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|June 19-26, 2008
• Almost old school
Dolan's seeks a retro vibe
by Clay Fong
Is fresh produce
in the bag?
Green Bags are put to the test
by Patricia Rodriguez
Broccoli that lasts in the fridge for three weeks. Bananas that stay fresh more than a week. Lettuce that doesn’t end up wilted and rusty in the bottom of the veggie bin.
Those claims — made during the ubiquitous TV commercials for those Debbie Meyer Green Bags — sounded pretty good to me. Who doesn’t want to wring a few extra days of freshness out of their produce, especially as grocery prices have shot through the roof this spring?
On the other hand, most fruits and veggies already come in plastic bags. Why spend good money for more? Were those amazing infomercial claims just a bunch of hooey? We ordered some bags (special deal, 20 for the price of 10!), set up our own at-home science experiment, and checked in with a food scientist to sort it all out.
Debbie Meyer Green Bags are apparently one of those seen-on-TV products that everybody’s seen, nobody’s used; I asked around, and no one would admit to having bought any of the 40! Million! Sold! Still, somebody must be buying them; at online checkout, I had to pony up an extra five bucks for expedited delivery or face a wait of up to six weeks for the much-in-demand bags.
The idea, according to the manufacturer, is that these bags contain a mineral that absorbs and removes the ethylene gas that fruits and vegetables produce. This gas is what causes produce to ripen, or, at the end of the cycle, to rot.
In theory, this sounds good, says Rebecca Dority, a registered dietitian and an instructor in the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University. But in reality?
“Some fruits and vegetables produce hardly any of this gas, some produce some but they’re not very sensitive to it, and some produce very high amounts,” says Dority, who says she has researched the science behind the bags but never used any. “So these might be great in some cases, but I don’t think they’d be something that you’d want to use across the board for everything.”
Huh. Wish I’d talked to her before I ordered them. But, well, they’re here. So, I take an entire grocery trip’s worth of produce — mushrooms and cilantro, pears and berries, lettuce and onions — and put half of each item in one of the pale green bags. (I store an equivalent amount of each as I normally would, for comparison’s sake.)
The directions were simple: Dry off produce, place in bag, fold bag over (no ties necessary) and store as usual. In about 30 minutes, produce is scattered between two fridges, the pantry and the counter. There’s nothing to do but wait.
This afternoon, I spend a good chunk of time peeking into every bag; most everything still looks day-of-sale fresh in the green bags, but, frankly, the non-green-bagged produce still looks pretty good, too. Dority isn’t too surprised to hear this, especially since she considers some of the ancillary green-bag claims to be a little suspect.
For example, the bags are advertised as helping control humidity. But you don’t need a special bag to do that, she says: “A lot of refrigerators have separate fruit and vegetable bins where you can control the temperature and humidity.”
As for the bags keeping out ultraviolet light, as sometimes advertised, Dority doesn’t think that claim holds up: “You are supposed to keep most fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, so they wouldn’t be exposed to light anyway,” she says. “Maybe if you had bananas sitting on the counter in front of a window.”
Well, as matter of fact, I do — and the ones in the bag do look fresher than the ones sitting in the fruit bowl, where they’re starting to sport brown specks.
Maybe there’s something to these things after all.
Or maybe not. At least maybe not the bread bags, a related product that I got suckered into when buying the green bags online.
(There are white bags for bread, blue for cheese and red for meats — all selling for 10 or 12 for $9.95.) The glazed doughnut was dry and stale within a day; the frosting on the chocolate cake had evaporated within three; the French bread was still soft on Day 5, but it was also starting to sprout mold.
I throw away all the bread products and turn to the produce, where the green-bagged items are starting to pull ahead.
Grapes and cilantro in the original packaging are looking a little peaked, with some brown, rotten grapes and slimy cilantro leaves.
In the green bags, however, both look great. The bananas in the fruit bowl are half-covered with brown spots; the green-bag ones look grocery-store yellow. There are a few spoiled strawberries in the original plastic container; the green-bagged ones are fresh as can be.
Advantage: Green bags.
Time to start cleaning out the fridge: Mushrooms in the original packaging are looking shriveled, with the stems pulling away from the caps. (The green-bag ones look only a little bit better.) A lime in the fruit bowl has a soft brown spot, but the one in the green bag is still bright green and firm. Lettuce looks rusted and wilted in its original packaging. It gets thrown out, but the green-bagged lettuce, just barely rusty, gets to hang on a few more days.
But for other things, it doesn’t seem to matter. Pears, onions, potatoes, broccoli, carrots and blackberries look and taste fresh, no matter how they were stored. Advantage: Green bags — but just barely.
I’m tired of checking on produce, and so is my family. I can’t tell you how the apples and limes ended up faring in their green bags, because somebody ate them all before I noticed. Otherwise, I’m starting to see a pattern: Things that last a long time anyway are likely to last at least a little longer in the green bags. And keeping produce in the garage refrigerator — which only gets opened once or twice a day, as opposed to the dozens of times we stare into the kitchen fridge — seems to help preserve items longer, too. Maybe I should just start storing everything out there, and forget the bags.
Only a few things are left from the original shopping trip: Yellow onions (both those in the green bag and in the original packaging still are in good shape). Carrots and broccoli (those in the green bags are slightly superior to the others). Pears (the ones sitting in the veggie drawer are actually prettier and more perfectly ripe than the one wrapped in the green bag). I plan a big stir-fry for tonight
to get rid of everything that’s left.
The bags are supposedly reusable for up to 10 times each, as long as you wash and dry them carefully. I suspect mine are going to the back of the pantry, though. Although the advertisements guarantee that you’ll save the price of the bags in just one grocery trip, my own calculations are that by prolonging the life of a few products, I’ve saved maybe a couple bucks.
Dority, the TCU food scientist, adds that there are other ways to prolong the life of your produce — and they don’t require buying special bags Not Available In Stores!
“The key is whether or not it’s worth it to invest in them; how much more time do you get out of that cantaloupe?” she says. “Most people shop on a weekly basis. It may be that the proper storage technique will keep (your fruits and vegetables) fresh long enough.”
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