The Produce Project: Day 3

I recently worked at a supermarket produce department for three months, an endeavor I’ve dubbed The Produce Project. On the first day of work, I got right into the action by tossing more than 50 pounds of ”sell-by” date casualties and watching some computer training videos.

The third day began at 7 a.m. with the familiar a.m. “pulling” of packaged produce. I tossed all items with sell-bay dates of that day or before. I threw away 13 one-pound bags of cole slaw, 10 one-pound bags of mixed fruit and 2 two-pound bags of iceberg lettuce. All told, I tossed 36 pounds of produce because of a conservative estimate stamped on its bag.

Unlike some supermarkets, my store didn’t have a discount produce shelf. It was either the sales floor or the trash. Since almost all of the fruit I “culled” was perfectly edible, I asked my co-worker, who I’ll call Miguel, if the store ever donated any of this produce to charities. He said that a local shelter picks up some culled produce a few times each week. Because I also volunteer to find food for a homeless shelter, I made a mental note to ask my manager about collecting food on the other days. 

“Culling” non-packaged produce is based on appearance, not date-driven. With the squash, my co-worker advised to “keep it looking fresh.” I was surprised by how fragile zucchini and summer squash were and how many needed to be thrown out. The ones that didn’t rupture after being dropped by customers and employees usually shriveled after a day on the shelf.  

Miguel, a friendly Salvadoran who’d worked at the store for 6 years, then showed me how to inspect fruit in clear plastic boxes. He taught me to combine two boxes of cherry tomatoes when both had some rotten ones. With an incredulous look, he told me that most employees would just toss both boxes.

Next, we checked the berries. Many of the raspberry and blackberry boxes had a few moldy berries, but we did not combine boxes. Maybe that would’ve been too messy. We threw away 14 boxes of raspberries and 4 of blackberries.

Around noon, the store manager had me watch another training video that instructed me to greet all customers within a twenty-foot radius. Polite, friendly and helpful–that was the goal. After that, I was ma’aming and siring customers left and right. By the end of my shift, though, I may have ma’ammed a sir. It’d been a long day.

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