Grocery store produce managers have a tough job. They deal with one of the most finicky product categories in the store, and often the first one you see when you walk in — so stakes are high if the department is looking not-so-attractive and empty one day.
Here are eight things your grocery store produce manager wishes you knew.
1. Not everything can be freshly picked from a nearby farm.
Because we expect to see, say, berries on the shelves 52 weeks a year, you can't truly expect everything you see to be locally picked a day ago. It's just not possible. Sometimes, even in-season produce comes from other countries, because produce managers need to source their goods from farms than can offer year-round production.
2. That bad apple is totally fine.
Customers can be so picky! If a tomato has a single spot on it, one you could easily cut out, many shoppers will reject it. But know that before the product hit the shelves, the produce department workers already went through and took out anything that's actually rotten and salvaged bad-looking produce for the salad bar. And they do freshness checks throughout the day, too. As much as 25 percent of produce is thrown out (although there are donation programs in place for some of it), but do your part and take the slightly imperfect apple instead of rejecting it.
3. Your fellow shoppers are super handsy.
Food and grocery stores are heavily regulated, and there are plenty of processes between the farm and the shelf to make sure contaminants are removed and exposure to new hazards are limited. But once they're on the shelves? People want to touch the fruit for ripeness, they pick up three broccoli heads before choosing the fluffiest one, their kids grab stuff off the shelves and then put it back. Even the nicest shopper has germ-covered hands. So follow your best sanitation practices at home and make sure you rinse that pear before taking a bite!
4. Sampling is sometimes ok.
If there's a type of fruit you want to try before you buy, talk to a produce manager. Some stores, like Whole Foods, will allow you to have a sample. But nibbling on a green bean as you fill your bag, or letting your kid eat an apple while you shop the rest of the store? No good. First of all, it's unsanitary (see above) and second of all, most produce is paid for by weight, so you're technically stealing if you're eating something you're not paying for. Don't do it!
5. They don't just stock shelves.
The produce department is one of the tougher grocery jobs because they do all kinds of things, including cutting up fresh fruit, loading produce in and out of coolers from delivery trucks, weeding out stuff that's gone bad, taking out garbage, and helping customers find what they need. Beyond that, the produce manager is the person deciding what goes where, how to display the fruits and veggies, what goes into the salad bar or gets chopped up and re-packaged, and hand-writing all those cute little signs you see.
Often, the produce manager has a lot of knowledge about how to work with veggies, the difference between varieties, and cooking techniques, too. So if you're curious about something, ask questions!
6. They take requests!
If there's a certain kind of fruit or vegetable you don't see, ask for it! Produce managers are typically open to requests, and may be able to order a small quantity for you or to start carrying something new, if there's enough interest. In fact, that's often the way that new fruit and vegetable options make their way onto the shelves. Just be sure to be polite and follow the proper protocol, if there's a procedure in place like a comment box or online request system.
7. The bulk buy isn't necessarily cheaper.
When it comes to dry goods, the rule of thumb is that the more you buy, the cheaper it is. That's not necessarily true in the produce section. Items that are grouped together, like that trio of peppers in the bag or a mesh bag of avocados, might not be cheaper than buying them individually, because it costs money to package them up for you. Be sure to look at the price per ounce if you're a cost-focused customer.
8. What you see is what you get.
Unlike a clothing store or even other sections of the grocery store, where they may have extra stock in the back, what's out is typically what's available in the produce department. Most stores don't have a ton of storage and cooler space, and produce has such a short shelf life that they typically want it out on the floor instead of hanging out in the back. So manage your expectations — the stuff on the shelves is what's available.