Walmart Helps Researchers Find Cause of Rejected Potatoes

Published online: Aug 30, 2018 Articles Tom Karst
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Source: The Packer

University of Idaho researchers are working with Walmart to look at the reasons behind rejected or downgraded potato loads at the chain’s distribution centers.

Nora Olsen, professor and extension specialist at the University of Idaho, and Mike Thornton, professor of plant science at the university, explained their efforts yesterday in a session at the Idaho Grower Shippers Association's annual meeting.

Thornton said the research began about a year and a half ago when the Idaho Potato Commission inquired how the industry could reduce quality issues on arrival.

Finding solutions is important not only to reduce rejections but to also deliver better quality potatoes to consumers who may see bruising when they take potatoes home from the store, Thornton said.

Tracking rejected or downgraded loads at Walmart from February to August so far, the research is funded by the Idaho Potato Commission and features the cooperation of Idaho shippers and Walmart.

Walmart has been very open about how they assess quality and what they’re seeing, Thornton said.

“Given how many times we lift, drop, tumble, sort, wash, and package these potatoes, it’s a miracle we get any of them into the bag without some kind of bruise or other defect,” he said.

Data will be collected in the harvest through the winter to give a complete picture of the season, she said.

With data on rejections from Walmart, Olsen said that about 73% of rejected loads from the chain came from seven Walmart distribution centers, primarily located in the Southeast U.S. The peak month for rejections tracked so far was May.

“It’s not because (those distribution centers) are tougher (on quality inspections),” she said.

Instead, the higher rejection notices in that region likely is related to the length of the trip and perhaps heat and humidity in the region.