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U S F A.S.. U AGI
How to Buy
By Laurence E. Ide, Head
Fresh Products Standardization
Fruit and Vegetable Division
Consumer and Marketing Service
Boiled, baked or fried; hot or cold; plain or
fancy-potatoes are one of our most popular vege-
tables. In fact, each American eats about 60
pounds of fresh potatoes each year.
To help assure quality in the potatoes you buy,
the U.S. Department of Agriculture has established
grade standards for potatoes. U.S. No. 1 is the
grade or quality level you will find in most retail
USDA provides a voluntary grading service to
growers, shippers, wholesalers, and others, for a
fee. About 65 percent of the potatoes that are
marketed fresh are officially graded in produciq
areas (at the packing plant from which they are
shipped to market) by USDA's Consumer and
Marketing Service in cooperation with State
The U.S. grades are a good guide to quality and
were revised to give you better potatoes than
before. This booklet describes the revised stand-
ards and gives other useful tips on buying, han-
dling, and storing potatoes. It also explains how
potatoes are handled from digging to packing.
POTATO GROWING AND
Potatoes are produced in every State, but about
half of the commercial crop is grown in Idaho,
Maine, California, and Washington.
Most of our year-round supply of fresh potatoes
is harvested in September or October. These fall
crop potatoes are stored for 1 to 9 months before
shipment to retail outlets.
Many potatoes, however, are freshly harvested
and marketed from January through September.
tese are called "new" potatoes. This term is also
Ysed to describe freshly-dug fall crop potatoes
which are not quite fully matured.
Most harvesting is done by potato combines
which dig the potatoes out of the ground and move
them up a conveyor that shakes them, allows
soil to drop through, and conveys the potatoes
directly into containers or trucks. Usually several
workers on the combine pick out any vines, stones,
or other debris. A few harvesters also have built-in
devices for removing debris.
Potatoes are usually brushed or washed at the
packinghouse. Dirty potatoes are unattractive, and
the dirt itself contributes weight for which the
buyer is paying.
After cleaning, potatoes are mechanically sized
and are then sorted into grades by packinghouse
workers. The potatoes are packed according to
grade and size. The grade is often certified during
packing by Federal-State inspectors.
Over 40 percent of the fresh potatoes are now
marketed at retail stores in consumer unit pack-
ages-generally 5, 10, 15, or 20 pound bags.
Common types of bags are film (mostly poly-
ethylene), open mesh, paper with mesh or film
window, or plain paper. The trend is toward pack-
ing so the shopper can see the contents.
Potatoes may be packaged in consumer units
at the packinghouse (at shipping point) or at
wholesale houses in city terminal markets. Retail
chains also do a good deal of packing in consumer
units in their central warehouses.
Packing is largely mechanized, and bags are
generally check-weighed afterwards to ensure that
they are slightly overweight and thus allow f
shrinkage in marketing. V
Red potatoes and some white varieties are some-
times treated with colored or clear wax before
shipment to improve their appearance. The Food
and Drug Administration requires that potatoes so
treated be plainly marked. Under the Federal Food,
Drug, and Cosmetic Act, it is illegal to color
"white"-skinned potatoes red or to use colored
wax to make potatoes appear fresher or of better
quality. Several producing States have banned all
use of artificial color.
The first U.S. quality standards for potatoes
were developed in 1917 to help potato growers and
shippers market their product in wholesale chan-
nels. At that time, most potatoes were sold in bulk.
I Since then, most potatoes have been marketed
der the U.S. No. 1 grade, and bags of potatoes
in retail stores are often labeled U.S. No. 1.
The U.S. grade standards have been revised a
number of times through the years to keep up with
changes in production and marketing practices
and in consumer preferences.
In recent years, however, consumers have com-
plained that a bag of U.S. No. 1 potatoes had too
wide a range of sizes; that the potatoes weren't
clean enough; and that cuts, bruises, and other
defects caused too much waste. Some growers,
packers, and shippers also believed that the U.S.
No. 1 grade covered too wide a range of quality.
So the Consumer and Marketing Service has
again revised the grade standards for potatoes.
Effective September 1, 1971, the revised stand-
ards are intended to result in cleaner, more uni-
formly sized potatoes with fewer defects.
To provide for some margin of error in sizing,
grading, cleaning, and packing potatoes, the
standards permit a small percentage of offsize or
undergrade potatoes in all grades. Before setting
tolerances for defects, for example, USDA studies
how much damage is reasonable because mechani-
F I harvesting and packing practices in themselves
use a certain amount of unavoidable cuts,
bruises, and other defects.
The new standards replace the previous top
grade, U.S. Fancy, with a new grade, U.S. Extra
No. 1. U.S. Fancy was seldom used by the potato
industry because the requirements were too strict;
a very small percentage of the potato crop could
meet the grade.
Now, U.S. Extra No. 1 potatoes are the pre-
mium grade for consumers who want to buy the
best. The tolerances for defects are stricter than
those for U.S. No. 1, and potatoes in this grade
can only be slightly affected by internal defects
or sprouts. The minimum size is 21/4 inches in
diameter or 5 ounces in weight. Variation in size
of potatoes within a package is limited. Generally,
they must vary by no more than 11/4 inches or
Under the revised standards, consumers will
also find that potatoes marked U.S. No. 1 are
better than before.
The revision reduces the tolerances for defe3
so that there will be fewer potatoes with cuts,
bruises, sprouts, or decay in consumer packages.
In addition, the revision sets up optional size
designations which packers may use. If potatoes
are labeled with these size designations, they must
be within the size ranges shown on the next page.
The consumer might also find U.S. No. 1 pota-
toes labeled Size A. Such potatoes must be at least
17/8 inches in diameter, and 40 percent of the
potatoes must be 21/2 inches in diameter or 6
ounces in weight or larger.
If the size is not designated, the minimum for
U.S. No. 1 potatoes is 17/8 inches in diameter;
there is no maximum.
Use of the U.S. grade standards or the Federal-
State Inspection Service is voluntary, except where
required by State law or certain regulations.
The inspection service, operated jointly by
USDA's Consumer and Marketing Service and
cooperating State agencies, offers official, impar-
tial, third-party inspection of potatoes, on a fee
basis. Shipping point inspection establishes what
the quality is at time of shipment, both for sal
purposes and for verifying compliance with c
tract terms. Some packers also find official inspec-
tion valuable as a quality-control tool.
Although grade labeling is not required by Fed-
eral law, even when potatoes have been officially
graded, the U.S. grade is often shown on consumer
packages in retail stores. Sometimes, packers la-
bel their potatoes by grade whether the potatoes
were officially graded or not. But these potatoes
should meet the standards if they are so labeled.
Range Under Optional Sizing
or 6 ounces
or 5 ounces
or 10 ounces
or 10 ounces
or 16 ounces
Range If Size Is Not Designated
USDA and cooperating State agencies also offer
continuous inspection, which means an inspector
checks the entire packing operation as well as the
quality of the product. If potatoes are packed under
continuous USDA inspection, the grade name may
be shown within the official shield.
TYPES OF POTATOES
Varieties of potatoes are classified by their shape
and skin color. Potatoes are long or round, and
their skins may be "white" (the regular white to
buff color), red, or russet (normally having a
brownish, rough, scaly or netted skin).
The principal varieties are the Russet Burbank
(long russet), the White Rose (long white), the Ka-
tahdin (round white), and the Red Pontiac (round
red). Other varieties are available in different re-
gions at specific times of the year, and some new
varieties such as the Norgold Russet (a long to
blocky, lightly russeted potato) and the Norland
(a round red) are becoming increasingly popular.
As far as the consumer is concerned, potatoes
can also be classified by use. There are "new"
potatoes, general purpose potatoes, and baking
"New" potatoes are best when boiled. They are
generally harvested before the skins have "set"
nd because of immaturity may be "skinned" or
"feathered" during handling.
General purpose potatoes, both round and long
types, comprise the great majority of supplies.
They are available year-round. As the term implies,
they are used for boiling, frying, and baking.
Potatoes grown specifically for their baking qual-
ity are also available. The most widely grown and
best known baking potato is the Russet Burbank.
The revision of the U.S. standards is an attempt
to bring the quality of potatoes more into line with
what consumers want. So potatoes in bags labeled
U.S. No. 1 now should be cleaner and firmer and
have fewer defects than in the past.
When shopping for potatoes, look for those that
are firm, well shaped, and smooth, with few eyes.
The potatoes should be free from large cuts,
growth cracks, bruises, skinned areas, and decay.
Some amount of skinning is normal in new pota-
toes, but avoid new potatoes with large skinned
and discolored areas.
Don't buy potatoes that are green. Greening is
caused by exposure to natural or artificial light.
Sometimes only the skin is affected, but greening
may penetrate the flesh. The green portions con-
tain the alkaloid solanin which causes a bitter fla-
vor and is said to be poisonous to some people.
Also avoid badly sprouted or shriveled potatoes.
You may find potatoes with second growth.
These irregular, knob-shaped growths are consid-
ered defects because they are likely to cause quite
a bit of waste.
A "smell test" can also help you select pota-
toes. If the potatoes smell musty or moldy, the
flavor may be affected.
It is impossible to detect internal defects with-
out cutting the potato, but if you find that some of
the potatoes you have bought are hollow in the
center or have severe internal discoloration, take
them back to your grocer for replacement.
Consumer unit bags generally carry information
about the contents such as the type and origin oi
the potatoes, the grade, and the weight.
HANDLING AND STORAGE TIPS
Potatoes are nearly as delicate as apples. They
can get bruised all the way from the digging ma-
chine in the field to your home storage bin. So han-
dle the potatoes you buy with care.
If stored properly, general purpose and baking
potatoes will keep for several months; new potatoes
will keep for several weeks.
Look potatoes over before you store them. Set
aside any that are bruised or cracked and use them
Don't wash potatoes before you store them. As
it does with most other fresh produce, dampness
increases the likelihood of decay.
Store potatoes in a cool (450 to 50 F., if pos-
sible), dark place, with good ventilation.
Potatoes stored at 70 to 80" F. should be used
within a week. The higher temperature often causes
sprouting and shriveling.
Potatoes stored below 40 F. for a week or more
may develop a sweet taste because some of the
starch changes to sugar. To improve their flavors
store them at a higher temperature for 1 to
weeks before using them.
QUESTIONS ABOUT POTATOES
Are potatoes more fattening than other foods? No.
A boiled, pressure-cooked, or baked medium-sized
potato provides only about 100 calories (approxi-
mately the same amount as a large apple or ba-
nana) and has no more carbohydrate value than
these fruits. It's the fats, gravies, and sauces com-
monly served with potatoes that increase the cal-
ories. Fried potatoes, for example, may be 2 to 4
times as high in calories as a plain baked potato.
What can I do if I can't find bags of medium-sized
potatoes at my store? Ask your grocer to get them
or pick them from the bulk display.
rhat causes internal defects? One internal defect,
follow heart (an irregular hole at the center of the
potato) is caused by excessively rapid growth.
Another common internal defect is internal dis-
coloration. Internal discoloration may be caused
by improper field or storage conditions, freezing,
or disease. Each causes a different type of discol-
oration. Do not use potatoes with severe internal
Why is the flesh red in some red-skinned potatoes?
These potatoes were probably artificially colored.
Some packers believe the coloring makes the po-
tatoes more attractive to consumers.
Under the revised U.S. No. 1 grade, artificial
coloring which is unsightly, which conceals any
other defects that cause damage, or which causes
more than 5 percent waste when removed is con-
sidered a defect. If you find that coloring has pene-
trated the flesh and causes excessive waste, return
the potatoes to your grocer.
What should I do if I find a rock in a bag of pota-
toes? Simply return the rock to your grocer, who
iill give you the rock's weight in potatoes. Rocks
sometimes get into bags of potatoes because most
harvesting and packing today is done by machine.
Many rocks resemble potatoes in both shape and
SGPO 1'172 0 456 882
For sale by the Supenntendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Wa.hlngton. D.C. 20402 Pnce 15 cents
Stock Number 0100-2432
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
l 3 1262 08582 9694il lllllllll
3 1262 08582 9694
* There are three types:
"new" potatoes (for boilin
general purpose potatoes
* Look for potatoes that are firm,
well shaped, smooth (with small
eyes), and free from large cuts or
* Avoid potatoes that are green or
badly sprouted or shriveled.
* U.S. No. 1 potatoes are of good
quality and are the grade most
commonly seen in consumer pa
* If potatoes are packed under
continuous USDA inspection, the
grade name may appear within the
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