One bad spud can ruin the whole pile. But now, a simple electrical sensor can detect the culprit. A new device can determine that a single potato's infected with rot-causing bacteria even while it's buried in a crate filled with hundreds of healthy tubers.
The disease, soft rot, can run wild in a potato pile once it gets into just one bruised or otherwise damaged tuber. Spreading to neighboring potatoes, the bacterium Erwinia carotovora can turn their flesh into soft, wet mush before anyone notices the infection. Eventually, the spuds will emit a strong-smelling gas with such components as ethanol and acetone.
Soft rot can be one of the most important pathogens of potatoes in storage, comments Gale E. Kleinkopf of the Kimberly Potato Storage Research Facility in Kimberly, Idaho. "It can take an entire storage out in a matter of weeks," he says.