Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Instead of our regular Friday afternoon lessons, my fifth-grade teacher occasionally provided what she called “Miscellaneous” day, a free time to read or catch up on homework.

To my impressionable ears however, I heard “Miss Elaineus” Day, and figured it was named for the patron saint of homework-free weekends.

Fast forward to today, and I have found a new misnomer, pardon the pun.

This one is called “Miss Information.” And when it comes to produce knowledge and item selection, Miss Information is everywhere. As produce professionals, it’s in everyone’s interest to intervene.

Take the subject of selecting ripe melons. According to Gardenweb.com, “The best method of selecting a ripe cantaloupe is to knock on it as if it were a door.”

It gets worse.

“Another way to tell ripeness is to give the cantaloupe a slap, and listen for a dense sound.”

What mush. Nothing about looking for a straw-colored background, or checking for the stem-end slip.

Anyone else besides me want to slap the author?

We face a growing legion of websites that contain half-truths (at best) about such subjects, and customers are reading them. About.com blatantly spouts off, “The best place to buy melons is at your local farmers market. The fruit is picked when ripe — unlike those found in supermarkets.”

Even higher-profile publications employ Miss Information. My loving wife pointed out in her August 2011 edition of Sunset Magazine a piece on selecting watermelon. While partially accurate, the article suggests looking for a full slip and flat ground spot. The ground spot, as we know, isn’t necessarily flat, and watermelon actually can use the aforementioned slap, or thump test.

One self-proclaimed professional on YouTube insists farmers markets (often peddlers who repack and re-sell commercially grown produce as their own) are the only reliable source of quality or ripe product.

“The people in the grocery stores? They don’t know what they’re doing,” according to him.

All the more reason, folks, to invest in clerk training and reinforce consumer education in the stores. We rely on seasoned, professional growers to provide the highest quality, and the professionalism should extend to retail, helping shoppers make good selections and provide accurate product information.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

How do you combat produce misinformation? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.