If you ask me, potatoes are one of the most perfect foods there is. But spuds are humble; they don't have a strong aroma or color like everything else you'll find in the produce section. This makes it pretty difficult to know when they're past their prime. Because of this, you probably think potatoes can live in your kitchen a lot longer than they actually should. According to food safety expert Jeff Nelken, potatoes can go bad after just one or two weeks if not stored properly.
"The way to know if your potatoes have gone bad is if they start sprouting nodes and they feel mushy underneath the nodes when you cut them off," Nelken says, adding that this is a sign of decay. (If you slice off the nodes and the potato is still firm, Nelken says it's okay to still eat it.) If your potatoes are soft and mushy (and haven't been cooked), it's best to toss 'em in the compost bin. Ditto if they start acquiring a strong smell.
Okay, so that's the bad news: Potatoes go bad sooner than you probably thought. But the good news is that if you store them properly, you can extend their short little spud lives to four to six months. "Ideally, you want to store potatoes in a dark, cool place," Nelken says. Ultraviolet light, he says, damages potatoes and makes them go bad quicker. "I recommend people put their potatoes in a bag to protect them from light before storing them in a dark, cool place," Nelken says. A paper bag or cloth bag will work just fine. He also recommends storing them in a container with a lid so they aren't exposed to air, which can cause them to age faster.
The worst place you can store your potatoes, Nelken says, is the fridge. This is because the light in the fridge causes them to oxidize faster, shortening their lives. The too-cold temperature also can turn the potato starch into sugar.
If you want your potatoes to last even longer, Nelken says you can buy frozen potatoes or canned potatoes. "If you buy canned potatoes, just make sure the can isn't rusty because you don't want that leaking into the food," he says. Nelken also points out that another bonus to buying canned or frozen potatoes is that they have a "best by" date, making it easier to know how long they will last.
If your potatoes are already cooked, Nelken recommends storing them in a container with a lid in the fridge or freezer. "What's most important when storing leftover potato dishes is allowing the potatoes to completely cool before putting it in a storage container and in the fridge or freezer," he says. This is because bacteria can start to form from the trapped steam coming from still-hot potatoes.
In general, Nelken says knowing when potatoes go bad comes down to changes in appearance, texture, and smell—just like any other food. Even though the signs may not be as pronounced as other foods, they'll still be there. Maybe this intel is your sign to get your potatoes on the table just a little bit quicker. And you know what, no one is going to complain about that!
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