Prepping Your Product

If you have ever wondered, or perhaps questioned, just how important prepping and hydrating your produce is, think of your work from this perspective: your produce department is analogous to an intensive care unit and each person in your department is a caretaker responsible for the life and health of the product that you sell. All of the fresh vegetables that are sold in a typical store require three main ingredients for survival while they are growing in the fields - water, sunlight and soil. These are the life-forces needed to raise a healthy crop. At the point of harvest, sunlight and soil are no longer vital; only water remains necessary for the health of the newly harvested crop.

By the time that your produce (and we are of course, referring to items that need hydration) arrives to your back door, it has typically been out of the ground for a number of days and is in need of a "a life-force charge" - commonly referred to as a drink of water.

So which items should be prepped? Typically, it is more items than most departments wish to acknowledge and therefore more than usually get done. With that said, here is what is recommended:

- all lettuces and leafy greens
- broccoli, celery, and corn
- asparagus and artichokes

All of your lettuces and celery should go through the ritual of being prepped in the back room sink - getting thoroughly hydrated. Broccoli and other bunched greens will do well by simply snipping the stalk ends and allowing for hydration throughout the day from regular misting. Corn likes moisture, but not too much. The best prepping technique for corn is to snip off the stalk end with your knife, but with the tassel end use a pair of scissors to gently remove the tassels. Asparagus should actually remain dry, however, snipping the ends of the stalks and having them sit in a thin layer of water provides excellent hydration for this popular vegetable. Similarly, artichokes do not need misting or soaking, however, it is a good practice to trim the end of the stem for a clean appearance.

When preparing your back room sink for prepping, be sure that the water you use is tepid and not cold. Remember that your product is still alive and will respond as such. If you dunk a head of lettuce into a sink of cold water, the head will not be relaxed and absorb the water in the same manner as it would if the water were warmer. This is pretty much the same way that we would respond in a similar situation. When you are prepping, keep in mind that you want to create the optimal situation so that the product that you are hydrating can receive the maximum amount of water possible during that prep session.

To give you an idea of how important prepping and hydration are, any of your greens would fair much better in the course of a day without refrigeration than they would without hydration. As an example, let's imagine a bunch of kale sitting out all day at room temperature (and we will assume that it has been properly prepped). The only care given to the kale is that it will be misted every half hour. For the same time frame, we will have another bunch of kale that will be kept in the display cooler for the day. This bunch will not be misted at all, but it will remain in cool temperatures. Since most all display units are self defrosting, this means that not only will the kale in the cooler not receive any hydration from misting, but it will actually lose moisture due to the defrosting process.

At the end of the day, if you compare the two bunches of kale side by side, you will typically find that the kale that received no refrigeration, but plenty of moisture, will be in much better condition than the kale which had the supposed benefit of being in the cooler all day. Water is critical for the well being of your vegetables.

When all of the necessary products are well prepped in your department, it is nearly guaranteed that your customers will notice. They probably won't articulate it by saying "your produce is very well prepped today", but you will more likely hear "Wow, everything sure seems fresh today". Now that is music to the ears of any produce department!