Tesco to sell unwashed potatoes in order to cut down on UK’s number one most wasted food

A move to cut down on food waste by selling unwashed potatoes – and in doing so potentially double their shelf-life - is being launched by Tesco.

Until the 1970s most UK supermarkets and greengrocers used to sell unwashed potatoes and by leaving soil on them it would help block out light and slow down their natural decay.

Now Tesco is looking at a return to selling potatoes in the traditional way and in doing so, help cut down on what waste advisory action group WRAP, say are the UK’s single most wasted food in the home.

The supermarket recently ran an initial trial of selling organic white potatoes across 120 stores with positive results and it is now extending the move to 262 stores.

The trial is being run in partnership with Branston, one of the UK’s biggest potato suppliers, who are based in Lincolnshire.

Tesco Produce lead technical manager Rob Hooper said:

“Up until about 50 years ago potatoes would generally be sold unwashed and having a natural film of soil around them would help keep them fresher for longer.

“But towards the end of the 1970s, supermarkets and greengrocers in general moved towards selling more cosmetically perfect produce and as a result, potatoes were washed before being put out on display.

“Last November we ran an initial trial at stores in Bristol and the surrounding areas to see how shoppers would respond and it was a success, so now we are widening this trial across the south of England.”

In trials so far Tesco and Branston discovered that shelf-life for the unwashed potatoes nearly doubled – offering up to an extra five days freshness.

When potatoes are exposed to light, chlorophyll forms within its cells which gradually turns its skin green.

Chlorophyll is the natural green pigment found in plant leaves and stems and is used along with sunlight energy to generate nutrients needed for growth.   

Branston technical manager Dominic Groom said:

'Working in partnership with Tesco, we identified a potential opportunity to extend the shelf-life of our organic potatoes by leaving them unwashed.

“Soil coverage can offer a layer of protection from the impact light can have on the skin turning green, which is a factor we consider when determining shelf-life.

“This trial should provide us with a clearer understanding of how this impact manifests and how customers feel about soil on their potatoes.” 

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.

“We are very pleased to see how Tesco are collaborating with their suppliers to tackle food waste and bring change to their shelves.

“Wasting household food makes a huge contribution to global emissions, with 70 per cent of food waste (post-farm gate) coming from the home.”


Notes to editors:

WRAP’s top 10 most wasted foods in the home are as follows:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Bread
  3. Milk
  4. Meals – both homemade and prepared
  5. Fizzy drinks
  6. Fruit juice and smoothies
  7. Pork/ham/bacon
  8. Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
  9. Carrots (fresh)
  10. Processed potato

At Tesco we have no time for waste and it’s an issue we have been focused on for over a decade, some of our key commitments from this time are outlined below.

  • In the UK we have sent no food waste to landfill since 2009
  • In 2013 we became the first UK retailer to publish data for the waste in our own operations
  • Stopped running any “Buy One, Get One Free” promotions on fruit and veg in April 2014
  • We have made a straightforward commitment that where we have unsold food that is safe for human consumption – none of this should go to waste in our UK retail operations
  • In 2016 we launched Community Food Connection in partnership with food redistribution charity FareShare and social enterprise FoodCloud
  • Since 2012 we have donated over 100m meals to thousands of local charities and community groups
  • In 2018 we removed ‘Best Before’ dates from over 180 fruit and vegetable lines
  • In 2019/20 we reached 77% towards our goal that no food safe for human consumption will go to waste in our UK operations
  • In September 2020, Tesco announced they have worked in partnership with their suppliers to cut 200,000 tonnes of food waste from their combined operations



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