Scientists Trace The Origin Of "Idaho Potatoes"

June 18, 1998

PASCO, Wash., June 18 -- Were those "Idaho Potatoes" really grown in the State of Washington? How about those "Washington Apples"? or "Jersey Tomatoes"?

Financial incentives may drive some retailers to misidentify the geographic origin of raw commodities and food products--a practice that hurts consumers and growers alike. But now scientists at the University of Idaho, Moscow, say they have a way to identify the counterfeits, and they describe their methods here today at the Northwest Regional meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

"Consumers pay more for produce that comes from an area where the growing conditions--among them soil composition, climate, and sanitation--are known to be optimal. They may also pay a premium for fruits and vegetables said to be grown in their local areas," said Kim A. Anderson, Ph.D.

A study conducted by Anderson and colleagues indicates that chemical analysis can determine the geographic origin of raw commodities and food products. According to the study, trace elements present in fruits and vegetables relate to the mineral composition of the soil and environment in which the plant grows.

Under most conditions, a trace element present in the vegetable or fruit must have existed in the rooting zone of the plant, at least in a slightly soluble form, and it must also pass through at least one cellular membrane in its movement from soil to plant, according to Idaho researcher Kim A. Anderson.

Dr. Anderson said that a model with a database of nearly l,000 potatoes has been developed, and the accuracy of the classification of geographic origin has been excellent.

A nonprofit organization with a membership of more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers as its members, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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