When I got the opportunity to attend the Heart of CA Field and Orchard Tour in Sacramento last week, I knew I had to attend to see firsthand how our canned produce gets from field to can. As a dietitian, it’s my goal to be able to bridge the gap between our farmers and consumers, provide facts and knowledge, and break down the barriers you may have around certain foods. California is one of five regions in the world that have a Mediterranean climate, which makes it the perfect place to grow fruits and veggies. Pacific Coast Producers (PCP) is an agricultural cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its farmer’s. They have more than 160 family farms in Central and Northern California that specialize in growing food for canned private label products. So your Great Value brand at Walmart and the store brand at your favorite grocer, was most likely produced by PCP.
I’ll take you along on what I learned last week and share how canned foods can fit into your healthy lifestyle.
Canned produce is picked at the peak of nutrition
Myth: Canned food is not as healthy as fresh.
Fact: The fruits and veggies that are grown and harvested to be canned are picked at their peak of nutrition, ripeness, and taste and are then canned in less than 5 hours. Due to this quick turnaround, it doesn’t leave any time for the produce to lose nutrients or freshness. Plus, the canning process actually increases the amount of lycopene found in tomatoes, making canned tomato products and even more nutrient dense option. Lycopene is an antioxidant that’s great for fighting inflammation, reducing risk of prostate cancer, and slowing atherosclerosis.
Another thing to mention is that all of those canned goods you see on the shelf at your grocery store were produced in a 90-day span. We all know that most fruits and veggies have a defined growing season, so when it’s harvest time everyone is working around the clock to lock in the fresh flavor and nutrition into these cans. The canning season runs from July 4 to the end of September. The Oroville Fruit Cannery produces upwards of 2 million cans and 2 million fruit bowls per day and the Woodland Tomato Cannery processes about 300 truckloads (26 ½ tons in each truckload) per day. So these farmers and cannery workers are putting in the hard work in a short period of time so we can all enjoy a juicy peach or flavorful tomato during February.
Canning is a simple process
Myth: Canned fruit has too much added sugar in it.
Fact: Fruit that is packed in sugar (heavy syrup or extra light syrup) does not have a higher sugar content than fruit that is packed in water because the osmosis in stabilizes it. When fruit is packed in water, the natural sugar in the fruit actually leaches out of it resulting in a less desirable tasting product. So the reasoning behind packing fruits in sugar is to maintain flavor and desirability and also does not affect the sugar content.
Myth: Canning is this whole big process, it’s all mechanical, it can’t be real food.
Fact: All of the peaches used in canned goods are handpicked. Each tree produces about 1000 pieces of fruit and the farmers pick the whole tree in one go. One person picks about eight to ten 1000 lb bins of peaches in a day. The farmer’s also take leaf samples to ensure that each tree is getting the proper nutrition it needs to produce great fruit. In the tomato field, most tomato plants are planted by transplant (or from seedlings). All of this is done by hand. At the end of tomato season, about 20 million plants will have been planted, all by hand. The tomatoes are mechanically harvested by a machine that separates the plant using a color sensing technology. Essentially, it separates the green from the red. In the canneries, there is a large amount of technology used to separate, peel, chop, etc. But there is still a fair amount of hand sorting being done to ensure a great product ends up in your can.
Canned goods are produced sustainably
The main reason canned goods are so sustainable are due to their packaging. Steel cans are the most recyclable food packaging on our grocery store shelves. They can be recycled indefinitely. 80-90% of all steel ever produced is still in use today. A lot of times we don’t realize we’re recycling these cans because we don’t have to separate them out of our regular trash since they use magnets in landfills to do so.
But what about BPA? PCP does not use BPA to line any of their cans, and made this shift almost 10 years ago. About 90% of canned food on the market does not use BPA to line cans anymore.
Canned produce is convenient
Canned foods have sustained people for over 200 years
Share your thoughts on canned foods below!