By: Natasha Longo | Prevent Disease –
Insects are a staple food in many diets around the world, however Iron Cross Blister Beetles are usually not on the menu. Food Inspection Agencies in Canada and the United States are on alert after the toxic beetles have been turning up in organic salads and packages of leafy greens.
There are several reasons to grow your own organic food, and pest control is often one of them. Although rare, fresh produce can harbour insects that may be injurious to consumers. The Iron Cross Blister beetle is very distinctively coloured, with a bright red head and bright yellow markings on the wings, separated by a black “cross”. If found in any produce, this particular beetle should be treated with caution as it may release an irritating chemical called “cantharidin”, a chemical which may cause blisters at the point of contact.
Farrah Hodgson said her husband began feeling sick after eating from a bag of organic baby spinach. Hodgson believes her husband’s stomach pains were caused by the poisonous beetle she later discovered in the bag of greens she purchased from a Sobey’s grocery store.
In Toronto, Erin Cameron was preparing lunch when her appetite was spoiled by the sight of a bright yellow and red beetle in her mixed greens.
“I took a scoop, just with my hands, of the lettuce, and put it into my bowl,” she told CBC. “Right away I noticed there was a giant bug inside… and I kind of freaked out.”
Another CBC story appeared out of the province of Saskatchewan, featuring another woman who found the same type of beetle in her salad: this one from Earthbound Organics. The company told the CBC in a statement that it had never encountered the Iron Cross blister beetle in its farms before, and that it would stop using greens from that particular supplier and investigate the situation.
An entomologist in the U.S. confirms the insect was a blister beetle, common in Arizona and California. While the beetle likely wouldn’t be fatal if eaten, it would cause significant discomfort.
Earthbound Farms said they’ve never encountered the insect on their farms before, however one of the original four salad beetle reports was about an Earthbound Organics product. A similar beetle was found in one 2 weeks ago. The company responded by sending a form letter about the beneficial insects used in organic farming. The blister beetle, you may have guessed, is not supposed to be one of them.
A woman who lives in Texas encountered one of the critters in a restaurant. Although the beetles are native to Texas, they’re not supposed to live in restaurants. She didn’t get a picture, but described the scene as shocking.
Reminder: if you find a large black, yellow, and red beetle in your food, contact the Food and Drug Adminstration in the United States or Canadian Food Inspecition Agency in Canada and let them know. Also contact the packager of the product as well as the retailer if those are separate companies.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany. She writes for Prevent Disease, where this article first appeared.