An investigation by South Ayrshire Council has revealed that some 'new potatoes' that were on the shelves of supermarkets were actually up to seven months old. The investigation was prompted by a concerned shopper, who stumbled across British 'new potatoes' at a time of year when there was no chance that the potatoes were newly out of the ground.
So what was going on, and how can we have any faith that 'new potatoes' aren't elderly?
The council was alerted to the issue by George Norris from Ayr, who complained to Trading Standards after coming across 'new potatoes', when there was no chance that they had been harvested recently. He had conducted his own research and discovered there was no legal definition of 'new potatoes'. He called on the authorities to produce one.
The council monitored the sale of new potatoes in eight local supermarkets between December 2012 and March 2013, and asked the retailers for planting and harvesting information. Of the six supermarkets that responded, the longest period between harvesting and sale was August 2012 to March 2013 - some seven months. The potatoes had simply been harvested and stored until sale.
GuidelinesThere is some good news, however. As a result of the investigation, the Potato Council has drafted new guidelines, which are under consultation, and lay out that new potatoes must be specifically grown and harvested early, with a thin skin or one you can rub off with a finger.
Councillor John McDowall, South Ayrshire Council's Portfolio Holder for trading standards and environmental health issues, said: "We hope the outcome of our investigation will ensure consumer confidence in what is one of the most basic items on our shopping lists. That's what this has been all about – the need for honesty and accuracy about the products we buy."
"When we buy new potatoes, we have an expectation that they will have been lifted out of the ground shortly before going on sale. With the introduction of the new industry standard description, we can all hope that we'll get exactly that when we buy new potatoes in the future."
Adopting the standard, unfortunately, will not be compulsory. As McDowall points out, it's up to the retailers to rebuild confidence by adopting them voluntarily. Tesco (where the seven-month-old potato had been on sale) told the Daily Mail it would follow the new guidelines and re-label its salad potatoes.
McDowall hopes all the supermarkets will follow suit, and that recent scandals over trust in supermarkets will persuade them to be completely honest about how long potatoes have been out of the ground.
But what do you think?
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