Bug-Free Lettuce: Not Necessarily Bug-Free

Kosher consumers don’t just worry about mixing meat and milk, or avoiding meat that hasn’t been slaughtered according to Jewish law. The Torah also forbids eating insects. Israel, with its warm climate and location at the crossroads of three continents, has a large variety and I have found them in almost every food at one time or another.

Grains and leafy vegetables, most likely to attract bugs, are often not eaten at all. Romaine lettuce, served as a bitter herb at the Passover seder, has tiny green insects that cling to its leaves.

Around twenty years ago, farmers in Gush Katif, the region of Jewish settlement in Gaza, developed techniques to grown produce with a minimum of insects. Before marketing, a sample would be taken and checked. If ten percent was found to be insect-free, the produce could be labelled as such.

Since Gaza was transferred to the Palestinian Authority in 2006 a large number of companies have continued the bug-free industry. Many rabbinates require restaurants only to use certified bug-free produce.

In honor of Passover, the rabbinate sent 22 brands of “bug-free” lettuce and celery to a laboratory to check for insects. Unfortunately they did not publish the laboratory results, only this recommendation:

  • 4 types “should be soaked in soapy water as directed on the package”
  • 11 types “must be soaked in soapy water”
  • 7 types “must be soaked in soapy water and checked leaf by leaf”

Insect-free produce is often of lower quality, and always more expensive, than regular. Clearly there is no point in buying “bug-free” produce that needs to be checked.

A few months ago, a group of rabbis declared some of the bug-free produce “non-kosher” because of the amount of pesticides. According to a letter accompanying the PDF file, the rabbinate is awaiting results on the pesticide levels of the produce.  But to be fair, the pesticide levels would need to be compared to those in uncertifed produce.

Link to Srugim’s Hebrew article on bug-free produce

Related:

Unofficial Guide to Israeli Vermin

A Trip to the Shmitah Store

Navigating an Israeli Supermarket

Insects Keep Falling on My Head (on Sukkot, that is)

Check out the 2016 fashions at Hydrochic modest swimwear.

Comments

  1. Clearly there is no point in buying produce that needs to be checked.

    I think you mean that there is no point in paying extra for “bug-free” produce that still needs to be checked.

  2. Shoshana says:

    We have not bought the official bug free produce in many many many years – mainly because we seem to find far more bugs in it, actually, than the other stuff we could buy. It qualified simnply as ‘5 star’ bug housing.

    One or two people we know would not eat our salad as a result but i’m not going to argue the point. I’m much happier with my cheap veggie store bugs…. and thankfully so are our 15 or guests for leil haseder! Just the money saved on that can go far.

    shoshana

  3. Thanks, Tesyaa, corrected. The first version of this post disappeared into cyberspace after I hit “publish.”

  4. the four versions that they say “should be soaked in soapy water as directed on the package”
    I understood the Hebrew as – it’s better if you do, but it’s not a necessity, which means that one can actually accept those as bug-free, which actually has some value.

  5. You’re right that the Hebrew could be translated slightly weaker than “should.” That’s why I contrasted it with “must.” I don’t think the difference is so great. My point being that even the “good ” produce needs care.

  6. Some bugs are kosher, like crickets and locusts. Maybe we should just eat those and forget lettuce altogether.

  7. interesting post! i know this isn’t *really* what you’re discussing, but it reminded me of watching american movies with israelis and reading the subtitles while hearing the english– it’s really, really hard to get the translations/ gist of the meaning just right, isn’t it? not the point, i know but interesting nonetheless! on topic: i’m impressed with your conscientiousness at checking the checked; important, indeed! 🙂

  8. Raises a different question for me. If the fresh produce has bug problems then how well are the veggies that are frozen checked. A lot of people here who will only use bodek frozen spinach, broccoli and cauliflower because they are presumably well checked and bug free.

  9. It is certainly possible to check vegetables and miss insects that are there. So even if two products both require checking, if one product has a lower level of bugs than the other, it might be a good idea to buy it.

  10. Ms. Krieger says:

    I absolutely understand the prohibition against eating insects. But do people really avoid fresh vegetables for this reason? I hope not! For health reasons, at the very least. Most greens need to be washed carefully anyway to get the grit off. If you do your best to remove all the insects you can possibly see, haven’t you been absolved of breaking kashruth if you accidentally miss a bug? All of us supposedly inhale insects on a regular basis anyway, whether we try to avoid it or not.

  11. Hasya Ya'ara says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words that you left me on my blog. They are very much appreciated.

    Also, my Partner in Torah and I have recently been discussing searching for insects in vegetables. I have been considering buying one of those special lamps to search for them.

    Hasya Ya’ara

  12. “Clearly there is no point in buying “bug-free” produce that needs to be checked.”

    but only 7 types have to be checked. the rest merely have to be soaked, without any indication of a need to check. (i’ve never understood the need to soak but not check. is there an assumption that in these brands soaking will certainly get rid of any bugs?)

    • LOZ: True. On the other hand, what about those hechsherim?

    • The “soaking-only” category means there are some bugs which testing found a rinse won’t remove them enough (statistically) but soaking and then rinsing will. There are different types of bugs in the lettuce – my guess is the soak-only bugs are thrips, the check-it bugs are worms.

      Anyone have an estimate for how many people are served maror & korech by a bag of the sand-grown stuff?

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