When is a potato a new potato?

Shoppers across the UK can now have more confidence in just how new their ‘new’ potatoes actually are thanks to South Ayrshire Council, the Food Standards Agency Scotland and industry bodies, the Potato Council and the Fresh Potato Suppliers Association.

A new industry standard description on what constitutes a ‘new’ potato has been published by the Potato Council after a South Ayrshire Council investigation discovered some supermarkets selling potatoes described as new, but that had actually been treated and stored – in some cases – for up to seven months.

The new industry standard description defines a new potato as a potato that has been specially grown and harvested early; packed full of taste, with a thin skin or one you can rub off with a finger.

South Ayrshire Council’s investigation got underway last year after a customer – George Norris from Ayr – complained to the Council’s Trading Standards and Environmental Health Service that he believed potatoes on sale as ‘new’ potatoes had been stored for prolonged periods after harvesting.

George had seen UK grown potatoes on sale that were labelled as new, with no prospect of them having been recently harvested. Before raising the issue with South Ayrshire Council, he carried out some research and established that there appeared to be no legal or useful definition for ‘new potatoes’ and identified the need for such a description for the benefit of retailers, consumers and regulators.

Council officers took this up with the Potato Council, which confirmed there wasn’t an agreed industry standard description of new potatoes.

To find out exactly what was happening locally, the Council then monitored the sale of ‘new’ potatoes from eight well-known local supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury and Tesco – between December 2012 and March this year and asked for planting and harvesting information on these products.

In each of the 24 samples from the six retailers who responded (Aldi and Iceland did not), the potatoes had been harvested quite some time before going on sale – in one case, potatoes harvested in August 2012 didn’t go on sale until March 2013, but were still described as new.

Caroline Evans from the Potato Council added: “New potato is a term that over-time has become short-hand for a small potato cooked in its skin – often boiled, baked or steamed. To meet demand for quick and tasty potatoes, we have lost the seasonality. Our description of a ‘new potato’ means customers know they’re enjoying potatoes at their seasonal best – and if your supermarket adopts the description, you can be sure of what you’re buying.”