It’s Not Just Something Snobby Foodies Say — Out-of-Season Produce Really Is Bad for You

We’ve all seen them huddled in the back corner of the local grocery: the far-from-ripe and out-of-season fruit and veggie compilation. They’re pushed away from the rest of the produce as if the store is embarrassed to have them on display. They draw our attention for just a few seconds: Maybe they aren’t so bad? Maybe buying one or two to find a use for later on wouldn’t hurt?

Don’t. Walk away as quickly as you can. Not just because the produce is bruised and probably doesn’t taste very good. There is a plethora of other problems that come from eating the following foods out of season.

1. Mushrooms

White Mushrooms

Different kinds of mushrooms grow year round. | iStock.com/alfernec

It probably seems like your grocer is fully stocked with mushrooms year round. In fact, this ground-growing edible has many varieties that are in season at different times of year. And knowing when those seasons are, and which mushrooms are edible during them, could make a big difference when it comes to the health of your liver. “Many mushroom poisoning cases are the result of someone eating a mushroom that might have looked okay, but was growing at the wrong time of year,” Outdoor Life warns. Luckily, there is a way to prevent this from ever happening. Use SFGate’s guide to know when certain mushrooms are in season, and where they come from.

2. Peas

sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas will be loaded with salt. | iStock.com

Snap peas are tricky. They are really only fresh for a couple weeks in the spring. After that, they lose their flavor and have a weird, starchy texture. And if you find snap peas any other time of year, check the label: They were probably shipped from China, and preservatives went into keeping them fresh for their long trek to your supermarket. Plus, some of the pesticides contain neurotoxins, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors.

Solution? Stock up on fresh snap peas during peak time in the spring. If you just have to have them at another time of year, go with a store-bought brand from the frozen foods section that doesn’t use too much salt to keep them preserved. (Because having too much salt is a whole other problem for another article.)

3. Cherries

cherries

Would you want your cherries coated in wax? | iStock.com

No, we aren’t talking about those syrupy maraschinos that make their way into your Manhattans. This about the bunches of cherries you buy in the section of the produce aisle where all the shiny fruits are. On that note: Cherries bought out of season often have a shiny skin, because they are on a list of fruits that get waxed as a means of preservation. Waxing isn’t a new practice, and the FDA has approved a couple types of wax. But the type used on cherries often contain fungicide, which isn’t exactly part of a balanced diet.

Plus, as a Chicago Tribune article points out, these waxes also contain components found in products used to clean cars and kitchen floors.

4. Papaya

Papaya

The smell will be enough to keep you far away from these. | iStock.com

For starters, you shouldn’t want to eat papayas when they aren’t in season. A bad papaya smells horrible, tastes like garbage, and has a texture that will make your skin crawl. Eating papayas out of season also means that they are being shipped from far away. Plus, for all their health benefits, eating unripe papaya can screw up your digestion or even have negative effects on pregnant women. Stick to getting this tropical masterpiece when it’s at its best.

5. Tomatoes

Pile of Heirloom Tomatoes

Stick to in season tomatoes to avoid a ton of pesticides. | iStock.com

There’s a reason many restaurants won’t serve that tasty tomato-and-mozzarella salad at all times of the year. This delectable fruit doesn’t just get mealy and unappetizing when it is out of season. It also becomes unhealthy because tomatoes are doused in pesticides before they are shipped.

In fact, one book author discovered out-of-season tomatoes from Florida — a popular, warm destination for off-season produce — are doused with a whole host of pesticides and herbicides.

6. Avocado

Sliced avocado

Please give the avocado a break. | iStock.com/MSPhotographic

Believe it or not — and you should — the avocado shortage that hit in early 2017 might have helped out the health of many Californians who refuse to spend a Taco Tuesday without this popular condiment. Sure, it’s already common knowledge that nobody wants to eat a stringy, over-ripe avocado. But there is a lot more behind eating the fruit when it is out of season.

The avocado obsession has reached such a high that it means a higher import volume from Mexico, where avocados grow year round. And Staying Healthy With Nutrition points out a lot of these fruits end up being fumigated prior to transport.

7. Corn

corn on the cob

Corn will lose a lot of it’s nutrients in transit. | iStock.com

It’s associated with late summer barbecues and decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving. And frankly, it should stay that way. Even if it looks OK, it won’t be nearly as good for you as fresh. Livestrong.com notes that corn, and numerous other fruits and veggies, quickly loses nutritional value after harvest.

So when is this produce actually edible? You can get good corn in late August without having to worry about out-of-season issues.

8. Spinach

spinach

Who doesn’t love fresh spinach? | iStock.com

That pack of spinach in the produce section is, arguably, the most agreeable and user-friendly year-round green out there. But it isn’t so wonderful if you eat it out of season. Just keep in mind that out-of-season spinach is probably missing nutrients, particularly iron and Vitamin A. Luckily enough, spinach has a decently long shelf life.

9. Asparagus

green asparagus on a wooden background

Don’t buy those sad, out-of-season stalks. | iStock.com

This popular dinner side tops many lists of foods to be wary of when eaten out of season, and for good reason. Outside of its usual mid-spring shelf life, asparagus can’t be found in most parts of the country. Though it’s grown from Washington down to California for most of the year, by the time it gets to your plate, it probably isn’t all that fresh anymore. Like corn, asparagus quickly deteriorates in nutritional value after it’s picked.  And it’s a shame to lose the benefits, like fighting against certain cancers.

10. Squash

green and yellow zucchini, globe, and patty pan squash

Save these for the summer and fall. | iStock.com

Squash is typically associated with summer and fall. And that is how it should stay. Like mushrooms, there are different varieties of squash that fruit year-round, and knowing what is good and what’s not is half the battle. If you’re surrounded by snow and purchasing summer squash, it’s probably time to re-evaluate.

Another worry with produce: Antibiotics

woman grocery shopping

There are far more chemicals in out of season produce. | iStock.com

This cannot be stressed enough: Knowing where your food comes from can be the difference in being healthy and unknowingly putting chemicals into your body. Many of the foods on this list become unfit for consumption in their off-seasons because of the chemicals it takes to preserve them for travel and such. But the health issues can also come from other happenings on the farm.

As ConsumersUnion.org and many other outlets have explained, there is a push to reduce the use of antibiotics on farm animals since it leads to consumers unknowingly ingesting them and developing antibiotic resistance. The exposure doesn’t end with the animals, either. Waste runoff from the farms gets into the soil and ground water, and — you guessed it — into our produce.

Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has been keeping a finger on the pulse of this public health issue. However, it behooves consumers to do their homework when it comes to where they get their produce from — in addition to knowing the best seasons to eat them.

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