POKING A BIT OF FUN!
Grades and standards for produce are at best mildly understandable, but mostly confusing, remembering that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you find it hard to understand, welcome to the produce world. We will be issuing specific info sheets on grades (both official and unofficial) for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the future. This introduction is really intended to add a little amusement to the very confusing set of adjectives that you have to stumble through.
First, you have to understand that there are specific grading specifications for EXPORT. A BC apple grower can send only export XFCY and FCY grade fruit, while other grades (Domestic, Commercial, Juice, Hail etc.) can only be sold within Canada. (Hail grade, BTW, are otherwise nice apples that have dents in the skin from hail– and yes, it’s an official CFIA grade!)
So if fruit or vegetables are coming from another country, they have to meet that countries export standards which generally match globally accepted import standards. But if we grow something in Canada that never gets exported, like zucchini, then commonly accepted export standards don’t apply, and the grading requirements and industry standard sizing are no longer official, and become described more objectively. The Canadian standard for zucchini doesn’t talk about size – there are just #1 and #2. You can use your imagination on what #2 zucchini is.
Second, growers don’t usually market produce as #2, ugly, scarred, scabby or small. Not good marketing! So other words have come into play that sometimes make lower grades of produce sound better than they really are. In fact, often sound better than the fancy stuff.
Often you will find the word Choice scattered throughout the food business – meat labelled “Choice Cut” would make you think that the butcher had specially picked out that slab of meat and it was better – and just for you. Only the butcher knows for sure! The same is true for “select”, both at the meat counter as well on the cucumber pack line. We can only assume that the true meaning for choice and select came from packers choosing and selecting below-grade product or certain sizes. Although for zucchini, select also means small, and super-select are even smaller, and not below-grade, just smaller.
Even more confusing is that ugly is the new beautiful, with a parade of “imperfect” produce being given new marketing appeal by promoting it’s imperfections – ostensibly to push retail pricing down, reduce wasted food and help farmers sell their culls. And “C” is a pretty common letter in the produce business. Choice, Commercial, Cull, Creamer etc.
Here’s some examples.
Potatoes – we sell potatoes by the piece count, where “A” means there are about 70 potatoes in the box and “B” where there are about 90 to 100, but these are not official standards. A surprising amount of buyers stray from “B” because there is a perception that they aren’t as nice as A’s, but it’s really just a size thing – maybe “B” just means a Bit smaller than A’s? When potatoes are bagged into 3, 5, 10# bags, it is usually “B” sized potatoes that are used – it’s easier to get closer to the exact weight with smaller spuds!
In both the US and Canada, the official government potato grades are #1 and #2, and you can probably figure out the difference there pretty easily as well. Some states in the U.S. have their own grading requirements, which confuses things even further. There are also potatoes sold as “C” – which stands for creamers, (not like lower quality C grade commercial apples) – these are generally a little small to be “B” size and too big to really be marketed as nuggets. But every grower has a different idea of how small a nugget is, and we jokingly refer to large nuggets as “nuggety B’s”.
However, “C” also stands for chickens, and C grade potatoes can also refer to Chicken Potatoes (sort of like Horse Carrots.) That’s a farmers definition for potatoes that are so butt ugly that they go over the fence and not into a box. Even worse, there is a an official government grade for “C” potatoes – being creamers, that is very confusing – the standard states the minimum and maximum widths and lengths – but creamers can be a mix of different varieties of all things – so in theory you could order creamers and get russets and reds in the same box. What is a creamer anyhow? – The assumption is that you boil them, add butter and cream and mash them up and it won’t matter what colour the skin is? Except they are decidedly too small to peel.
We have just begun – this introduction was really just to let you know that if you feel confused about fruit and vegetable grading you are not alone by a long stretch!
Printable version here: GRADING