Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science, and Srilatha Pandrangi, graduate student, both at Penn State, found that spinach stored at 39 degrees Fahrenheit loses its folate and carotenoid content at a slower rate than spinach stored at 50 and 68 degrees. However, the spinach at 39 degrees still loses much of its nutrients after eight days. The average temperature of a refrigerator is 40 degrees.
"This has implications in the shipping process," said LaBorde. Their research has been published in a recent issue of the Journal of Food Science.
There is such a high demand for fresh products that it places a heavy burden on the producers. If the spinach is coming from the other side of the country, then the produce might be kept at a warm temperature in a shipping truck for an extended period of time. By the time the spinach reaches the dinner table, much of the nutrient content might already be gone, noted the Penn State researcher.
Also, an attractive appearance does not mean that the spinach is still rich in nutrients. Spinach is prized because of its high nutrient content, particularly folate and carotenoids.
Folate is a vitamin B compound, responsible for producing and maintaining new cells in the body. Folate deficiency in pregnant women can lead to birth defects such as spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs in the first month of pregnancy when the spinal column does not close completely. Carotenoids are most commonly associated with carrots and other red and orange vegetables, and they help support vision and protect eyes from UV damage. According to the FDA, spinach is high in both nutrients.