Tag Archives: fresh food

Shopping at Your Local Farmers’ Market: a Summer Guide

Summer is prime time for shopping at your local farmers’ market. There is a wide selection of colorful and delicious fresh fruits and vegetables for sale right now. Knowing which produce is best to buy right now and how to select the ripest and freshest of the bunch will make the most of your farmers’ market experience and your pocketbook.

Peaches

Select peaches that are on the firmer side, unless you plan to eat them that day. Store them in the refrigerator in a drawer, but only with other fruits.

Melon

It’s not summer without watermelon, but don’t forget about juicy cantaloupe and honeydew melon, too. For cantaloupe, opt for a golden color rather than green, while for honeydew, pick a light yellow color, and for watermelon, look for a yellow spot, a sign of ripeness. Store ripe melons in the fridge and only cut before serving.

Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are some of the healthiest fruits, and early to mid-summer is the best time to buy them. For strawberries and raspberries, look for ones that are dry and firm and a deep red  color. For blackberries, shininess is the key to their ripeness. When purchasing blueberries, choose smooth-skinned, dark blue or purple berries. Store berries in the fruit drawer in the refrigerator, or for longer lasting berries, freeze them.

Tomatoes

Check tomatoes for any bruising or soft spots on the skin. Choose a vibrant-colored tomato and one that is firm to the touch. It’s best not to refrigerate tomatoes or you risk having them lose their flavor.

Summer squash

There are several varieties of summer squash, but they have a shorter lifespan than winter squash. Check for bruising before buying and always choose firm squash, as it quickly softens. Place it in a plastic bag that is sealed tightly and store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

Corn

Look for bright green, tightly wrapped corn and almost-moist husks. Check the husks to make sure there are no brown wormholes, and then feel individual kernels through the husks to make sure none are missing. Corn is best when eaten on the same day it’s bought, but it can also be stored in the fridge with the husks still on.

 

 

Which Non-Fresh Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

When Fresh Produce Is Hard to Find, Which Foods Have the Most Nutrients?

Non-Fresh: Which is Best?

The days may be getting longer, but unless you live well south of the 35th parallel, you’re still several months away from being able to access most fresh fruits and vegetables. Inquiring minds want to know: when fresh produce is not readily available, what’s the best way to get the half-your-plate per meal of fruits and veggies that the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion recommends? The answer, ironically, may be to stay away from the fresh produce aisle.

It turns out that as soon as produce is harvested, it starts to lose its nutrients. Modern food storage and transport methods often make fruit and vegetables look like they’re still fresh, when in fact, their bright colors and firm skin are the result of wax coating and cold storage. The produce itself may be as much as three months old, with the best of its nutrients long gone.

A study out of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, found that “Losses of nutrients during fresh storage may be more substantial than consumers realize. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes may [better] preserve nutrient value.” This study and others prompted the Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® initiative (in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control) to recommend that “All Forms of Fruits and Vegetables Matter,” including frozen and canned.

It is the enzymes in fruit and vegetables that cause their nutrient loss, as well as the loss of color and flavor. To halt this process, the enzymes need to be “deactivated.” One way to do this is to blanch—quickly boil and then douse in ice water—and then freeze them. This is how most commercial frozen food companies package their vegetables, and since they do this process right after harvesting the food, most nutrients remain in the food. To help further maintain the integrity of the food, most frozen food companies quick-freeze their vegetables, which slows the rate of deterioration that can occur, even in the freezer.

Canned fruit and vegetables, too, often contain more nutrients than less-than-fresh fresh produce. Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® offers five key facts about canned produce:

  1. Canned food offers sound nutrition to help people achieve nutrient needs.
  2. Canned food offers comparable nutrition to fresh and frozen.
  3. You can enjoy canned food while watching sodium intake.
  4. Canned foods are minimally processed.
  5. Steel cans are among the safest forms of food packaging.

 

Operations Focus: Cold Chain Logistics

Unlike trendy superfoods (chia, seaweed, or coconut water, anyone?), the movement toward increased consumption of fresh food—and rejection of packaged, processed products—looks like it’s here to stay. As we’ve been reporting for the past three years, millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) are the primary drivers of this shift toward fresh, but people across generations and cultures are jumping on this wagon. This greater emphasis on freshness is evident in fast food chains, grocery stores, and workplaces, especially those with micro markets like USConnect’s Bistro To Go!®.

Cold chain logistics

The increased demand for fresh food has far-reaching implications for foodservice operations. The logistics of transporting and stocking fresh food is much more complicated than that of packaged foods with shorter shelf lives. This handy chart shows the shelf life of many common foods; note that while some fresh foods, like cheese, yogurt, and apples, can last up to a month in a refrigerator, other common workplace meals like lunch meat last only a week.

With the high perishability of many fresh food items, optimized cold chain logistics are of the utmost importance. “Cold chain logistics” entails the packing, storage, and transportation of temperature-sensitive products along a temperature-controlled supply chain. One logistics expert notes: “The cold chain is thus a science, a technology, and a process. It is a science since it requires the understanding of the chemical and biological processes linked with perishability. It is a technology since it relies on physical means to insure appropriate temperature conditions along the supply chain. It is a process since a series of tasks must be performed to prepare, store, transport and monitor temperature sensitive products.”

To offer consumers longer shelf lives for their fresh foods, transportation speed is of the essence, and storage time needs to be minimal. This is creating a “paradigm shift” in the logistics business, with providers changing their business models to meet consumer demand. “Reefers”(refrigerated trucks) are becoming more and more common; the next one you see may be delivering your next fresh meal, so let it through!

 

 

Operations Focus: The Logistics of Fresh

As we’ve discussed here and here, the future of foodservice is fresh. This trend is sharpest among Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997), although other generational groups are also coming along for the ride. Most nutritionists and healthcare providers agree that fresh food is healthier than food that’s overly processed and packaged. Operations FocusHowever, this sharp upswing in the popularity of fresh food can create difficulties for foodservice providers.

Several decades ago, foodservice distributors provided “one-stop shopping” that streamlined deliveries and allowed economies of scale that drove down prices. With lower demand for fresh food, weekly or bi-weekly deliveries were the norm. But in today’s market where freshness reigns, foodservice providers need to look to innovative logistics in order satisfy customer demand.

Stocking and maintaining appropriate inventory is especially tricky with fresh foods. Order too much and it spoils; order too little and customers can’t get their choice. Given the short shelf life of fresh foods, either option is risky. Technology is helping to solve this problem with tracking and analytics systems that provide real-time visibility of inventory needs and allow businesses to right-size their orders to meet customer demand.

One foodservice expert also suggests a specialized transportation system called perishable consolidation. Perishable consolidation is perfect for transporting fresh food that doesn’t fill a complete truck (known as less-than-truckload, or LTL). LTL shipping reduces the time that fresh food must sit in a warehouse waiting to be shipped, thus increasing its freshness.

USConnect strives to continuously improve its Bistro To Go!™ fresh food kiosks—always looking for fresher foods and greater choice. Improved logistics, technology, and transportation help our efforts.

Spring into Vegetables

In the United States, we are very lucky (or very spoiled, depending on how you look at it). We can get almost any food at any time of the year, regardless of what’s in season. On the other side of the world, where our winter is their summer, Chile provides fruits and vegetables to the United States all winter long.


our commitment to buying local

Nonetheless, even though these fresh foods are available all winter, it doesn’t mean they’re comparable to fresh food that is grown nearby. Modern produce transportation is a miracle, but food grown closer to home will have a fresher taste and better nutrients.

Whenever possible, we at USConnect strive to provide the freshest, most local food available. This means our salads use greens grown closer to our commissaries, and they come fresher to you. Try some carrots with hummus; locally grown carrots are sweeter and more tender than those that have been transported. Whenever possible, add some vegetables to your meal; the extra nutrients will make you healthier. Dark vegetables like kale and spinach have the most nutrients and anti-oxidants.

What can you do at home? Snap peas and green beans are delicious in the spring. Try sautéing them with some minced shallots and a light coating of vegetable oil. Asparagus is a classic spring vegetable; try grilling or roasting it with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or bake it in a quiche with mushrooms and red onions—providing protein and vegetables in one dish. A lovely spring salad combines baby spinach, sliced strawberries, chopped green onions, and crumbles of blue, goat, or feta cheese. Toss with a champagne vinaigrette for a lovely light flavor.

No matter how you get your vegetables, you can be sure that spring is a great time to begin. The warmer weather encourages us to get outside and reduces cravings for fat- and carb-heavy comfort foods. It’s spring, and it’s time to freshen up with vegetables!

Millennials Just Want to Have…Fresh?

We have seen the future, and it is fresh: fresh food, that is. Market research firm The NPD millennials are demanding fresh food Group recently updated their market report on the future of eating, and they found that fresh food consumption is expected to rise by 11 percent in the next five years. The youngest generations, Generation Z (age 0 to 23) and Millennials (age 24 to 37), are the primary drivers of this trend.

The study reported forecasts for all three meals. Fresh food consumption at breakfast is expected to rise by nine percent over the next five years, while lunch and dinner boast prospective growth of seven percent and five percent, respectively. Snacking is expected to follow the same trend, with freshness and nutrition rivaling convenience in importance to consumers.

Many Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are already tending to eat better in order to stay healthier for longer. Now Millennials are joining this healthy eating trend—favoring foods that are high in protein, calcium, and whole grains and low in fat, sodium, and sugar.

USConnect’s vending machines and Bistro To Go! offer many of the fresh foods that meet the needs of all generations. Look for The Right Choice… For a Healthier You™ on many of USConnect’s fresh items, like healthy chef’s salads, protein-rich Greek yogurt, and delicious artisan sandwiches. These offerings mirror the perimeter of the grocery store: the areas where shoppers find fresh dairy, deli, and produce. Experts urge “shopping the perimeter” to find the freshest foods while avoiding overly-processed, unhealthy ones.

More and more workplaces want to attract Millennials and their younger counterparts, Generation Z. To attract and retain health- and freshness-conscious consumers, businesses will do well to offer a large selection of fresh and healthy foods that employees can access throughout the day. This will be the payoff: happier and healthier employees!