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The potato-pocalypse: We could be in for a year of stumpy, brown french fries

After a devastating season, 500 million pounds of Canadian potatoes are feared wasted, and those that did survive are likely damaged
After a devastating potato growing season, 500 million pounds of Canadian potatoes are feared wasted and many of the survivors are misshapen and undersized, threatening to turn french fries short and brown.
The United Potato Growers of Canada last week announced the misfortunes of its farmers in a news release, an apparent attempt to manage consumer expectations after a trifecta of bad weather across the country — a late spring, a hot summer and a cold fall — saw an estimated 6,000 hectares abandoned. While any one of those three are manageable on their own, all three hitting most provinces in the same year is “unprecedented,” said United Potato Growers general manager Kevin MacIsaac.
“I’ve been involved in the industry myself for 25-plus years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told the Financial Post. “It’s pretty bad right now.”
The bad growing season destroyed four-and-a-half per cent of the national potato crop — typically 10 billion pounds — with Prince Edward Island and Manitoba impacted the worst, the group estimated. The potatoes that make it to market after a grading process “may look a little different this year,” likely to be smaller and oddly shaped, it said, adding that the nutrient levels and quality will be unaffected.
But the season did alter the chemical makeup of some potatoes, making them liable to turn  brown, like shoe leather, when fried, said Rickey Yada, dean of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of land and food systems.
When potatoes are exposed to cold temperatures and freezing, they convert their starch into sugar — a process Yada referred to as low-temperature sweetening. With a higher sugar content, the potatoes turn brown faster when fried.
I’ve been involved in the industry myself for 25-plus years and I’ve never seen anything like thisUnited Potato Growers general manager Kevin MacIsaac
“You fry it up and you go, ‘Oh my God, it’s a brown shoe’,” he said.
Potato growers try to counteract the process by gradually warming the potatoes in storage at a rate of half a degree per week. Processors that make french fries for major fast food chains try to further suck sugar out of the cut potatoes by blanching them in water. The efforts can be effective, Yada said but, in some cases, it’s irreversible.
“You may not be able to resuscitate the potato,” he said. “If they’ve been held at these temperatures and exposed to freezing, they’re damaged.”
The smaller, more sugary potatoes could result in shorter, darker fries for the Canadian fast food industry. McDonald’s Canada, which sources 314 million pounds of Canadian potatoes annually‚ is monitoring the situation, particularly attuned to the potential for darker fries. In a statement, McDonald’s said it is working with its supplier, McCain Foods, to ensure potatoes continue to meet standards.
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