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Q&A: Timing from Harvest to Grocery Store Shelf

Q:

How long are Idaho® Potatoes normally stored before they are put out on supermarket shelves?

A:

The Idaho Potato Commission spends 10% of its budget on potato research, so we’ve been able to extend the availability of potatoes dramatically by paying extra attention to proper storage techniques.  Our harvest is typically in September and October, and unlike some other crops such as lettuce, carrots, broccoli, etc. we only get one harvest a year.  To be able to provide consumers and foodservice operators with a year round supply, the majority of potatoes do get placed into storage to sell later.  Once the potatoes are harvested, they are stored at temps of 40 - 45ºF and in a high humidity atmosphere.

With the new crop, some potatoes are harvested, sorted, and shipped right out.  At the beginning of the season you can sometimes tell these potatoes by the condition of the skin, which can be very thin and can feather or scrape off easily when washed.  Once a potato is in storage a miraculous thing happens. The process called “suberization” occurs and often any cuts or bruises actually heal over, just like the formation of a scar on cut skin.  The wound healing actually helps the potato in three ways: minimizes weight loss, minimizes quality loss and maximizes disease resistance.  There is nothing wrong with purchasing potatoes that have been stored properly for up to twelve months.  Most consumers object to potatoes that have been handled improperly, such as:

  • Potatoes that have been too stored cold and then placed quickly into a warmer environment (causing small cuts or “air checks”)
  • Potatoes that have not been rotated properly (causing sprouting or wrinkled skins)
  • Potatoes that turn green (due to exposure to sunlight or especially fluorescent lights which you will find in a supermarket)

In foodservice, each carton of Idaho potatoes has a pack date so the receiver can see when the potatoes were actually taken out of storage, washed, sorted, and packaged.  This is stenciled in on the side of the carton and is sometimes referred to as perpetual Julian date: http://disc.gsfc.nasa.gov/julian_calendar.shtml.

By the way, if you ever have an issue with the Idaho potatoes you receive at the grocery store, save the bag and quick lock and return this to the retailer to help them identify when it was received and sold to you. Often the produce manager can make an adjustment or trade you a fresh bag of potatoes. If they are not helpful, always feel free to contact the shipper of the Idaho Potatoes.  An online listing is available at: http://idahopotato.com/directory/shippers.