Safety Measures When Finding Insects, Spiders, or Scorpions in Fresh Produce
Although it is uncommon, fresh produce may harbor insects, spiders or other living things that may pose a threat to consumers. For instance, on rare occasion, consumers have unknowingly carried black widow spiders into their kitchens in bunches of imported grapes. Scorpions have been known to hide in bunches of bananas or imported berries. There have also been isolated incidents of iron cross blister beetles found in imported leafy green vegetables.
When buying produce, the following precautions should be taken:
- Visually inspect all fresh produce, including pre-packaged salads.
- If an insect, spider or scorpion can be seen inside a bag of prepackaged produce, do not open the bag. Place the entire bag in the freezer to incapacitate the pest.
- Contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or if in Quebec, the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) – (French only) for further instructions.
Black Widow Spiders in Grapes
Black widow spiders are distinctive due to their shiny, round body, brown or black color and two reddish or yellowish triangles on the abdomen. The legs are long and slender. The black widow spider will bite in self-defence, if physically disturbed. The spider's venom is poisonous and should be treated properly and promptly. Children and adults who are not in good physical health should take particular care. They should not interact with these spiders and take extra precautions to avoid being bitten.
There is an increased frequency of finding black widow spiders in imported table grapes, especially for those imported from California during the fall harvesting season. Spiders have always been in and around grape vineyards. They eat insect pests that are found on grapes. The presence of spiders does not damage or poison the grapes. When grapes are harvested, every bunch is carefully examined and placed into a package. Some spiders may camouflage with the grape vines and escape the attention of the farm worker. Grapes are also chilled prior to being transported. The chilling causes spiders to become dormant and immobile, making their way to retailers and consumers' homes.
Common name: Black Widow Spider.
Scientific name: Latrodectus mactans.
Characteristics: Black shiny body, about 6 mm long with a red hourglass shaped mark on the underside of the abdomen.
Facts: Most spiders are not aggressive unless disturbed. All species of Black Widow are venomous.
Habitat: Most warm regions of eastern and central U.S., North American deserts and southern Canada.
Food: Prey on other insects.
Iron Cross Blister Beetle in Leafy Vegetables
The iron cross blister beetle is distinctive due to its colouring. The bright red head and bright yellow markings on the wings are, in some species, separated by a black "cross". Blister beetles may release an irritating chemical called "cantharidin" in self-defence, if threatened or crushed during food handling. When released, cantharidin causes burning blisters at the point of contact with the body surface. If handling of the bug cannot be avoided, gloves should be worn.
CFIA has received isolated reports of single iron cross blister beetles found in imported leafy vegetables (e.g. pre-packaged salad mixes) from the Southern United States. Insects are common at produce farms and most are removed when vegetables are examined during harvesting and processing (e.g. sorting and washing). Insects on leafy greens may become inactive during refrigerated storage and become active once brought to room temperature by retailers and consumers.
Common name: Blister Beetle/
Scientific name: Tegrodera aloga.
Characteristics: The adult beetle is approximately 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) long. Its head and thorax are a bright red/orange colour and its abdomen is yellow and black.
Toxic effect: Typically, blister beetles would release cantharidin in response to a stressor, for example, during attack by a predator. Cantharidin is a known vesicant (blister causing agent) and toxin.
Habitat: Most warm regions of eastern and central U.S., and North American deserts.
Food: Blister beetles eat the leaves and flowers of many types of domestic plants, including lettuce, beet greens and alfalfa.
Scorpions in Bananas and Berries
There are nearly 2,000 species of scorpion in the world with a wide variation in size and other physical qualities. However, there are several defining characteristics shared by all scorpions; two pairs of legs, a pair of strong pincers, segmented body and a long, segmented tail. Normally, the last segment at the tip of a scorpion's tail is the largest and delivers a strong sting. In most species, the tail is thick and long, often curling up over the body of the scorpion. In a small number of species however, the tail is so thin or short that it is barely visible.
All known species of scorpion are venomous, however, the type of venom and degree of toxicity varies from species to species. Typically, a scorpion sting can cause local pain, redness, tingling or numbness, burning and swelling. For these symptoms, wash the area with soap and water, then apply a cold compress to reduce pain and swelling.
In the rare event of a potentially fatal sting seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms can include dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty focussing eyes and swallowing, the feeling that the tongue is swollen, drooling, random eye movements and muscle twitching.
Common name: Scorpion.
Scientific name: Scorpiones.
Characteristics: Two pairs of legs, a pair of strong pincers, a segmented body and (typically) a long, segmented tail.
Facts: All species are venomous, but few have venom that is lethal to people.
Habitat: Every continent but Antarctica.
Food: Prey on other insects, spiders, other scorpions and small animals such as mice or lizards.
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