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  • No Tubers Perished in this Experiment
Nov 2005
FREMONT, Calif., Nov. 9 -- A study conducted at the University of Idaho demonstrated that some types of fiber optic lamps outshine the lighting supermarkets commonly use to illuminate potatoes.

Fiberstars Inc., a Fremont, Calif.-based maker of one type of lighting used in the spuds* study, said optimal lighting conditions in the produce department can increase the shelf life of potatoes by as much as half a day to a full day, thus reducing "shrinkage" or waste.

The company said Keith Tarver, manager of electrical systems creation and design for the Albertsons grocery chain -- based in Boise, Idaho -- encouraged the university's Idaho Center for Potato Research and Education to dig up the findings.

For the study, six types of lighting were tested, including fluorescent and filtered fluorescent, on russet Burbank potatoes. Although Fibertar's EFO lamps showed a positive difference compared with all types of lighting tested, the greatest difference was exhibited with halogen versus the ceramic metal halide downlights many supermarkets use.

Nora Olsen, PhD, extension potato specialist and associate extension professor at UI, conducted the study, which was funded by the center. Olsen said some lights may give off more in the red and blue regions, which actually "greens" potatoes a little faster, and that heat given off by lamps may contribute to a half-baked potato shelf life.

According to the center's Web site, potatoes that are exposed to light will naturally turn green. The green is chlorophyll, a harmless compound found in all green plants. However, when potato tubers turn green, there is usually an increase in a glycoalkoloid compound called solanine. Tubers with a high concentration of solanine will taste bitter and can be harmful if eaten in large quantities.

John Davenport, Fiberstars CEO, said, "EFO lighting gives off no heat and is filtered to eliminate harmful ultraviolet rays. Potatoes are especially sensitive to light, so they make an excellent test subject. We believe that EFO benefits will translate into longer shelf lives for all types of perishable goods in supermarkets."

EFO is used by Whole Foods Markets in several of its perishable goods sections, including seafood, meats, deli, cheese and bakery sections, Devenport said. Albertsons and Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle supermarkets have used EFO to light its wine departments, and Albertsons said it will use it in its seafood departments, both for its lack of heat and UV rays and for its energy efficiency. In a typical installation, a 70-W EFO system can replace up to eight 50-W halogen downlights, according to Fiberstars.

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*According to the Idaho Center for Potato Research and Education, the origin of 'spud' isn't definitive, but it either refers to a spudder, which is a shovel-like utensil used to dig up potatoes, or to the wooden barrel into which sorters put smaller potatoes, or "Some Potatoes Under Developed."

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