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Is it really worth paying for pre-packaged fruit and veg?

Is the ever-expanding roster of sliced and diced, pre-packaged and ready-to-serve fruit and veggie offerings in your local supermarket all they're cut up to be?

Is the time you assume you're saving in convenience offset by the additional cost of picking a finished tray or packet, instead of just scooping up the same quantity product and bringing it home to prepare yourself?

Are you really saving anything by outsourcing the effort? Saved By Michelle put this to the test.

Nutritionist and dietitian, Rachael Bradford from Eat and Enjoy Nutrition, says fewer than one in 10 (seven percent) of adult Australians actually ate the recommended dietary intake of five serves of vegetables each day.

She welcomes anything supermarket chains can do to shore up consumers' interest in adding more fresh produce to their shopping trollies - and thereby increasing the frequency of vegetables making it to the family dinner table.

"Any product in the supermarket that encourages an increase in vegetable consumption will have my full support," she says.

"If it means that a meal will have half the plate filled with vegetables, this will always be a win in the nutritional stakes."

But it all comes at a price.

"These products do save time in the kitchen, however many do come at a cost, financially that is," Rachael says.

"There is quite a hefty price mark-up for convenience and it can work against you for some products - for example, carrot sticks had an 80 percent mark-up on raw carrots."

Pre-packaged pumpkin
Pre-packaged pumpkin

Retail expert and QUT professor, Gary Mortimer, calls it the cost of convenience.

"It is disappointing when I walk through my supermarket and see the range of diced pumpkin and pre-mashed potato," he says.

"Coles and Woolworths have refurbished their stores to ensure at the front of the store is a lot of grab-and-go, ready-made meals and pre-cut, pre-prepared product.

"They are targeting that busy consumer who wants to get in grab something that has been prepared, pre-cut and pre cooked, and head home and do a minimal amount of cooking.

"But it comes at a premium."

But does it really save that much time.

It took under 30 seconds to cut 250g of broccoli into florets; the shredding of 300g of carrot with a hand held grater just two minutes and 35 seconds; and 250g of zucchini noodles took two minutes and two seconds using a hand spiraliser.

It takes longer of course with mashed potato because you need to cook the spuds first so that's a good 20 minutes but turning cauliflower or broccoli into rice with a grater is about 10 minutes.

It takes just 10 minutes to grate yourself up some broccoli or cauliflower rice.
It takes just 10 minutes to grate yourself up some broccoli or cauliflower rice.

There's also the loss of nutrients by pre-cutting but that, according to Rachael is minimal.

"Some nutrients are lost when the surface of the vegetable is cut and exposed, but the loss is negligible and improved with airtight vacuum packaging," she says.

"More nutrient loss occurs in the cooking process with the loss of water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C)."

She recommends grilling, stir-frying, sautéing and steaming for minimal nutrient loss in vegetables.

But there's another reason to be wary of pre-cut.

Saved By Michelle asked Food Standards Australia and New Zealand why it included pre-cut veggies (that can be eaten raw) and fruit on its list of foods to avoid if you are considered "vulnerable", which includes pregnant women, young children, elderly and immune-compromised people.

"There have been outbreaks of illness associated with these foods, including from salmonella and Listeria bacteria," FSANZ said in a statement.

"Sometimes bacteria from the outside skin of the fruit gets into the flesh during cutting, then they can grow quickly.

"Sometimes poor handling or storage cause contamination. And because fruit is usually eaten raw, contamination will not be killed by cooking."

It’s much cheaper to buy a whole broccoli than just the florets
It’s much cheaper to buy a whole broccoli than just the florets

The FSANZ noted that no specific regulatory standards in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code refer to pre-cut fruit and vegetables, but the Code does require all food businesses to ensure the food they sell is safe and suitable.

"The best way to enjoy fresh fruit is to buy it whole and prepare it just before eating," the FSANZ continued.

"Wash it well under running water, use clean hands and clean equipment to cut it, and eat it within two hours. If there are any leftovers, these should be covered, stored in the fridge, and eaten within a day."

Cost of pre-packaged food versus fresh veggies

250g broccoli and cauliflower rice

Pre-packaged $3.50

Fresh $1.30

250g zucchini spaghetti

Pre-packaged $3

Fresh $1.13

500g broccoli and carrot

Pre-packaged $6.50

Fresh $1.12

220g broccoli florets

Pre-packaged $3

Fresh $0.55

400g simply steam potato and butter

Pre-packaged $4

Fresh $1.57

500g cauliflower, broccoli and carrot

Pre-packaged $6.50

Fresh $2.09

300g carrot shred

Pre-packaged $3

Fresh $0.60

350g mashed potato

Pre-packaged $4

Fresh $1.40

400-520g mixed slaw/dry coleslaw

Pre-packaged $4

Fresh $7.27