The Idaho® potato is the key ingredient for an amazing variety of menu options served by the nation’s foodservice operators. Potatoes can be elegant or commonplace; they can be the entrée or a specialty side order. The basic goodness and nutritional value remain important components, whatever flavors are added in an old-favorite or exotic recipes. Different serving styles, however, may require special grading or sorting standards to provide the best raw material for a particular use.
The following chart indicates the most popular russet count sizes, number of potatoes per carton, maximum size range, and the sizes that most of the potatoes in each carton will be. Each carton contains 50 pounds of potatoes.
Note: If your needs call for cartons containing a narrower range of sizes, check with your Idaho® potato supplier.
Because the Idaho®-grown russet potato has become such an international favorite when baked whole in its skin, foodservice menu planners have become discriminating in the cosmetic and physical aspects of their purchases. When baked potatoes are prepared in quantity, large trays are placed in commercial ovens and all the potatoes in an oven get the same amount of baking time. Large potatoes take longer to bake than smaller ones do, so uniform size is important to a quality end product.
Idaho has long been involved in sizing potatoes because of the important market that was developed very early inthe food service sector. Shippers once trained employees to select various size ranges by eye from a flow of field-run potatoes over sorting tables. Now sophisticated electronic sizers do a much faster and more accurate job.
Sized potatoes, being a premium-priced item, also created a packaging innovation: the 50-lb.-count carton. The doublewalled fiber cartons provide better protection for their contents and are easier to store and handle in the kitchen than 100-lb. burlap bags, which were once the standard of the industry.
Serving baked potatoes imposes an additional quality requirement, that of appearance. Since the potato is served whole, with the skin on, it should be of regular shape, free from knobs and with a minimum of surface and internal defects. U.S. No. 1 grade is not good enough to consistently satisfy these requirements. Potato growers and shippers in Idaho operate under a federal marketing order administered by a state potato control committee. This body sets grading and quality standards that ensure quality higher than U.S. No. 1 on all shipments leaving the state. Federal/state inspectors are on duty in all packing warehouses and are continually sampling the merchandise being packed to be sure it meets the grade requirements set by the marketing order.
Count cartons are regularly packed in a range of sizes from 40s to 120s. The 50-lb. carton containing 50 potatoes obviously delivers an average size of 1-lb. or 16-oz. tubers. These giants may be the trademark of Morton’s of Chicago, while the 6.5-oz. tubers in the 120-count are much better suited to a grade school lunch program. Both users require uniformity of size and shape as well as good quality.
Nature does not provide all perfect potatoes to reward the grower’s efforts. Field-run lots have a wide range of sizes, grades, and shapes. The flavor, texture, food value, and most importantly, the performance of the misshapen spuds are as good as their more beautiful siblings, but they will not meet No. 1 grade requirements.
When field-run lots are sorted in Idaho shippers’ warehouses, the workers on the sorting table clip off knobs or ends and route the tubers into the U.S. No. 2 channels. Although the skin heals where the knobs are cut off, the “deuces” will not bring the No. 1 price, but have their fans, nevertheless. A foodservice operator who is preparing French fries, mashed potatoes, or hash browns from fresh potatoes may prefer No. 2’s for their lower price, while not compromising quality or taste. A special state grade called “The Idaho® Standard” is another specification, which may satisfy the needs for cost. No clipped ends are allowed, but shape and cosmetic requirements are not as strict as U.S. No. 1 grade.
A foodservice operator who develops a potato specialty that requires something unique in packaging or sizing should inform the produce specialist or broadline distributor. Shippers in Idaho handle a huge volume of potatoes and have the capability to meet special requirements if they are requested. The wholesaler can usually find a shipper who will include special orders in a truckload or carload to provide customers with their specific needs.
Remember that genuine Idaho® potatoes are identified with the state’s Grown in Idaho® certification mark on all containers.