4 Trader Joe’s Produce Items You Should Never Buy (and 3 You Should)
With grocery prices being as high as they are these days, do you know what I just can’t stomach? Bringing home a grocery haul of fresh produce, only to find it mushy, overripe, or just lacking in the flavor department.
As one of the more affordable grocery stores in the country, Trader Joe’s definitely has some produce deals — and also some items to very much avoid. I worked at Trader Joe’s for just over two years, which means I got very well-acquainted with how to pick a good melon, where all the good avocados are, and when to spring for a new seasonal fruit (spoiler: any time you can).
My main pro tip? Like other food establishments, Trader Joe’s operates on a FIFO system, which means “first in, first out” and refers to how employees rotate product to move the ripe produce to the front, and the less-than-ready product to the back to wait for its moment of glory. As you might suspect, there’s some perfectly understandable difficulties to rotating trickier, heavier products (like onions, potatoes, and apples) as well as human error when it comes to rotating produce, so it always helps to double-check those items before hitting the check-out aisle.
That being said, I’ve eaten my way through pretty much all the produce at Trader Joe’s and have more than a few tips on how to pick the best of the bunch.
1. Don’t: Loose, Standard-Sized Avocados
Maybe other shoppers have good avocado luck, but that is certainly not me. Too many times I’ve brought a full avocado home, only to find that it either never really ripens, or has a mushy brown crater upon opening. For now, the jumbo, standard-sized avocados are my frenemies.
2. Do: Teeny Tiny Avocados
Too many of us have felt like we needed to cast a magic spell or do a ceremonial dance in order to ripen our avocados, only to be left with what seems to be a flavorless dinosaur egg. No more of that! I will always sing the praises of the Teeny Tiny Avocados because, yes, they’re cute. But they’ve also never let me down when it comes to ripening. They’re so forgiving that, even if you grab a bag of avocados that feels like rocks, you can simply leave them near a bunch of bananas (which produce the ripening gas, ethylene) for about a day or so, then when they’re ready, pop them in the fridge for opening up whenever you want all week long. Best of all, they’re the ideal size for popping into a lunch bag for a perfectly single-portioned topping for burrito bowls.
3. Don’t: Fresh Berries
Much like avocados, I feel like I buy fresh berries with the best of intentions, only for them to grow fuzzy with mold as soon as I turn my back. Also, fresh berries at many grocery stores are often pretty bland — especially because I’ve been spoiled by too many U-Pick farm outings and punnets picked up at farmers markets. Also, frozen berries have gotten berry good (sorry) and remain berry cheap (not sorry). If you want a sure thing, Trader Joe’s frozen wild Boreal blueberries will sweeten up a smoothie bowl, pancakes, and maybe your whole day.
4. Do: Bananas
Yes, most bananas are sold per pound (Trader Joe’s sells all produce per unit), but I still think these bananas are a steal at only 19 cents. Why is that? Unlike other grocers (which receive produce shipments two to three times a week), Trader Joe’s gets produce shipments first thing every morning. That means there are way more opportunities for those same bananas to get rotated multiple times a day (while also leaving some freckled guys that are ready to hop into your banana bread).
5. Don’t: Bagged Onions
As I said before, my produce rule of thumb is: If it seems hard to rotate out, I usually pass. Why? Bags of onions are hard to consistently rotate by date (think: Customers reaching to the back for a “fresh” bag often leads to an avalanche of bagged onions that then get all mixed up, date-wise). Sure, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find good bagged onions — only that it’s a bit trickier. For me, the loose onions are the ones to get to know.
6. Do: Fun, Seasonal Fruits
I call my grocery style solidly “novelty-focused” for sure, which is why I love taking an extra minute in the Trader Joe’s produce section. Where Trader Joe’s really shines is when it rolls out all kinds of new hybrids or seasonal treats that are hard to find elsewhere. Some recent favorites include rambutans, gooseberries, and Envy apples (which don’t go brown after you slice them!), but don’t sleep on the grape section, either. Hidden near the Thompsons you just might find bubble gum-flavored, honey pearl, and cotton candy-flavored grapes.
7. Don’t: Pre-Chopped Fruit & Vegetables
Sure, these are so convenient, but that plastic container is also keeping you from being able to lightly squish, smell, and get to really know your produce. A lot can go wrong here, like the produce drying out or more moist vegetables mixing with crisp ones to mingle into a sad, soppy soup of sorts. Also, while many grocery stores will chop fruits and veg in-house, Trader Joe’s doesn’t have that capability, meaning these often aren’t the freshest. Just from purely anecdotal evidence, I’d estimate my most recent chopped mango purchases to be about 70% inedible and dry, almost like chewing tree bark, and thus, a major bummer. Help me help you from this same fate! Go un-chopped if you can and that works for your lifestyle.
Got any Trader Joe’s produce items to add to this list? Tell us about it in the comments below.