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Dirty potatoes make a comeback!

They say history repeats itself, and we always said potatoes would triumph in the end…

You wouldn’t be criticised if you’ve never given potatoes much thought before. But now that you’re thinking about them, have you noticed how absolutely clean they are in shops and supermarkets?

It can be easy to forget that potatoes actually grow underground in the soil!

Until the 1970s, it was common to sell potatoes in a more natural, unwashed form. After this point, retailers moved away from doing this in a bid to lure consumers with what they perceived as a cleaner, more hassle-free product.

However what many people don’t realise is that unwashed potatoes stay fresh nearly twice as long! When light hits a potato’s skin, chlorophyll builds up turning it green and rendering the vegetable unsuitable for eating. A small amount of soil is enough to significantly slow down this process.

Clearly if potatoes are destined for people’s peelers anyway, it could also be wasteful to wash them too thoroughly.

Our blindness to the simple benefits of unwashed potatoes is perhaps a perfect example of ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ - because so few people remember unwashed potatoes being the norm, we don’t even think about how things could or should be any different outside the current status quo.

A turning tide?

However, the tide may be turning.

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, announced this month its intention to begin selling unwashed potatoes again following a successful trial in 120 stores. Initially this will mean an expansion to a further 262 outlets.

Tesco Ireland has not yet confirmed (why not give them a tweet?) whether or not its approach will be similar, but the company’s UK and Ireland operations tend to be fairly aligned.

According to waste reduction charity WRAP, potatoes are the most wasted variety of food, followed by bread and milk.

Responding to Tesco's announcement, Will McManus, WRAP’s Sector Specialist for fresh produce said:

One of the biggest drivers of potato waste in the home is that we don’t use them in time, so anything that we can do to extend shelf life has the potential to be really important in the fight against food waste.
Wasting household food makes a huge contribution to global emissions, with 70 per cent of food waste (post-farm gate) coming from the home.

With Morrison’s and Waitrose in the UK also currently offering unwashed potatoes, there is hope that the wider grocery sector will begin to change its approach to selling vegetables.

Importantly, this must also include a shift to selling all produce ‘loose’ – enabling consumers to buy only what they need while saving plastic at the same time.

For more ideas on this see our recent article, 5 easy ways to cut plastic from your… kitchen.



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