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Fast food chain is looking for potatoes with “the right stuff”

March 17, 2008  By Myron Love

When it comes to supplying fast food chains, potato standards need to be – understandably – very high.

“We want a safe, high quality, consistent product,” explains Barbara Hunt, product manager for Wendy’s International product manager. “My job is to ensure that we are getting the best quality potatoes for our fries so that we can satisfy our customers’ expectations.”

Wendy’s expects to buy 240 million pounds of potatoes during 2007 and sources potatoes exclusively from growers located at or near the 44th parallel. Here, the hours of daylight are long, the nights are cool, there is plenty of water and the soil, for the most part, is loose and sandy.


“We buy from 12 processing plants in four states and four provinces,” says Hunt.

In Manitoba, Wendy’s buys from Simplot, which was recognized as Wendy’s High Volume Plant of the Year for the 2005/2006 supply season, and the McCain plants in Portage La Prairie and Carberry, both located in south central Manitoba.

The restaurant chain also only uses four varieties of potatoes – Russet Burbank, Shepody, Russet Ranger and Umatilla Russet.

“What we look for in our potatoes are high, consistent solids, low sugar, adequate size and a low number of defects,” Hunt says. “We are also very demanding in terms of texture and colour. There is very little room for colour variation.”

Proper storage management and conditions are important to Wendy’s, as is the tubers’ gravity range (1.073 to 1.096), colour (mostly 0s and 1s) and size (6- to 10-oz tubers).

“Texture is very important,” adds Hunt. “Our French fries are tender and moist inside with a light, crisp exterior. Forty per cent of our French fries are three inches or larger while no more than 15 per cent are under two inches.”

Consistency and quality are key factors for the restaurant chain. Wendy’s conducts three visits per year to each supplier. “We do one really extensive audit per supplier each year. We also expect at least one third-party audit a year. On each visit, we look at about 20 to 25 samples.”

Wendy’s has plans to expand its product line during 2007 by including new salad, hamburger and chicken offerings, plus a new breakfast program. It’s not known if expanded potato purchases will be required for these new menu items.

“We are also working to eliminate trans fats in our cooking,” says Hunt.  “There are technical problems in producing French fries without trans fats, but we’re working on it.”

Wendy’s currently has 6,600 restaurant locations in 21 countries.


Re-examining long-held beliefs about food safety

Old habits die hard. In the case of food handling and food safety, this adage is true, as many long-held beliefs are no longer valid in the wake of new technologies and understanding of the microbiology of food safety, according to a new book from ASM Press. Written by Phyllis Entis, a microbiologist formerly with Canada’s Health Protection Branch, Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives offers an intriguing, anecdotal assessment of food- and waterborne illnesses “from farm to fork.” Using real-world examples of foodborne outbreaks, the book examines how modern technology and traditional views about food safety and food handling can affect consumer safety and concludes that the responsibility for a safe food supply lies with a variety of people, including regulators, food producers, food handlers, and consumers. Readers will become familiar with the history and causes behind many well-known outbreaks from cholera to E. coli O157:H7 to mad cow disease. Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives is one of a number of books on food microbiology published by ASM Press in a year punctuated by numerous high-profile foodborne disease outbreaks. January 2006 marked the launch of a new scientific book series Emerging Issues in Food Safety. The first title, Microbiology of Fresh Produce, presents the latest research and industry practices promoting microbiological safety of fruits and vegetables while the second title, Microbial Source Tracking, offers a state-of-the-art review of current technology and applications being utilized to identify sources of fecal contamination in waterways.

For more information, visit ASM Press online at



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