Are Idaho potatoes that I purchase in the grocery store treated with an anti-spudding agent? A recent note in Prevention Magazine suggests that consumers pick only organic potatoes for their consumption. Please advise.A:
First, you must know that Idaho potatoes are harvested once during the year. Some go right into circulation and are sorted and sold to foodservice or grocery stores, but most go into storage. After approximately 120 days, even under ideal temperature and humidity storage, the potatoes will start to sprout. The same thing happens if placed in a cool dark area in your house and forgotten about. Sprouts, when small, can be knocked off; however, we don’t recommend eating sprouts as they taste bitter. Trim off the sprouts and they will be fine to eat.
The “anti-spudding” agent that you refer to is actually a group of products such as “Sprout-Nip” which is added into a liquid solution that is misted by a series of fans into large metal tubes along the base of a pile of potatoes, while in very large storage facilities, sometimes a football field long. As the fog rises it creates an atmosphere that inhibits the growth of sprouts. Idaho farmers don’t use this automatically; they wait until there is evidence of the starting of sprouting. Years ago an incorrect report surfaced where scientists actually dipped samples of potatoes in the water and anti sprouting solution and reported evidence of a residual. Duh! It is not applied directly to the potatoes, but instead converted to a mist or fog into the atmosphere, so the concentrations in that test were completely false.
As far as Prevention Magazine suggesting that you buy only organic, you’ll notice that this was a single sentence by the writer of the column, with no space dedicated to why organic is better than traditional methods OR vice versa. I really have a hang up with grand statements like this without any back-up. By the way, we have growers that use organic methods, some certified. We also have the majority of our acreage, 319,000 in 2009, in traditional farming which includes rotation of crops, sustainable methods, etc. It is hard, very hard, to imagine the demand for potatoes nationally being met by organic methods alone. Think about the example when your own garden or flowers or grass gets attacked by pests or refuses to grow to the ideal size plants, to bloom, to have green leaves, etc. When widespread it can cause havoc. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the growth of the organic farming methods, and plenty for traditional farming. As far as which is less harmful to eat (by the way, our food supply system in the USA is amazingly safe when the volume of food products is thrown into the equation), I think the correct answer is that we all need to eat more fruits and vegetables. They are a lot better for us (and one Idaho potato typically costs about a quarter in the store) than many other food choices.