By Rabbi David Bistricer
OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator
“What’s Bugging You? Checking Vegetables for Insects”
Q: Are there any kashrut concerns with plain vegetables?
A: Yes. Different varieties of certain fresh or frozen vegetables could potentially contain insects, which are considered not kosher and prohibited. Vegetables that have this concern must be checked before they are prepared or consumed, to ensure that there aren’t any insects hiding in cracks, crevices, or grooves of the vegetable. Moreover, canned vegetables could potentially be cooked in equipment that also processes genuinely non-kosher products, such as pork and beans. Vegetables that are from Israel are also subject to additional requirements of mitzvos hateluyos be’aretz.
The prohibition of eating insects is very serious, as multiple Torah level transgressions are associated with consuming even a single insect.
Q: What types of vegetables need to be checked for insects? Which kinds do not require checking?
A: The vegetables that most commonly require checking are the green, leafy vegetables or herbs. This commonly includes, but is not limited to: asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuces (bibb, boston, iceberg, and romaine), and spinach. The herbs that are most often found to contain insects include, but are not limited to: basil, cilantro, dill and parsley. Berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries also must be checked beforehand.
Some examples of produce that are assumed not to require checking are fruits, such as apples or pears, or vegetables, such as potatoes and tomatoes. There are others; this isn’t an exhaustive list.
Q: What determines whether a fruit, vegetable, or berry requires checking?
A: This depends on the likelihood that the produce could contain insects. If there is a halachically significant chance that a particular type of fruit, vegetable, or berry may contain insects, it must be checked. However, if the probability is considered halachically insignificant, even if the theoretical possibility exists, checking is not required.
What is considered halachically significant or insignificant is a point of dispute. The underlying assumption is that in order to be considered significant, the occurrence must be consistent and expected. Rav Yaakov Karliner in Mishkenos Yaakov suggested that a chance of 10% or greater is considered significant. Other authorities take a more stringent approach and set the standard at an even lower rate of consistency.
Q: What about dry goods, such as beans, nuts, pasta, and rice? Is there an insect issue?
A: In the U.S., generally speaking no, assuming that they are stored properly. If kept under dry and clean storage conditions, there should be no problem. However, if someone is concerned, they should check for any visible signs of damage or lacking cleanliness, which could also be a sign for insects.
In certain parts of the world, dry goods routinely develop storage pests and require checking.
Q: Is it necessary to use a magnifying glass or light box to check vegetables for insects?
A: There are varying opinions amongst authorities whether it’s necessary to use magnification. Many respected halachic authorities, such as Rav Shlomo Kluger in Tuv Taam VeDaas, Rav Avraham Danzig in Chochmas Adom, and Rav Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe, write that magnification is not necessary. Nevertheless, there are authorities that disagree. That is the opinion of Rav Yaakov Emden and Chazon Ish.
A light box is intended to provide a good source of light to facilitate checking. It’s a useful tool that gives ample light, which is understandably important if you are looking for something. If a light box is not used, vegetable checking must be done carefully in a well-lit area.
Q: Can anyone check vegetables for bugs? How does one become qualified?
A: Yes, with enough experience. It’s important to become accustomed to know what you are looking for. This can be done through a neighbor, friend or relative who has experience. But some people are actually able to intuitively pick up this skill quite well on their own. It takes time and patience, though.
There are books and manuals available about vegetable checking that can serve as excellent guides and are very helpful. The OU published a guide entitled, “The OU Guide to Checking Fruits, Vegetables and Berries.” The book may be obtained on the OU Press website, www.ou.org/oupress/category/1676, or by contacting the OU Kosher Consumer Hotline at 212- 613-8241.