Wherever you buy your fruit and vegetables, you probably expect to bring home the same. That’s why consumer organisation dTest focused on checking the quality of fruit and vegetables bought on the same day at the market, supermarket, discount supermarket and convenience store. In order to make the comparison more interesting, it also included samples bought from Lidl in Germany. The result of the test confirmed that you have to pay more for better quality.
Salad cucumbers, carrots, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red apples and strawberries were specifically selected for the test. “Testing and purchasing of samples was done according to strict rules. We visited nine shops in one day and bought from all of them according to a prepared list. Each type of store had two representatives, with the large supermarket chains Globus and Kaufland, and the discount retailers represented by Penny Market and Lidl. We then shopped at two different markets and went to two diners. The ninth stop was the German branch of the Lidl chain,” explains Hana Hoffmannová, editor-in-chief of dTest magazine.
The purchase of six fruits and vegetables took place in late May and early June and a total of 52 samples were sent to the laboratory. For completeness, organic produce was also included in the comparison, but only organic cucumbers and organic carrots were obtained.
The highest weight in the test was given to the sensory rating. A panel of ten evaluators looked at the same parameters for all varieties, namely appearance, colour, taste, aroma, texture or consistency, intensity of blemishes and overall impression. There were no major shortcomings in the tasting, but there was no question of faultlessness. The carrots and cucumbers had a bitter flavour, while the tomatoes had an empty taste. In the case of the packed apples, the assessors encountered rot and bruising. As far as organic products are concerned, organic carrots did not fare well and were criticised for their bitterness.
The lab also investigated ripeness by measuring the so-called refractometric dry matter of the squeezed juice samples. The analysis of the samples revealed that apples were the ripest at the time of testing, while cucumbers were the least ripe. At the same time, it appeared that different outlets offered goods of broadly comparable ripeness.
The next part of the test focused on the business specifications of the products tested. This consists of both grade and calibre. European Regulation 543/2011 establishes two to three quality classes for selected fruit and vegetables, defined by minimum quality requirements. ‘The second grade tolerates a higher incidence of defects in shape and appearance than the first, or selection, grade. The quality class of apples, tomatoes and strawberries must be indicated to the customer on the label at the time of purchase, both for packaged and loose goods. The samples in our testing declared the first grade,” Hana Hoffmannová explains.
A second factor that reflects the commercial quality of fruit and vegetables is the calibre, which defines the size of the fruit. This can be found on labels and is usually given as the transverse diameter of the fruit at its widest point or as the weight per piece. It was the calibre measurement that showed the greatest variation in apples, which varied in size by up to 2 cm in diameter and up to twice as much in weight, depending on the point of sale. “Calibre is particularly important for goods sold by the piece. For example, the price of a head of lettuce in evening shops and discounters was the same, but due to the higher weight, those from discount stores were more profitable,” said Hana Hoffmannová.
Differences in calibre were most striking at first glance, also when comparing Czech and German samples. With the exception of strawberries and tomatoes, heavier and larger pieces were sold in Germany and the goods were, with the exception of iceberg lettuce and cucumbers, more expensive. However, the samples bought in the Czech Republic fared better overall by a margin of 4 to 2. This was mainly due to their better sensory evaluation.
The final step was the random analysis of pesticides, where the laboratory examined the presence of up to 700 substances in samples of organic carrots, organic cucumbers, a sample of strawberries from the market and a sample of strawberries from the supermarket. “We expected absolute purity of organic produce. We were therefore surprised to find diphenoconazole in organic carrots of Italian origin at the very limit of the tolerable limit. Even though these were permitted substances and their concentrations did not exceed the legal limits, it shows that farmers’ markets do not automatically mean organic quality,” concludes Hana Hoffmannová.