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Foods -- Vegetables

A consumer bought potatoes that were green. Are they safe to eat?

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She should not eat the potatoes. She has the option of throwing them out or returning them to the store for a refund. Many plants contain small amounts of naturally occurring toxic chemicals. For example, two commonly eaten foods, the potato and the tomato come from the nightshade family that is known to contain toxic compounds called alkaloids. The alkaloid in the potato is called solanine. In the United States, healthy potatoes contain 1-5 milligrams of solanine per small potato. Under current FDA regulations, 20 milligrams of solanine per 100 grams (a small potato) can render it unfit to eat. Solanine is produced as the potato gets old or is exposed to light. So we need to tell consumers to avoid potatoes that are old, sunburned (green under the skin), or spongy. Under these conditions, the solanine levels can increase sevenfold or more. And definitely DO NOT eat the potato eyes because they contain a high concentration of solanine. Toxic amounts of solanine can seriously affect the nervous system and have caused death.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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