Is it OK to store potatoes and other vegetables in my wine cellar?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, I have stocked up on fruits and vegetables, including potatoes. The wine cellar makes a great overflow storage place for the veggies. However, a friend told me I shouldn’t store potatoes near my wine. Is there any truth to that?

—Richard, Riverside, Calif.

Dear Richard,

Your wine (and potatoes!) should be OK. Root cellars and wine cellars are pretty similar, after all. The ideal wine cellar is dark and cool, with a constant temperature of about 55° F and 70 percent humidity.

Potatoes do well in cool, dark, humid areas with good airflow—similar to wine, just a smidge cooler and a touch more humid. I checked in with Dr. Potato at the Idaho Potato Commission (yes, this is a real thing, but don’t worry, I’m much cuter). Dr. Potato says potatoes should store well in a wine cellar, comparing them to conditions in a potato storage shed. “Potatoes store best in cool but not cold (42° to 45° F is ideal, but 55° F is cooler than where most people store at home).”

“Keep in mind, however, that unlike potatoes in an Idaho storage shed, your potatoes are packed in bags or cartons and have been washed, sorted and graded,” Dr. Potato continues. “Once potatoes leave a packing facility, the shelf life starts ticking, and you can expect these will store (covered, cool, no light) up to two weeks in your cellar temperature/humidity. Perhaps a little longer, and you will see the potatoes eventually dehydrate some and begin to sprout. Even at this stage the potatoes are quite usable, just peel, and remove any sprouts, wash and prepare as desired.”

When potatoes are kept too cold (as in food refrigerators), the starches in the potatoes begin to break down into sugar, both changing their flavor and causing them to discolor and get dark when you cook them. Too warm and they can sprout or shrivel. Darkness keeps the potatoes from turning green and bitter. Potatoes need airflow to prevent the accumulations of moisture so they don’t rot. So if they come in a perforated or paper bag, keep them in there. If they come in a plastic bag, consider transferring them, even to just a bowl.

There’s nothing about the potatoes themselves that could cause any harm to your wine. (You don’t want to store your potatoes with onions, however, as onions release gasses that can cause the potatoes to sprout more quickly.) But I think storing extra potatoes and root vegetables in your wine cellar is a good use of space, especially during these uncertain times.

—Dr. Vinny

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