Every entomophobe’s worst nightmare is finding out that the one thing you hate the most can actually appear in something you love, like cake. I myself must admit that at some point, I have eaten an insect, not out of choice but simply due to the fact that they’re sometimes unavoidable! As a pest control company we know everything there is to know about pests, and that’s whether they’re hiding in plain sight, or hiding in places more insidious.
Pests in Food: A Genuine Problem?
This realisation prompted me to look into what gets into our food, how it happens and if it’s safe!
I’m talking about the millions of people that unintentionally ingest insects every day without knowing it, and I think it’s important to both highlight and address the concerns buzzing around this topic.
Have you ever caught yourself unintentionally swallowing a fly? Or looked into your drink in the summer only to find a bug has landed in it? The first thing I think of is, is it safe to consume? Are there any rare risks that I should be aware of? There are many questions surrounding what goes into our food, and I think is an issue that has a global resonance.
Recent Parasite Discovered in Sushi
Only recently, the BBC discovered a parasite that had found its way inside of a 32-year-old man’s stomach (gut lining). This was the result of anisakiasis, a disease brought on by ingesting a parasite form sushi (most commonly) which then resides and lives within the stomach wall or intestine of humans.
This happens when people consume undercooked or raw fish or squid where infected larvae may be living. The team who eventually removed the parasite from the man stated:
“The patient’s symptoms resolved immediately” and despite this issue being more common in Japan, doctors warned that anisakiasis “has been increasingly recognised in Western countries.”
While it’s uncommon that you would contract anisakiasis, the best way to ensure you don’t contract it is to ensure you remove the guts of the fish, then freeze it for at least 4/5 days and cook it thoroughly before eating.
Granted, this is one of the more serious and rare cases of pests getting into your food. However, it goes to show that such serious cases do occur, and we’d be wise to educate ourselves on what other pests can sneak into our foods.
Common Pests Found in Food
As grim as it is, this is something that definitely needs to be addressed, not to put you off your food, but to simply address the potential dangerous (if any) of eating these insects.
Thrips are commonly found feeding on plantations within greenhouses and indoor/outdoor gardens. Thrips damage plantation by sucking the nutrients out of them, turning them pale, withered and eventually die. The most common foods they dominate are vegetables, namely asparagus, celery and cabbage.
The most common of the mite family is the flour mite, and unfortunately, these are the ones that reside within our food products. Cereals, dried vegetables, corn, fruit and cheese are also common foods they dominate. If you find yourself severely infested with mites, you’ll be able to tell by the brownish tint over the commodity named “mite dust.” Additionally, if you crush the mites, they emanate a sort of ‘minty’ odour, though, this is not advised.
These pesky bugs are capable of destroying a bouquet of flowers in no time at all, and they’ll do the same to your frozen vegetables if they aren’t stopped. Spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are their preferred food sources. The best way to rid your food (in order to safely eat it) is to submerge the food in cold water for around ten minutes. Once this has been completed, drain the food, rinse, and dry it.
4. Fruit Flies
Mainly attracted to yeast, these flies basically flock to anything that is overripe, as well as mushrooms. Usually, the fruit fly will attack and puncture the skin of overripe fruit and vegetables in order to feed and lay their eggs.
Maggots aren’t exactly known to be the fussiest of insects, in fact, they’ll eat pretty much anything. Their diet ranges from dead animals and foods to pet foods and leftovers.
6. Corn Ear Worms
Dubbed the most devastating pest of corn in the U.S., the corn ear worm eats through vegetation and farm foods like there’s no tomorrow. Adult earworm moths are usually light to dark brown in colour, and have devilish green eyes. The larvae are around 1-2 inches in length and vary in colour depending on their instar stage. They’re usually found in the U.S., so we’re pretty safe in the UK. They usually dominate agricultural sites, such as gardens, fields and pretty much anywhere where tomatoes and cotton grow.
Caterpillars are fairly uncommon to find in your food (in contrast to the rest of the above) though, you still won’t exactly be thrilled to see one in your food. Caterpillars are most commonly found feasting on vegetables, spinach, lettuce and cabbage being their preferred snack. Sometimes there may not be a caterpillar present, but you can always check by searching for larval fragments that will be dotted around the food.
An Expert’s Advice
Alan Read of Complete Pest Management has reassured people that eating such insects is mostly harmless and not uncommon:
“People won’t want to know this, but they’ll find that bugs – specifically spiders – are unintentionally digested by humans around 3-5 times every year!”
As many would assume, ingesting these bugs is mostly harmless, but it’s still good to hear it from a certified specialist! Now, more importantly, let’s look at the ways we can put a stop to them getting into our food in the first place.
How to Stop Pests Infesting Your Food
Purchasing small quantities of dried food which logically would be eaten in a short period of time. This is quit an obvious statement, but if you leave food to go off, or stale, this becomes the perfect settlement for unwanted pests.
- Inspect packages before purchasing. This is described in more detail below, specifically in regards to weevils.
- Be clean! Ensure that the area where you’ve just made your food is cleaned as soon as possible. Flies and other common scavenger pests are prone to flocking to food remains.
- Keep your food storage areas clean and secure. Pests have a funny way of getting into places where they’re not supposed to. Ensuring all your food is safely locked away and there are no gaps or fissures they can infiltrate will definitely help secure your foods.
- Use containers! If you find that you have some leftover food from your previous meals, it is essential that you store them in suitable container as soon as you can. Leaving food uncovered, even in the fridge, will not guarantee pests from making it their new home.
- Washing areas with detergents, ammonia, or bleach will not prevent insect infestation. There is no evidence that proves that placing bay leaves or sticks of spearmint gum in a cupboard will prevent or deter stored food insect pests.
Hopefully this guide has awakened you to the horrors of how pests can infiltrate our food supplies. While the vast majority of insects found in our food are virtually harmless, it’s still good to know what exactly does get into our food, and knowing the best ways to prevent this from happening!