I've had a few request from readers asking how I chose my fruits and veggies when I go to local produce markets so I decided to create a guide! If you know what to look for, then you can be sure to pick fruits and veggies that will have a longer shelf life at home.
Avocados. The best way to tell if an avocado is ripe is by the color and firmness. A ripe avocado will be slightly soft and have a dark green skin, but it shouldn't be too soft. If push your finger into the skin and feel a "space" between the skin and flesh, it is past its prime.
Berries. Just pick up the pint to check for any wet spots on the bottom, and try to gently shake the berries around to see if there's any hidden mold or broken berries. When picking out berries, the most important thing is to find them mold free.
Corn. Look for a thick, bright-green husk, and don't buy anything that has dry ends or has too many brown spots. Before you buy, peel back the husk without taking too much off, and make sure there aren't any places where the corn is pale, dry, or nibbled on. You can also tell which ears are healthy by weight. The heavier the ear, the more moisture it has retained.
Cucumbers. They should be firm and dark green in color.
Eggplant. Should be dark purple and firm. Avoid any eggplant with wrinkles or soft spots. It is important that you buy the eggplant within a few days of cooking because they do not store very well.
Green Beans. Fresh green beans should be able to snap in half without any effort. Avoid anything that looks dark or mushy; a few spots are okay, but don't buy spotty, pale, or limp beans (same goes for snap peas).
Lettuce. Look for lettuce that is crisp, vibrant, and that doesn't have wilted leaves, holes, or dark mushy spots. Avoid pre-packaged lettuce and buy mixed greens in bulk when available. Of course, local is always the best choice when it is in season.
Melons. Avoid anything that looks too watery or that has a strong musky odor. Smell the outside, and if you can tell what the fruit is with your eyes closed, it's ripe (this is true for pineapples too).
Mushrooms. Don't buy mushrooms if they smell fishy (not suspicious, but literally like fish). Color and texture are also good indicators. Lots of dark spots, slimy surfaces, and mushrooms that are too spongy are not good signs.
Onions. Just keep an eye out for dark spots or wet spots. Also, sprouting is a sign that the onion is beginning to break down.
Peppers. All peppers should be firm and free of holes or dark spots, and they shouldn't feel like a rubber when you gently squeeze them. The skin of the peeper should be smooth.
Potatoes. Sprouts and spots are usually good indicators of a bad potato, but wrinkled skin is another one, along with soft flesh.
Tomatoes. Three simple fresh indicators: Color, texture, and fruit flies. Avoid pale tomatoes and any tomato that has been damaged. Once the skin is broken, they will break down much more quickly. When buying packaged cherry tomatoes, pick up the package. If you see fruit flies buzzing in all directions, put it back. If you aren't sure how to tell if an heirloom is ripe, just ask someone. For the most part, a tomato is ripe when it is soft enough to squeeze without breaking the skin.
Zucchini and Summer Squash. Just like most items on this list, avoid anything with mushy brown spots or that is too pale. Depending on the variety, the color should be bright and consistent. You can tell by the ends as well. Don't buy anything that has dry or squishy tips. The skin should also have a nice sheen and rubbery texture.
From avocados to zucchini, you can always rely on color, texture, and size to help ensure freshness and quality when buying produce. Just remember three basic rules to guide you along the way: Ask questions, buy in season and local if possible, and don't be afraid to handle the goods. As long as you are gentle and not causing more damage, you have every right to inspect your produce before you buy it.