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Tips for the savvy shopper

Who, exactly, grew those perfect tomatoes, anyway?

Should you, the consumer, worry about buying resold produce at your local farmers' market? Most vendors are honest, selling only what they grow, and spotting fraud is the job of market managers and agricultural commissioners. Vendors are often the first to complain to managers that the fruit in the next stall looks a little suspicious. Their suspicions are not always correct.

Here's what raises eyebrows at a market:

Fruit that's plainly out of season: Like cherries in December. Some tropical fruits, like pineapple, are rarely found on any California farm.

Produce that is "too perfect": If a vendor comes to market with dozens of boxes of tomatoes, every one the same size, shape and color, they may have been bought at a packing house where they've been graded and sorted.

Produce that is too awful-looking: Either the farmer had a bad crop, or a reseller has bought the "culls," or rejects, from a packing house.

Certificates: Is the vendor selling much more than their certificate shows they'll produce? Either it's a bumper crop, exceeding estimates--or the vendor is buying fruit to pad sales.

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From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of Metro

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