Getting Misty Is Not Good For All Types Of Produce

October 07, 1999

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In supermarket produce cases across the country, fruits and vegetables are sprayed with a fine water mist -- mostly to make them look good. But a vegetable expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences says misting can be a mistake for some produce.

"All produce loses moisture after being harvested," says Pete Ferretti, professor of vegetable crops. "If stored in a cool place with relatively high humidity, most produce won't wilt, shrink or lose many nutrients."

Ferretti says grocery stores started misting vegetables about 10 years ago, when they began to feature their produce section as a high-profit area. "Misting produce cases makes the produce look and feel better, and the section is cooler to shoppers as they consider purchases."

However, Ferretti says too much misting can make shoppers as mad as a wet hen. "You want to provide just enough to wet the surface area," Ferretti explains. "The case area should be well drained and there should be no puddling on the produce." Ferretti says excess water can cause some fruits and vegetables to rot. He cites The Packer, the weekly newspaper of the produce industry, for guidelines on misting produce.

--Produce that needs to be misted regularly: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, sweet corn, eggplant, collard and kale greens, leeks, radishes, turnips and limes. "Most of these fruits and vegetables have thick and waxy skin or leaves, and heavy moisture won't affect them as much," Ferretti says.

--Produce that should be misted lightly: asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, endive, all lettuces, green onions, snap beans, spinach, summer squash and zucchini.

"Light misting means exactly that," Ferretti says. "Too much moisture really can cause storage problems with this group."

Ferretti says some produce must be kept dry. He says bulb onions, garlic, chili peppers and winter squash never should be misted.

"Supermarkets could organize the produce cases according to which items need more moisture," he says. "The items that require light misting probably could get enough moisture by being placed near the regularly misted items."

Ferretti also says markets shouldn't store produce in standing water -- asparagus is regularly displayed this way -- because bacteria can grow in the water. Asparagus should be displayed on a wetted mat or towel.

"A good rule of thumb is how wet your hand gets when you're picking out produce," Ferretti says. "The only time your hand should have a lot of water on it is if the mister starts up when your hand is underneath it."

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EDITORS: For more information, contact Pete Ferretti at 814-863-2313.

Contacts: John Wall jtw3@psu.edu 814-863-2719 814-865-1068 fax

Last Updated March 19, 2009