Frogs, lizards and snakes found in bagged salads is a growing trend in the US

Frogs, lizards and snakes found in bagged salads is a growing trend in the US

People have found frogs and snakes in pre-bagged lettuce, and the phenomenon may be getting more common.

If you are a salad lover who enjoys the ease of ripping open a bag of spinach, kale, or salad mix you may want to take more time in the preparation and wash each piece to make sure that you are not eating a frog, lizard, bat or snake, often times alive. Or better yet, buy a head of lettuce and prepare your salad the old fashioned way.

There is no formalized method of compiling data on people finding live animals in their salads, so researchers turned to the Internet reviewing media from national news in Google and Bing searches. In fact, a quick Google search of “frog in salad” reveals dozens of accounts of consumers finding amphibians – both alive and dead – in their prepackaged salad.

The most common critter discovered by surprised shoppers was frogs, followed by snakes and lizards. Mice, occasional birds, and even a bat were also found amongst the foliage. Ten of the animals were found alive.

Over the years, dozens of accounts of wild animals found in consumer-grade leafy green prepackaged salads have been reported. Now, a new review suggests that finding amphibians, reptiles, and even bats and birds may be a growing trend in the US.

A July study in Science of the Total Environment has found that 40 people in the U.S. have discovered “extemporaneous wildlife” — including frogs, lizards, snakes, and mice — in their pre-bagged produce since 2003. The vast majority of instances oc cured in the past decade, leading researchers to think the problem has become more common.

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Amphibians were identified in more than half of all cases, with frogs and toads making up all amphibian-related incidents and more than 60 percent being small-bodied treefrogs. At least seven incidents involved Pacific Treefrogs (Hyliola regilla) and three comprised Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis). Reptiles were found in 22.5 percent of cases, mammals in 17.5 percent, and birds in 7.5 percent. Of those, one lizard and nine frogs were found alive and at least two frogs were released into non-native areas, presenting potential problems for local biodiversity. Almost three times more incidents involved conventional produce compared to organic.

Twenty-three incidents, more than half the total studied, were reported in the past five years, a rate of more than four per year. While the researchers’ conclusion was that the incidents have become more common, it’s also possible they’ve become easier to publicize via the interet.

Since 2003, reports of wildlife in produce were found in 20 states, including Oregon, Utah, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. Texas, Florida, California, and New York had the highest concentration of incidents. The upper Midwest was also a common region for finding critters, with reports cataloged in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.

Prepackaged salad products have been growing since the 1980s and are now common in nearly every grocery store across the country with much of the production turning to automation in order to meet consumer demands. Furthermore, agricultural expansion converts once natural lands that may still be home to wildlife like those found in salad bags.

“One might expect food-safety professionals to mount a serious response when these incidents occur given the genuine threat that wild animals can pose to human health through contaminated produce,” wrote the authors in Science of the Total Environment. “However, incidents of extemporaneous wildlife found in prepackaged produce rarely receive such attention, perhaps because of the relatively low rates of pathogenic infections detected in certain animal groups.”

Of course, the authors note that online accounts and reporting may be biased and there is not yet a standardized way of tracking such occurrences independently and objectively. That is why they say a formal documentation process of such incidents is needed in order to track occurrence and potential health and safety risks.

More research is needed, however, to understand the patterns behind the incidents and what can be done to prevent them. The ultimate goal, researchers wrote, would be to establish more sustainable farming practices that can keep wildlife away via non-lethal means.

Meantime, continue eating produce: The health benefits outweigh the still-small risk of finding a critter on your plate, or even the risk of getting something like E. coli from non-critter-related contamination. Just be sure to shop wisely and prepare it appropriately.

For instance, only buy prepacked products that are refrigerated or on ice, and don’t look damage or bruised, recommends FoodSafety.gov, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Refrigerate it right away and keep it separate from raw meat.

Take the time to wash your bagged lettuce and if you are as freaked out as I am at the prospect of eating a frog, wash each piece carefully and examine it before putting it in your bowl and mixing it into a salad.

Photos: Google images


 

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