Worm in pasta - What should I do?
April 30, 2013 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Last night, when I was eating my spaghetti, I found a worm! It was light green in color and about the size/shape of a meal worm, but with little claw type things towards the head.

I'm not sure if the worm was in the sauce or noodles. The sauce is from small company that specializes in organic pasta sauces.

The pasta brand is De Cecco, which I've used for many years without a problem.

I cooked the noodles in the microwave and also heated up the sauce in the microwave. I had a pretty good view of the noodles and didn't see a worm mixed in with them. Could the worm have been tiny and expanded as the noodles cooked?

At this point, I am terrified of the sauce and the noodles. I ordered both the sauce and noodles in bulk from Amazon. I have a bunch of sauce jars and spaghetti boxes remaining.

What should I do? Should I throw everything away? Is my house going to be infested with worms? Should I call Orkin? Could a bunch of worms have hatched during the day and am I in store for more worms when I come home from work? I was researching worms in food on Google and am now freaked out and feel like I should throw away all the food in my house.

I store the noodles in one kitchen cabinet. Should I throw away all the food in just that cabinet or could the worms have migrated to other cabinets? Also, the box from Amazon containing the pasta was in my house for about a day before I took the pasta out and put it in the cabinet. Should I worry about worms invading my entire house?

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles? Also, any idea on what type of worm this might be so I can research it more and figure out if it's invasive or not? I threw the worm, the jar of sauce, and box of noodles away so far.
posted by parakeetdog to Food & Drink (33 answers total)
If it was alive when you found it then there is no way it was present in either the pasta box or the sauce jar beforehand. Considering the time of year (if you are in the western hemisphere, which by the brand names i assume you are) the most likely possibility is that the little inchworm fell on your head while you were outside, and then fell into your bowl as you carried it to the table.

Little green inchworms will not invade your house unless you live in a tree.
posted by elizardbits at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2013 [26 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like a pantry moth larva. They often come into kitchens in the packaging; check the lids of your jars and the folds of the plastic on the pasta for any webbing or other signs. If you see any tiny holes in the packaging of the pasta, throw it out-- they may have crawled inside. If you really want to be proactive you can freeze all your bulk goods or check them as they come in. The sticky traps are effective for catching the adults, but that doesn't sound like it's a problem.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:30 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I expect that the worm was in the organic sauce. I would guess that it was dead. My father used to joke that finding a worm in an apple was at least better than finding 1/2 a worm! I think you will be fine, the worm will not hurt you. If you want to be sure of no more worms in your sauce, you could run it through a strainer before adding it to your pasta.

I would go ahead and eat both sauce and noodles with no qualms.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2013

Okay, so now you're aware. I'd say that unless you have Elbow Macaroni, that you can pretty easily spot anything that's not a strand of pasta, so don't throw the boxes of pasta away.

As for the jarred sauce, if I had to pick a culpret, I'd say that, organic sauce made with organic tomatos may contain organic worms. Be aware and poke through any remaining sauces jars, if they seem worm free, use 'em.

Another option might be that a worm got in your pot somehow.

It's only a worm. It won't hurt you. You won't get infested.

If I had to guess, I'd say it was a tomato hornworm larvae, but without a picture...

I don't want to give the impression that I'd eat garbage, but I came from a home where my dad would cut mold off of cheese. He'd say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2013

Pantry moths are a pain to get rid of if they get established, but their larvae aren't green.
posted by jon1270 at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Was it alive? It also sounds to me like an inchworm. They lower themselves down from trees and it's very easy to pick one up on your shoulder and bring inside. It could have been you or it could have happened where they manufacture the sauce.
posted by beau jackson at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, tomato hornworms are huge -- many, many times the size of a mealworm.
posted by jon1270 at 1:34 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's also pretty common to find little tiny greenish white caterpillar/worm things in organic broccoli, if that might have been in the sauce. They're harmless.
posted by steinwald at 1:35 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, it is super easy to check the rest of the pasta for worms, because pasta is dry and yellow and worms are squishy and green. You can do that when you get home for some peace of mind. I don't think you'll be able to eat the rest of that sauce without feeling creepy and twitchy about it right now, so maybe freeze it and think about it again in a month or so? (I am pretty sure I ate a small spider in my sleep last month and I still sleep in my bed because fuck it, life goes on.)

Also also, never google things you are immediately upset about! It will always, always make it worse! My boobs itched from sports bra chafing after the gym the other day and google told me I have cancer.
posted by elizardbits at 1:39 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Other people have already mentioned it, but one of the little green caterpillars that hang from trees during this time of year is that of the Winter Moth (scroll down for pictures).
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:40 PM on April 30, 2013

Tomato sauce for sale in jars is canned professionally. Trust me when I say that no worm will survive the pressure canning process. Home pressure canners raise the internal temperature of your jars to temperatures in the neighborhood of 240 degrees. A worm hasn't been rolling around in there after being at that temperature and under pressure with no oxygen.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:45 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

What steinwald is referring to is the Cabbage Worm (oddly enough).

They do indeed come small and green. I'm not sure about claw type things toward the head though.
posted by rocketpup at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

No green worms in pasta. Ever. Pantry moth larvae are a disgusting whitish color.
I have found greenish worms in organic sauce once or maybe twice. Never eat that brand again. But if they are in the canned sauce they will be very very light green, rather more yellowish, because of processing. So if it is bright green, or even alive, it is from your garden or a nearby park.
posted by mumimor at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2013

Just eat it, there are tons of worms and bugs ground up with the grain for the pasta anyways.
posted by thylacine at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid I freaked out because I found a worm in a green bean I was eating. As an adult who's accidentally inhaled bugs; grown my own food in a garden; belonged to an organic CSA; etc, I'd rather eat a little worm once in a while than chemicals & processed foods. Worms won't kill you.
posted by rikschell at 1:53 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to thread sit, but the worm was dead. It looked a bit like a combination of the Cabbage Worm mentioned up-thread and a Depressed Flour Beetle.

Neither link is for the squeamish.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:55 PM on April 30, 2013

That sounds like it was almost certainly an inch worm that hitched a ride inside and ended up in your food, with the caveat that I am totally wrong if you're not an inch worm area right now. They are all over the place where I live, and I would not be at all surprised to find them in my food, having fallen there from my hair. The reason I say this is because of the color, size, and the little nodules you describe.
posted by hought20 at 1:56 PM on April 30, 2013

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

I would throw them both out and try very hard to forget it ever happened.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:02 PM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you are truly worried just move your pasta into ziploc bags or plastic/glass pasta containers and watch as you do it to make sure there are no critters present.
posted by srboisvert at 2:11 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

I confronted this same issue. I threw out all pasta in the house and forever-after stored all flour and pasta in sealed containers. When I bring home a box of pasta, it goes straight into the plastic sealed container. I never leave an open box of pasta out for any more time than is necessary.
posted by deanc at 2:15 PM on April 30, 2013

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

Since there's little conceivable health risk and no way to be sure of the origin, I'd live my life as I had before seeing the worm.
posted by cmoj at 2:24 PM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

The thing is right? The amount of insect eggs and other, well, organic stuff found in tomato based products is nowhere near nil. It generally is even regulated.. no more than x parts per Y volume. We eat the stuff every day. The worm, as 1st word ew as it is, is in reality no huge deal. Health wise the thing is fine after going though the processing,er, process. Want your money back? Talk to Amazon or the company. they'll be embarrassed and refund you the price and perhaps even comp you something. never eating it again? eh, I'd say that was an over reaction if you liked the sauce to begin with, I'd wager you could just as easy find one in a jar of crappy Prego. Lots and lots and lots of people eat worms, or worse every single day with no hesitation.
posted by edgeways at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2013

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

Personally? I would shrug, scoop it out, probably eat the rest, and understand that it's the risk you take for eating less-processed foods. The thing with organic isn't it does't kill as much stuff, and usually (though not necessarily) means they don't do as much over-processing. Which means sometimes a worm gets through. No big deal.
posted by brainmouse at 2:32 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Periodically I find bugs in my food. Usually I'll throw out the box, unless I'm really lazy. When I get icked out I just remind myself that it's not the first time I've eaten a bug, and it won't be the last, and I'm not dead yet. Choosing between being extremely vigilant with food all the time and occasionally eating a bug...I mean, it's the bug, every time. Then I try not to think about it, and usually I don't until the next bug appears.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it makes you feel any better, the claw-like things on the one end indicate that this was a larva rather than a worm (This probably did not make you feel better).

If you're at all concerned that the larva was alive prior to cooking (meaning that it is part of an active infestation) you can freeze the dry pasta. Don't freeze the jars, whatever is in there is quite dead already.

Personally, I would just carry on eating the pasta and sauce and not call Orkin as their pesticide treatments at your house will more than outweigh the goals you are trying to achieve by eating organic food.
posted by jamaro at 2:40 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I must be missing something because... well, bugs... happen? People swallow flies and salad washing misses things now and then and you've eaten like 9,00 gnats in your life. Food is not a sterile compound created in a lab; it's made from things that grow. You do not need to throw out any food, you do not need to fear for your home, and there is nothing to be worried about.

Is there any chance your worry about this is part of an anixiety disorder you're already dealing with? Because genuinely, your fear here seems out of proportion to an inch worm.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:53 PM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

I would check to see whether he needed rescuing, but when discovering he was past resuscitation I would carefully eat around the worm (which sounds like it was actually a caterpillar anyway), making sure that the sauce I spoon up contained only pasta, not caterpillar. When I finished my food, I would probably scrape him into the rubbish bin instead of washing him down the sink, but I'm not sure why. It's probably not logical.

I'm providing this information as a window into a completely different way of reacting. But I eat a lot of food from my garden, and there is almost always something living or once-living that needs to be picked out. Am not dead yet. (Nor is my house or my packaged non-garden food full of multiplying insects as a result of my garden-to-plate hitchhikers.)

The frantic-sounding talk of exterminators and infestations and so on was kind of entertaining, though.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 PM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'd congratulate myself on my extra protein intake and just be hair more on the lookout when using the foods in the future. I would definitely still keep and eat it though, unless there was a full out infestation in which case my concern would be feces rather than the critters themselves.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:49 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm practically an expert (for unhappy reasons) on pantry/miller moths, and if this one was green it was almost certainly not one of those, which is really good news for you.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on April 30, 2013

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can't be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles?

I’m in the "eat around it" camp. Pantry Moths are a pain in the ass, but I’m betting this is an inchworm.
posted by bongo_x at 8:54 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: Pantry moths are evil little buggers and you should be glad this isn't one of them (as Miko says, they aren't green). However if you *are* ever concerned about them, the jerks will eat through ziplocs, so store in tupperware or glass containers.

Having fought various vermin (ok, mostly the aforementioned pantry moths) before, I would probably stick all the pasta in a sealed hard container (glass or plastic), or maybe freeze it. I wouldn't worry about the sauce, although I might not eat it for a while because I have a wimpy stomach and an overactive imagination.
posted by nat at 9:50 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: fwiw, it's utterly unlikely that this critter was in the pasta, unless it dropped into the open pot, blown into the window by the wind, or something.
They typically come - solitarily, mind - together with certain types of vegetables, preferably green ones (such as broccoli, cabbages, green beans...). It's totally the risk we take eating organic food, you see: no poison.
Toss the worm, take a fresh-air walk, enjoy the meal, is my recommendation. If you're in a pointy-outy mood, you could drop the "small company that specializes in organic pasta sauces" a note and they might apologize and send you a free something.
posted by Namlit at 1:04 AM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: Since everyone else has handled the important points... the "clawlike" things near its head are its true legs. Caterpillars and beetle larvae, like moths, butterflies, and all other insects, have six legs. The young often have pseudopods that resemble (and are used like) legs, but are really just padded projections with muscles, but no true leglike-articulated structures.

And I really doubt the worm survived any part of the cooking process (neither in your pasta pot nor the canning process), so it likely joined the food as a self-made garnish afterwards. FWIW.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:43 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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