Best practices for eating organic, minus the bugs
June 5, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I get organic produce from either a local Whole Foods or farmer's market, and some items (especially lettuces) come with a fair share of bugs. I totally prefer this to ingesting a bunch of pesticides, but I would like to minimize my bug contact/ingestion as much as possible. Specific questions within.

1. Are there any dealbreaker bugs that would make you throw the item out? I've seen a few types of aphids and beetles and they don't generally worry me, but sometimes I'll see something weird I don't recognize.

2. Is it preferable for the bugs to be alive or dead? Do live bugs mean it's fresher?

3. I eat tons of salad, and lettuce is by far the biggest headache because it has so many crannies bugs & dirt can hide in. What's a good plan of attack for prepping it? If I tear it up and triple wash it with a salad spinner, can I safely assume it's more or less bug free at that point?

4. If the item has live bugs on it, do I have to wash it before putting it in the fridge? Will bugs breed on my food or wind up infesting my fridge?

5. If the produce has a lot of bugs on it, do you just throw it out? Is there a point at which it's best to just not eat that item?

6. An exterminator once told me a lot of people bring cockroaches into their home on organic produce. Is this true and is there a good way to prevent it?
posted by annekate to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wash it, spin it and it's good enough for me. I don't really worry about the bugs. I've never had any produce that was so infected as to make me throw it away. And If I bring home lettuce, put it in the fridge--I'd be amazed that any bug could escape long enough to infect the rest of my kitchen.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:45 PM on June 5, 2013


3. ... If I tear it up and triple wash it with a salad spinner, can I safely assume it's more or less bug free at that point?

Usually just a once through with a good salad spinner does the trick, even with pretty muddy stuff. We usually do this right after purchase, and then seal it into zip top bags for use throughout the week...the longer we wait, the more of a pain it seems to be.

Also, if you're getting just tons of bugs on certain items, a double check for bugs before purchase might be in order.

6. An exterminator once told me a lot of people bring cockroaches into their home on organic produce. Is this true and is there a good way to prevent it?

I worked in a specialty market for years in college, and never once ran across a cockroach, neither at the store, nor at home. This possibly sounds like a scare tactic an exterminator told you to sell you some extermination services.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:46 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I generally soak my lettuce in cold water for several minutes before spinning it dry. That does a pretty great job of loosening any insects, and won't require multiple washes.
posted by padraigin at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


An exterminator once told me a lot of people bring cockroaches into their home on organic produce. Is this true and is there a good way to prevent it?

I agree that this sounds like a totally bullshit lie made up by this exterminator to make you want to pay for their services.
posted by elizardbits at 12:54 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


The only dealbreaker bugs for me are associated with decay--by the time a head of lettuce gets maggoty, no human would eat it. The only exception is grain moths, just because they breed fast and if I see one it's guaranteed that the whole container of rice or pasta is crawling. *shudder*

I worked in a kosher kitchen where they were even more careful than usual about removing bugs because of the way Jewish dietary laws work. I was instructed to soak lettuce and broccoli (usually the worst ones) in a large volume of lightly-salted water. Dead bugs and dirt were loosened, live bugs either died or escaped, and after a quick rinse in fresh water, the veggies were very clean. I still do this when I have the time to do a whole batch of lettuce at once. It's not difficult, though it's kind of water-wasteful.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:57 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


How are you currently washing your salad greens?

The method I learned from a chef was, as described here, to fill the sink or a large basin with water and swish around the greens in the water, then let rest for a couple of minutes so that grit and other stuff can settle. I've found this to be a much more thorough way of washing vegetables than washing under running water. In my experience bugs end up in the water, not on, say, a lettuce leaf.

On preview, what tchemgrrl described, but without the salt.
posted by needled at 12:58 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. No. There are so many different bugs out there, you can't reasonably be expected to know them all by sight.

2. Doesn't matter. Since you don't know why said bug perished, you don't know if it has any bearing on freshness.

3. Soak it. Briefly agitate, leave for a few minutes for debris to settle, gently lift out of the water, spin and bag.

4. Unless it is teeming with bugs, I would not worry about this.

5. Unless the produce is mostly eaten or slimy, I just wash thoroughly and consume.

6. That's a bunch of hooey.
posted by Specklet at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally prefer this to ingesting a bunch of pesticides, but I would like to minimize my bug contact/ingestion as much as possible.

Keep in mind that organic foods can still contain pesticides you'll ingest—they just have to be organic pesticides.

3. I prefer cleaning my lettuce in my clear salad spinner bowl. It is cleaner than my sink and I can easily see if any dirt/silt/bugs have come out of the most recent wash. If there is any, I do it again. Then I spin dry.
posted by grouse at 1:17 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No specific advice here, but, insects being a huge no-no for kosher eating, you may find Orthodox Jewish procedures for debugging vegetables interesting.
posted by ostro at 1:22 PM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


We get tons of lettuce from our CSA, and it's only minimally washed. Sometimes there are even (gasp!) living slugs on it.

When it comes in the house, I dump it in a sink full of cold water. Sometimes I add a little salt to the water to help with the slugs, and I swish it around. Then I run it through the salad spinner, put in a ziplock, and voila! It's like prewashed, prebagged lettuce!
posted by linettasky at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


6. I had a salad that was not adverised as organic at a nice restaurant once, and five minutes into eating it, a full-sized cockroach crawled out.
posted by aniola at 1:52 PM on June 5, 2013


Lightly salted water does make a big difference or getting bugs to let go of tricky stuff like broccoli or curly kale. If I have a big bunch of stuff to wash, I do it right in the sink, because it's hard to swish things around in the salad spinner.
posted by mskyle at 2:15 PM on June 5, 2013


Honestly, I would suggest not looking for resources from Orthodox Jewish people because the level of crazy is, well, crazy. I grew up in that community and now that I've left and no longer have any reason to believe that eating even a single dead bug unknowingly will put a blemish on my soul, I wash/soak in salted or vinegared water but also try not to look too carefully or think about it too much. All in all I think eating more fresh vegetables is better than obsessing about bugs/pesticides, which will lead to eating less fresh veggetables.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2013


You could use this tool, which is a light-box that's specifically designed for checking produce for bugs (for the Orthodox market).
posted by charmcityblues at 3:38 PM on June 5, 2013


I've worked on several organic farms, my husband's worked as the produce coordinator for an organic veg box subscription business, and we eat lots of organic and grow a little of our own (in pots in the city).

1. Nah. All the bugs I can thank of that I've seen in produce are edible.
2. Live or Dead doesn't really indicate anything... maybe the cool room they were in was super cold and killed them, or maybe they just hatched, or maybe it's been hot/cold/rainy... who knows.
3. Yup, sounds clean to me! If you're worried, let it float around in cold water while you prep dinner...I use the sink, so there's room for stuff to float around. Dirt sinks to the bottom, bugs and leaves and things will float to the top.
4. It is unlikely that any of the bugs commonly found on produce will like being cold. I have never heard of this happening, even on farms with walk-in cool rooms full of unwashed veg.
5. Personally, it would have to really be teaming with bugs, at which point it likely has other issues too - like being slimy.
6. That's bullsh*t. I've never seen a cockroach on a farm. I'd never seen a cockroach AT ALL until I moved to a major urban city with a sub-tropical semi-humid climate....

Also bear in mind that there are plenty of bug in non-organic foods too. Maybe not on produce, but in processed foods they just get... processed in. My grandmother had a cousin who worked at a ketchup factory, and if I think about it *at all* I can't eat ketchup. Hello, Hornworms! (Ew.)
posted by jrobin276 at 7:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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