Debugging Your Home

by | in Kashrut

Over the past year, bug infestation in produce has gained considerable attention in the kosher world. The purpose of this article is to separate fact from myth, and to provide some practical pointers on how to check commonly used vegetables.

Myth:Insect infestation in vegetables is only a problem in third world countries, not in the United States.
Fact: Especially with today’s global economy, bug infestation is a problem the world over. However, in the US, unlike in other countries, flour, rice and most fruits are not generally infested.
Myth:Farmers and companies are wary of insects and take precautionary measures to ensure that their inventories are bug-free.
Fact:The FDA is far more lenient than halachah when it comes to insect infestation in produce. For example, the US government allows averages of up to 60 insects per 100 grams in frozen broccoli, and up to 50 insects per 100 grams of frozen spinach (see Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act 402 [a][3]).
Myth: Farmers use pesticides that rid the produce of insects.
Fact: The most powerful and effective pesticides are currently illegal because they were found to pose health risks to people. Moreover, insects have developed immunity over time to certain pesticides. Finally, it is important to understand that pesticides do not eliminate infestation, they reduce it. Very often infestation levels will be reduced to a level that conforms to government guidelines, but not to halachic standards.
Myth: If the package says “triple-washed,” it must be bug-free.
Fact: The effectiveness of the washing depends upon the severity of the infestation level. Similar to washing a filthy garment in a washing machine, it may take a few cycles to completely rid a vegetable of insects. Some insects cling to surfaces of leafy vegetables and are extremely difficult to remove. If the infestation level is high before washing, even “triple-washing” may not suffice. Moreover, vegetables with crevices are especially difficult to clean because insects can find places in which to hide and sometimes get trapped. For example, when insects become trapped in broccoli florets it is nearly impossible to clean the vegetable sufficiently.
Myth: Frozen vegetables are not subject to insect infestation since freezing destroys the insects.
Fact: Research and experience have proven otherwise. The freezing process simply preserves the insects found in the vegetable.

Eat Your Spinach!
Halachah states that vegetables that are found to consistently contain insects require checking prior to use. “Consistently” is usually assumed to be a 10 percent probability or higher. The general rule of thumb is that if it is not unexpected to find an insect in a certain type of food, it must be checked beforehand.

To properly check for bugs one must have a sensitivity to detail. Insects can hide in hard-to-see places and can be very small. Nevertheless, consuming a miniscule insect would not be considered an averiah unless the creature is identifiable to the naked eye.

Crude microscopes date back to the mid-fifteenth century. By 1674 the powerful microscopes of Anton van Leeuwenhoek were able to detect smaller creatures. However, the Torah was given to us many years before that. Chazal, in their great wisdom, have declared: “Lo nitna Torah lemelachei hashareit, The Torah was not given to angels” (Berachot 25b). The position of most halachic authorities is that one should not have to resort to using extraordinary measures in order to see the bug.

Numerous acceptable methods for checking bugs have proven to be effective. The particular method to use largely depends upon the vegetable in question since insects can hide in various places. In some cases, a good washing is sufficient. The chart below, reprinted from the OU Guide to Checking Fruits & Vegetables, summarizes methods of inspection for a variety of berries and vegetables.

Bagged Salads
Spinach, Boston lettuce, romaine lettuce and mesclun mix are frequently subject to infestation. Without an acceptable kosher certification they must be checked in their entirety. Infestation levels will vary depending upon geographic location, specific field and season. Therefore, it is difficult to make generalizations about the acceptability of pre-washed bagged salads that are without a reliable kosher certification. Bagged leafy vegetables that are not as frequently infested as romaine lettuce (such as cabbage) should be spot-checked in one’s own home before use.

Dining Out
When dining out, it is always prudent to check that the establishment’s kosher supervising agency has strict policies for checking vegetables and berries. Unfortunately, not all agencies are as vigilant in this area as they should be. The Orthodox Union ensures that there is an on-site mashgiach at every OU-certified restaurant and institution who is responsible for checking vegetables as needed. Other agencies that are strict in this regard may not require an on-site mashgiach but will check insect-prone vegetables at the beginning of the day, or rely on a Jewish owner who is observant. Before frequenting an establishment, one should check the standards of the supervising agency and consult with one’s rabbi.

Copies of the OU Guide to Checking Fruits & Vegetables are available through the OU Kashrut Division, and can also be accessed at the OU web site at www.oukosher.org.

Type of insect: Aphids are the size of a pin head; they are light green, round insects. Thrips are the size of the “1” in a dollar bill serial number; they are linear, black or grayish insects.

Method of inspection: When checking leafy vegetables or herbs on a light box, both sides of each leaf must be checked.

FRESH VEGETABLES

ARTICHOKE

Type of insect: Aphids and thrips

Location of insect: Deep between the leaves

Method of Inspection: Artichoke: Examine one by one.
Heart of the artichoke: Spread apart the artichoke leaves; carefully examine around and between the leaves. If there is no sign of insect infestation, wash thoroughly. Due to the difficulty involved in checking them, artichoke hearts are not served in OU-certified restaurants.
Solid artichoke bottom: No inspection necessary. Rinse prior to use.

ASPARAGUS

Type of insect: Thrips

Location of insect: Under triangle parts, along the stem and in the tips

Method of Inspection: Green asparagus: Shave down the tips; remove the triangle tips; remove the triangle parts along the stem and in the tips.
White asparagus: Wash thoroughly before using.

BEANS

Type of insect: Worms, when stored for prolonged periods of time or improperly

Location of insect: Can be in the middle of the bean

Method of Inspection: Soak for approximately half an hour; remove wormy beans that float to the top of the water.

BROCCOLI

Type of insect: Aphids, thrips or broccoli worms; may appear brownish after parboiling

Location of insect: Lodged in the floret head, or at the base area connecting the floret to the stem

Method of Inspection: Fresh broccoli stems: Wash thoroughly.
Fresh broccoli, whole: Parboil for one minute. Segregate each head; if a section of a broccoli head shows infestation, the entire head must be discarded. Look carefully at the branched area of each floret in the crevice formed by two branches forking out from a single trunk shaped like a Y; spread apart each floret head and look through the florets into the branch area. If one or two insects are found, examine the remaining section of the head; if three insects are found, the entire head should be discarded.

CABBAGE

Type of insect: Thrips or cabbageworms

Location of insect: Most often in the six outermost leaves

Method of Inspection: Green cabbage: Detach loose leaves; discard. Core and split the cabbage in half. Peel three layers from each half; check both sides of these six leaves under direct light. If no insects are found, they and the remaining leaves of the head may be used without further checking. It is recommended that the remaining leaves be washed before use. If three or more insects are found, the remaining leaves must be washed and checked.
Red cabbage: Detach loose leaves; discard. Core and split the cabbage in half. Wash both sides of each leaf; wash in a colander if shredded; no inspection necessary.

CAULIFLOWER

Type of insect: Thrips or small orange insects

Location of insect: Inside or between small, thin white branches

Method of Inspection: Separate and remove florets from stem. Examine cauliflower, paying careful attention to the underpart of the floret; wash thoroughly before using.

CELERY

Type of insect: Thrips, flies or worms

Location of insect: On the inside and outside of the stalk, especially close to the base or on the leaves

Method of Inspection: Remove all leaves. Hold celery firmly under heavy stream of water; brush down both the inside and the outside of each stalk with your finger or a vegetable brush. If a worm burrow is spotted, slit the celery stalk open, remove the worm, and wash thoroughly. Leaves must be washed with soapy solution.

ENDIVES

Type of insect: Thrips

Location of insect: On leaves

Method of Inspection: Remove leaves and wash; no visual inspection needed.

HERBS

Type of insect: Aphids or thrips

Location of insect: On the surface of the leaves or stem

Method of Inspection: Soak in cold water; add several drops of concentrated, non-scented liquid detergent or vegetable wash. Agitate leaves in water to wash surfaces; use a heavy stream of water to remove all foreign matter and soap from the surface of the herbs. Check each leaf on both sides under a direct light. If one or two insects are found, rewash the herbs.

ICEBERG LETTUCE

Type of insect: Aphids or thrips

Location of insect: In the folds and crevices of the first four layers

Method of Inspection: Detach loose leaves; discard. Core lettuce; split head in half. Peel four layers off the head, and check both sides of each leaf under a direct light. If no insects are found, the head may be used without further checking. It is recommended that the remaining leaves be washed before use; if three or more insects are found, the remaining leaves must be washed before they are used.

OPEN LEAF LETTUCE (e.g., GREEN/RED LEAF, BOSTON, CHICORY, BOK CHOY, ROMAINE, et cetera)

Type of insect: Aphids or thrips

Location of insect: Found even in the inner leaves due to its open growth

Method of Inspection: Cut off lettuce base; soak lettuce in cold water with several drops of concentrated, non-scented liquid detergent or vegetable wash. Agitate leaves using a heavy stream of water to remove all foreign matter and soap from the surface, or use a vegetable brush on both sides of the leaf. Check each leaf on both sides under a direct light.

MUSHROOMS

Type of insect: Small white or red worms

Location of insect: Imbedded in underpart or inner sections of the mushroom

Method of Inspection: Shitake and Button: Wash thoroughly.
Oyster: Break apart in several places, especially the base; examine inner sections. If insects are found, discard mushroom.
Portobello: Remove stem; examine detached cap. Remove entire brown fanlike underpart. Wash thoroughly.

SCALLIONS

Type of insect: Light green or brown thrips, or leaf miners

Location of insect: Mostly in the upper area of the bulb, also between branches and occasionally found on the outside and inside of the shoots

Method of Inspection: Cut scallion root from top to bottom of bulb. Examine three-scallion bunches between thin layers where they merge from the bulb. If no insects are found, the remaining scallions may be consumed after thorough washing. If insects are found, the entire head must be checked carefully.

SPINACH & ARUGULA

Type of insect: Thrips, worms or leaf miners

Location of insect: In curls and inside the leaf

Method of Inspection: Soak in cold water; add several drops of concentrated non-scented detergent or vegetable wash. Agitate leaves in water to wash surfaces; use a heavy stream of water to remove all foreign matter and soap from surface of the leaf. Check each leaf on both sides under a direct light.

FROZEN VEGETABLES

BROCCOLI (SPEARS OR FLORETS ONLY)

Type of insect: Aphids, thrips or worms

Location of insect: Lodged in the floret head, or at the base of the area connecting the floret to the stem

Method of Inspection: Allow to thaw completely. Look carefully at branched area of each floret, in the crevice formed by two branches forking out from a single trunk shaped like a Y. Inspect inside the floret from the top into the branch area. If one or two insects are found, examine the remaining sections of that package; if three insects are found, the entire package should be discarded. Frozen broccoli is difficult to check; it is therefore best to avoid uncertified products.

CAULIFLOWER

Type of insect: Thrips

Location of insect: See “Fresh Vegetables”

Method of Inspection: Same as fresh.

ASPARAGUS

Type of insect: Thrips

Location of insect: See “Fresh Vegetables”

Method of Inspection: Not recommended.

CANNED VEGETABLES

ARTICHOKE HEARTS

Type of insect: Aphids or thrips

Location of insect: Deep between the leaves

Method of Inspection: Avoid completely.

ASPARAGUS

Type of insect: Thrips

Location of insect: See “Fresh Vegetables”

Method of Inspection: Avoid completely.

FRESH BERRIES

BLACKBERRY

Type of insect: Thrips or mites

Location of insect: On the surface of the berry, nestled in crevices

Method of Inspection: Drop a pint of berries onto a white cloth or light box, then inspect one by one. If two or more insects are found, this pint of berries may not be used.

BLUEBERRY

Type of insect: Generally insect-free

Method of Inspection: Cultivated: Place in a strainer or colander, and wash thoroughly under running water.
Wild: Carefully examine on white cloth after washing.

RASPBERRY

Type of insect: Thrips or mites

Location of insect: On the surface of the berry and in the open cavity

Method of Inspection: Gently drop raspberries onto a white cloth or light box to dislodge the insects. If two or more insects are found, the pint of berries may not be used.

STRAWBERRY

Type of insect: Aphids, thrips or mites

Location of insect: Under the green leaf or on the surface of the berry

Method of Inspection: Green tops must be removed. Alternatively, strawberries
may be brushed between the leaf and the berry. Soak in soapy solution, then rinse or rub each berry individually under running water.

DRIED FRUIT

DATE

Type of insect: Worms

Location of insect: Inside of date

Method of Inspection: Take three dates from the container, slice lengthwise, and examine. No checking is necessary when using pitted dates.

DEHYDRATED HERBS

All dehydrated herbs may be used without checking.

Rabbi Bistricer is an Orthodox Union rabbinic coordinator servicing certified companies in the baking, vegetable, salad dressing and fish industries.

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