Fruit 'packed on' date

I am curious to know, with all the debate here, and regulations new and old, why it is that I can buy a punnet of blueberries today which look exactly the same as a punnet bought 2 weeks ago.
Only a slight squishiness and possible mould distinguishes the difference between them.
Surely, there should be a packed on, if not a best before, date? Berries are not the same as a single fruit, which are easily checked for changes in colour, smell, etc.

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I have often seen punnetts of blueberries in the supermarkets with visible mould on one or more berries, mainly on the ones at the bottom.

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They are exempt under Section 6(c) of Standard 1.2.1…namely,

1.2.1—6 When the food for sale must bear a label
(1) If the food for sale is in a package, it is required to *bear a label with the
information referred to in subsection 1.2.1—8(1) unless it:
(a) is made and packaged on the premises from which it is sold; or
(b) is packaged in the presence of the purchaser; or
(c) is whole or cut fresh fruit and vegetables (other than seed sprouts or similar
products) in a package that does not obscure the nature or quality of the
food; or
(d) is delivered packaged, and ready for consumption, at the express order of
the purchaser (other than when the food is sold from a vending machine); or
(e) is sold at a *fund raising event; or
(f) is displayed in an *assisted service display cabinet.

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I empathise with the thought.

While packaging laws are what they are, it would be helpful for some form of reference date. A strawberry could be good for a week or a few hours starting from the same pretty appearance. We buy zucchini that ‘look good and feel good’ while some start going soft the next day while others not until the next week.

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The longevity (some sarcasm there) of fruit & vegetables being sold is an issue. It doesn’t seem to matter if bought from a supermarket or greengrocers, the same problem exists. Consumers just don’t have any way of knowing (mostly/frequently) if the fruit/veg

  • has been treated with any chemicals
  • how long it has been in storage
  • what temperatures it has been stored at
  • how far it has been transported (with some exceptions where the growing location is displayed)
  • what “shelf life” we can reasonably expect and
  • the optimal storage once taken home (unless the consumer has taken some effort to research this).

Thus buying fruit/veg is as Forrest Gump said “…you never know what is on the inside”.

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Some of these affect shelf life and the nutritional value of the fruit/vege a consumer buys.

I can see why fresh fruit and vege aren’t mandated to be labelled, as there are many things which can affect the quality of the produce being offered to the consumer for sale. Two fruit picked on the same day at the same farm (or departing cold storage), but sent to two different retailers could have very different (shelf) lives. An example is…say an apple. One could go to a refrigerated cabinet/airconditioned store…while the other on in an open crate outside a fruit and vege store - exposed to the elements.

Some fruits and vegetables also have long storage lives, even longer if stored with modified atmospheres and at the right temperatures. Picking dates might not mean much in relation to the quality of the produce.

Likewise useby or best before dates. Using the apple example above, both apples would have the same useby/best before dates, but their quality on reaching these dates will be very different. The other challenge is a unripe fruit picked on the same day as a ripe fruit also has different shelf lives.

It is worth noting that some supermarkets have best before dates for packaged fruit and vege - this might be more to manage store stock (shifting older produce to the front to be sold first) rather than quality of the product of the produce being sold.

I understand that fruit and vege don’t have labels as it is the only food product sold based on appearance, touch and smell. Consumers judge the quality based on these three and select depending on what looks like being fresh or good quality. We could be like many other animals which use their senses to chose what foods to eat and the right time to eat them. Maybe we just need to continue to use our own senses and judgement to select fruit and vege…which raises a problem…those in modified atmosphere packaging where is it impossible to smell the contents as it is sealed.

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Correct. I often find punnets of strawberries from Coles & Woolies to last a couple of days in the fridge max. I wonder if this is “managed” by the supermarkets so as to get customers to trash fruit & veg that is “off” very soon after puting it in the fridge and to return to the supermarket to buy new ones. After all, I understand that inadequate humidity and storage at too high a temperature will shorten the shelf life of any F&V.

As an aside, recently at Aldi I queried why they ended the practice of labellng F&V (in packets, such as tomatoes) with a use by date. How can customers know which item in the store has a longer shelf life (of course this assumes proper handling of the produce at every step in the production and retail chain).

I was told to look at the carton that houses the packets be it tomatoes, cucumber, apples etc. Near the name of the producer, the use by date will be listed clearly.

And so it was.

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Cucumbers are the worst veg I know, for mould and disgusting squishyness. I won’t buy them from supermarkets now. They just add the fresh ones on top of the rotten.

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The differing shelf life could still be supported by a packed on date.

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So every cucumber has a little label saying when it was packed. If not how do vendors deal with a bin with mixed content? Do you think green beans should have individual labels too?

Before you suggest that I am being silly, the problems of bulk labelling small items and keeping track of many instances of the same product that may be identical in appearance and use, but be bought at different times at different prices are both well know by those who deal in inventory or write systems to track inventory. There is no perfect solution to either problem.

While it is sensible to have a packed on date on a box of produce there is no easy way to deal with that once it is out of the box.

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It would be very challenging to manage…and would only possibly apply to pre-packaged fruits and vegetables (those in plastic bags, modified atmosphere packaging and punnet type containers). Some of these already have best before dates, but often don’t mean much as the storage conditions and ‘greenness’ at picking can significantly influence the condition of the product at the best before dates. I am not sure if having such would improve the quality of fruit and vegetables sold.

I am not sure if mandating such would be a good idea across the board for fruit and vegetables…as it will start to drive all fruits and veges towards packaged retailed items. This would reduce the opportunity for one to select the number or individual products they want as well as add to the increasing trend that everything has to be pre-packaged.

This already occurs. We source non waxed fruit and vege boxes at the green grocer to bring our purchases home to reduce waste and also to reduce damage in transit (from bags of produce rolling around in the back of the car). The boxes we source from the green grocer has the brand/wholesaler/producer on the box as well as some information about packing dates etc for HACCP tracing.

The question which is does raise is how about markets or side of the road stalls. If they are mandated, this would be problematic for these vendors and increase costs of compliance.

At the end of the day, when most fruit and veges are sold using one’s senses (sight, smell, touch, sound), this possibly is the best way to determine quality of fruit and veges at the time of sale. A packing or best before date may be of interest, but may not reflect the quality of the fruit and vegetables in question. Maybe one should avoid pre-packaged fruits and vegetables where one’s senses can’t be used (e.g. sealed bags, coloured bags etc).

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Oooops sorry, I was thinking of the mini cucumbers in plastic boxes!

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The problem is much reduced in pre-packaged produce as @phb mentioned. I for one would not like to see unpackaged produce reduced to fill the desire to have packed-on dates. Aldi would get more of my custom if they didn’t already do that - old fashioned I know.

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Same issue with strawberries. They seem to always manage to hide a couple of “furry” strawberries in the middle so you can’t see them. How hard can it be to put dates on the packaging! Woollies are the worst, they seem to think their “it’s fresh or it’s free” policy excuses them from providing a fresh product. Who has time to keep returning bad produce to the store.

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These punnets are filled at high speed. I don’t know if a machine does it all or there is some human intervention but there is no way somebody carefully finds the old fruit and hides them in the middle of the punnet.

The reason you get some furry ones in the middle is that that is where the air circulation is least and humidity is highest and the fungal spores do best.

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Furry strawberries are a sign the punnet has been in cold storage for some time. Deliberately adding poor quality fruit is not a practice I’ve observed at the packing tables. Field picking of the fresh berries is by hand with any damaged fruit removed and binned. The fruit is handled and sorted a second time in the packing shed which provides a second layer of quality control. Some packers maybe more diligent.

We’re presently between seasons. It’s more likely some of the berries from the early season growing areas, if you see them in the supermarket, will have been held longer in hope of a higher retail price.

It’s worth checking any punnet shortly after purchase and to be prepared to return the product to the supermarket for a refund or replacement. If one punnet has a number of furry fruit, it’s not unusual to find the majority of the same lot in the shelf have similar problems. It pays to check multiple punnets of the displayed product. If there are signs of leakage of juices or furry fruit in any, it may be best to choose an alternative product.

A really strong argument for reliable dating on the product packaging. For berries, the date picked would be my choice.

Will the retail industry or growers change? Milk used to be dated by the bottled date. The industry subsequently outwitted or otherwise persuaded Governments and regulators to change to a best by or use by date system. Some products as they age can present serious health risks. For fermented fruit and veg it’s more about appearance and taste.

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Definitely notice the difference in the length of time strawberries last if you buy them from a grower. Unfortunately don’t often have to time to drive to these places. Have also noticed the produce from a little fruit & veg shop lasts longer than the supermarkets, but again only get the opportunity to get there occasionally.
I find it amusing though that the one furry strawberry is always in the middle. :rofl:

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In the larger punnets (500gm or 1kg), we often find the worst for wear ones at the bottom. These ones are not only plagued with poor circulation, but the weight of all the other strawberries on top of them causing bruising during transit and handlings.

I have noticed that it is becoming more common to see single layer punnets, where the strawberries are placed neatly in the punnet in one layer. While this may improve presentation of the strawberries to the consumer and potentially reduce the middle fuzzy strawberry syndrome, it does increase the amount of packaging per unit weight of strawberries.

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I bought a pack of Taste n’ See premium strawberries for my wife from our local Coles yesterday, after I carefully inspected them for colour and quality, for a mere $6.50.

When my wife went to eat some this afternoon, the pack had all gone soft on the bottom.

Back to Coles tomorrow.

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One problem sorted!
Fresh Rosemary with a very prominent ‘harvested’ date. Ironbark is a local producer, who also prepackages much of it’s product at the farm.

I also found the following useful as it suggests the best ways to store some popular fresh produce. Likely to cause some disagreement, knowing there are significant temperature and humidity differences across Aussie household kitchens.

Ethylene in Foods: 20 You Shouldn't Store Together — Eat This Not That

A brief in home discussion prompted one asking for a fridge with 4 crispers. Independent temperature and humidity control preferred. A second discussion whether we should follow the best stored in the pantry or open fruit bowl advice remains unresolved. Although @airedale and Choice suggest.

None of it fixes not knowing how old the product is since picking/harvest or how it has been stored and handled since.

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