Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
Eating a juicy, ripe, red tomato from your backyard garden is healthy and rewarding, but you can get safe, healthy produce from the supermarket too. Not only that, the supermarket may be more convenient.
You may think the peas, tomatoes, and zucchini you grow in your garden are better than their cousins sitting on the shelves at the supermarket. In some cases, you may be right.
Supermarkets can't match a home garden for freshness.
Day in and day out, supermarkets offer a variety of fruits and vegetables that most people could never dream of growing at home. Fruits and vegetables produced on an industrial scale are often bred for ease of harvest or stability during transportation rather than taste. Homegrown fruits and vegetables are not bound by these limitations.
Although some nutrients—vitamin C in particular—are prone to breakdown during the journey from farm to table, the difference in nutrient content between homegrown and supermarket produce is generally small. However, nutrient value and taste are not the same. A food may have the same nutrient content, but it may not be as tasty to the consumer.
Many consumers are understandably nervous about the potential for toxic pesticide residues on commercially grown produce. While it's true that commercial growers use chemicals to protect crops from agricultural pests, both the pesticides and their application methods are tightly regulated and monitored. Farmers in every state are required by law to undergo training before receiving certification in pesticide application. Agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration have banned many pesticides and do random testing for residues on farm produce.
The issue of genetically engineered food is less clear and people are concerned about implications for health, safety, and the environment. Many processed foods that are already sold in supermarkets are made in part from genetically engineered soy, corn, canola, and cotton, but these foods are generally regarded as safe. If you want to totally avoid the influence of genetic engineering, however, you'll have to buy fresh organic produce or grow your own.
Some supermarket chains give consumers a fresher option by selling locally grown produce in season. It cuts down on the time it takes for the food to travel to the supermarket, reducing food breakdown.
There are some steps you can take to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious produce in your diet:
In the Home Garden
At the Supermarket
Wash, rinse, or peel all produce even if it looks clean. This will remove residues on the surface. Wash even the rinds of oranges and cantaloupe before cutting or removing them.
Store It Right
Store fresh fruits and vegetables correctly to optimize freshness and taste. Whether your produce came from the store or the backyard, storing it correctly makes a difference in how long it retains freshness and flavor. Learn which items should be stored in the refrigerator, for example, and which should not.
Aside from these tips, one of the more important general tips is one from mom: eat your fruits and vegetables—no matter where you chose to get them. Fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at each meal.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Choose My Plate—United States Department of Agriculture
Food and pesticides. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www2.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Storing fresh fruits and vegetables for better taste. University of California at Davis website. Available at: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-1920.pdf. Published 2012. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/15/2015