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5 Tips for Finding and Buying the Freshest Ingredients

Depending on where you live, it may or may not be easy to find access to the freshest produce, meats and fish available. The key is knowing where to look, but unless you are personal friends with some major chefs, restaurant owners or farmers, that can be a daunting challenge. Here are five tips to buying the freshest ingredients on a regular basis:

buying freshest ingredients

1. Form a relationship with your local grocer/butcher

Even if your grocery store is a large chain, this is still something you can do. Talk to the people stocking the produce section, manning the deli counter or working in the bakery. Ask them what days they receive your favorite vegetables, when they get their deli shipments in, what day the fresh bread in the bakery is made. If there is a local grocery store or butcher that you frequent enough to recognize the faces of the people who work there, then you've already started to form a relationship with them. Ask them what days are best to come in, and heed their advice.

2. Visit a farmers' market once a week

If you live in an area that has farmers' markets, this is where you can find all sorts of fresh meats, cheeses and produce on a semi-regular basis. By buying from these farmers, you are also able to glean information about the farms where your food has been grown or raised and the practices surrounding your food's growth. Talk to the farmers themselves, and find out where they are during the winter months, too. Many find indoor markets to participate in during the cold weather, too.

3. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store

If you do not have access to a farmers' market, your next-best bet is your grocery store as are tricks to buying the freshest ingredients there as well. It is a little known (or at least little observed) fact that grocers place all of the freshest ingredients on the perimeter of the grocery store due to refrigeration needs. Thus, the freshest ingredients – most susceptible to damage or waste – are placed on the perimeter. Veggies, the butcher with the meat and seafood, and dairy and eggs all lie on the perimeter. But just because it's on the perimeter doesn't guarantee it's the freshest offering; be sure to check expiration dates and choose the items with the furthest date in the future to ensure you get the most mileage from your purchase.

4. Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) association

A CSA is a locally based organization that allows customers to pledge support to one or more local farms at the beginning of a growing season with the promise of produce, meats and goods like homemade jam or eggs. Essentially, by purchasing the farm's products before the growing season, the customer is allowing the farmer to know exactly how much he needs to grow for the amount that is already purchased, which produces a more cost-efficient yield. Customers receive weekly or monthly "crop shares", but since only the freshest ingredients make it to the customer, they are never quite sure what they will receive.

5. Get to know your local produce stands

If you live in a big city, they are on every other corner, and if you live in a more rural area, you will most likely find them on the side of the road. Do not scoff at these produce stands; in order to make any money at all, they need to be able to beat the deals that stores like Trader Joe's offer. This means their produce must be right from the farm and that it must be the freshest produce available. If you go often enough, you will learn exactly when which produce is the freshest, and not only will you be grateful for having access to these fresh items, but the owner of the produce stand will enjoy your visit – and maybe even cut you a deal!

If you follow these tips, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the remarkable difference in the food that you eat. Enjoy the freshest items available, and pass on the favor (and flavor) by telling those you love to do the same. After all, we all feel our healthiest and most vibrant when we put good things into our bodies!

About the Author: Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, a Masters of Law in U.S. Law offered through Washington University in St. Louis that is considered a premier LLM degree. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog.

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