Can I salvage squirrel-ravaged peppers?
August 25, 2011 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Can I eat peppers that have been gnawed by squirrels, or will I die of rabies?

A squirrel has been waging war on my fire escape garden. Sometimes I'll go to the window, and the squirrel will just be standing there in my pepper pot, gnawing on the jalapeños. He doesn't run away unless I yell good and loud. He doesn't seem to give a flying fig that he has just decimated our entire pepper crop, nor does he have any qualms about the fact that he has stolen all of our cherry tomatoes.

I am enraged, really. There were five peppers, one of which was almost fully ripe, and he tore every last one off the plant.

At first I thought, "Oh, well, we just won't eat the two peppers the squirrel has gnawed." But now he's gone and manhandled every last one of our peppers.

Yes, I've put cayenne in the soil. Mr. Squirrel seems to think this is just fine. Doesn't bother him a mite. I mean, the damn thing EATS jalapeños. He is obviously a Mad Squirrel.

The question, at this point, is not how to stop the abominable critter, but whether we can eat any of these peppers. They're speckled all over with little squirrel claw marks. Or tooth marks. I don't know how to tell which is which.

So the question is, can I eat these pockmarked peppers? The skin isn't exactly broken on any of the ones I salvaged, just sullied by dozens of tiny squirrel incisions. I'd post pictures, but the marks don't show up very well in photos.
posted by brina to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, on the rabies front, squirrels don't carry rabies.
posted by endless_forms at 8:44 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about it. Food that grows outside will inevitably suffer some amount of gnawing and fondling. It's not like you're trafficking in bush meat, but I guess the worst thing that happens is they name some weird new disease after you.

This message has not been approved by any kind of regulatory board or doctor.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:47 AM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Squirrels apparently do carry tuleremia. It's nough to make me want to avoid eating squirrel-gnawed food.
posted by Ery at 8:48 AM on August 25, 2011

Brinariosis Sciuridae: The worst thing that happens is they name some weird new disease after you.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:08 AM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Although rare (see table with break down per type of animal), there have been documented cases of rabies in squirrels.

There is some evidence suggesting nonbite transmission, but this also happens very rarely (and those cases were not through exposure through a garden). This paper has looked at a few iatronogic cases, and nothing is hypothesized to be associated with the route you are suggesting.

I would eat those peppers and not be worried, but I would worry about unvaccinated dogs or cats if rabies is in your geographical area or you travel to areas with unvaccinated animals and pet them, get bitten, etc.
posted by Wolfster at 9:29 AM on August 25, 2011

Thing is, you might not enjoy eating the peppers even though there may be nothing wrong with them.
Net the plants, and/or live trap the squirrel and give him a new home.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:33 AM on August 25, 2011

Squirrels are not particularly notable disease vectors. Squirrel droppings, like all animal droppings, can carry Leptospirosis and Salmonella. That said, have you ever read through the FDA database of what they allow in the food that you buy at the grocery store? Certain levels of hairs and droppings and insect parts are permissible. Your peppers are probably just as clean as ones that you would buy canned, provided you wash them really well.
posted by Ostara at 9:44 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: My link didn't work: FDA Database.
posted by Ostara at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2011

Tulerimea is not easy to catch, and usually requires ingestion of undercooked meat from a diseased animal (unless you are doing something like sleeping with a rodent that has it or living in their filth-not an uncommon battlefield disease but it takes that kind of exposure to get it).

If you cook the peppers like you would meat or such or pickle them I would think it will kill all the infectious baddies you can find.

The real problem with rodent droppings (or any small animals really) in the western US is Hantavirus and/or Bubonic Plague. As in the Black death. Several southwestern states have a few reported cases every year to this. Your chances of getting it from a pepper that has been touch by a rodent of any kind is pretty much zero. Eat it with gusto. Part of the joy of gardening is connectign with the source or your food. This means it will not be the perfect stuff you see in the grocery store that has been sanitized and as much done as possible to remove the association with food actually being grown in dirt and bugs and animals. Embrace the natural state of your food.
posted by bartonlong at 10:39 AM on August 25, 2011

no. just wash it.

rabies can only be contracted through a bite, aerosol (spit/spray in the air), tissue transfer during an operation.

posted by skwint at 10:48 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: Wash it well, you can use dish soap if the skin isn't broken, and rinse it off well and eat it I'd say. Hell worse things crawl all over the veggies in your supermarket on their way to you. If it worries you cook it.
posted by wwax at 11:02 AM on August 25, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I think we'll use the squirrel-bitten peppers in chili. This way, they'll be all chopped up and cooked up, and we won't even notice the squirrel marks.

I'm still pretty riled up at that evil little beasty, though, stealing my harvest the way he did. Next year we are going to be all about tomato cages and chicken wire.
posted by brina at 12:41 PM on August 25, 2011

Erm, since when do squirrels not carry rabies? Any mammal can carry rabies.

However! Rabies is very fragile. It doesn't last long outside of the body. Even if an animal with rabies slobbered all over something it would be fine to eat in a few hours. It's killed by many things including drying out, sunlight, cooking, etc. If you boiled the peppers in your chili as you say, the virus will die.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:15 PM on August 25, 2011

You've got it right. Scrub 'em good, chop them up and put them in something that will not make you think of squirrel teeth.

I got a lot less squeamish about using nibbled veggies when I started gardening in earnest. The greens with big holes from the damn pests get chopped up finer than the pretty leaves, bad parts get cut out of veggies.
posted by desuetude at 11:05 PM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: For next year: most pests (mammals anyway) hate blood meal. I used it to keep squirrels from digging up my garden, but found it keeps them entirely away. Good fertilizer too. Smells like you'd expect.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:49 AM on August 26, 2011

« Older Help Us Go Somewhere Warm!   |   Hot movies in powerpoint Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.