other reason than health concerns. Some foods spoil easily and do not have a long shelf life.
Beyond that, there are strong nutritional reasons to keep food freshness top of mind. Fresh food contains nutrients that are not lost by cooking; it contains more naturally occurring vitamins and minerals; and it typically does not contain artificial preservatives or colorings. Fresh food tends to taste better , too.
In particular, the following eight types of food should be bought fresh whenever possible.
Greens – Among the first foods to buy fresh are greens, and especially the leafy ones—lettuce, spinach, cabbage, cilantro, bok choy, etc. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Be sure to pick the freshest among the lot as they may be easily bruised and contaminated. Also take care to wash them before storage and cooking, because of their possible exposure to pesticides and other chemicals that farmers used on crops.
Vegetables – Most vegetables are easy to identify as fresh by their appearance. Quality is readily apparent. Avoid bruised produce and that which is discolored or deformed. Buying vegetables in season and those grown locally are other ways to ensure they are at their best.
Fruits – These too are better bought fresh, and most are sold near the peak of their ripeness. If you buy fruits that you intend to store for more than a few days, it is best to get the ones that are a little under ripe and allow them to fully ripen at room temperature before serving them.
Fish – Fish are rich in nutritious oils like omega-3 and omega-9, which are the “good” types of fatty acids. Make sure to purchase and prepare these when they are as fresh as possible, otherwise they may spoil quickly without the use of any preservatives.
Shellfish – Oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab and other shellfish should always be bought fresh, as they also spoil easily. They can even be harmful to eat when not at their freshest.
Meat – Pork, beef, lamb and game meats easily attract bacteria and may spoil easily. They are usually sold chilled and should be kept refrigerated, not frozen or at room temperature, for use within a day or two after purchase.
Poultry – Fresh chicken, turkey, goose, pheasant and other forms of poultry are highly nutritious and retain all the flavor that freezing can ruin. Like meat, poultry products should be kept chilled until ready for use.
Eggs – When carefully lowered into a deep bowl of water, a very fresh egg will sink to the bottom. As eggs lose their freshness and more air enters in through the shell, older eggs will begin to float and stand upright. Eggs that float to the top should be discarded.
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