01 July 2009

Hail Lumpy Vegetables!

The European Union has just relaxed standards for vegetables and fruit sold in supermarkets, and will now allow curved cucumbers, forked carrots, and lumpy potatoes, eliminating laws established two decades ago. More from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, here.

The United States, naturally, lags behind. If you buy fruit and vegetables in a US supermarket, its grade depends upon uniform size and shape. Here are some samples of the regulations governing our produce:

For cucumbers:
§51.2229 Well colored.
"Well colored" means that not less than three-fourths of the surface of the cucumber is of a medium green or darker color, and that at least a light green color extends to the blossom end on one side of the cucumber.
§51.2230 Well formed.
"Well formed" means that the cucumber is practically straight and not more than very slightly constricted or more than moderately tapered or pointed.
For carrots:

§51.2374 Fairly smooth.
"Fairly smooth" means that the individual carrot is not rough, ridged, or covered with secondary rootlets to the extent that the appearance is materially affected.
§51.2375 Well formed.
"Well formed" means that the individual carrot is not forked, or misshapen to the extent that the appearance is more than slightly affected.
More from the USDA here.

Some of the produce that doesn't meet the requirements for uniformity in size, shape, and color may be used for processing, but much of it is thrown away. The United States needs to reform its agricultural laws to focus on safety, rather than on superfluous aesthetic considerations.