Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

I Just Love Finding Bugs in my Lettuce

May 10th, 2010 · 64 Comments · My Story

I’ll take bugs, please.  What’s on your produce?

When a friend of a friend moved to Colorado, my friend was telling me about the organic food situation there. People talk to me about food a lot. Go figure. :)

organic romaine lettuce It seems that the gal could only find organic produce in the stores; that was the norm in her new neck of the woods. She was complaining to my friend about finding bugs in her lettuce, which sent her over the edge. She wailed, “Give me pesticides any day! I don’t want bugs in my lettuce! I need a normal supermarket!”

I can’t say I love bugs. But I do think of that gal every time I find a little (teensy, tiny) bug in my organic lettuce. They’re actually in there quite often. My first reaction is “Ew! Bugs!” and my second, as I recall the Colorado girl’s reaction, is, “Give me bugs any day! I don’t want chemicals on my lettuce!” The bug makes me happy. I am thankful to see the evidence of a chemical free salad. The bug washes right off. I can see it go away. The pesticides…not so easy to see and dispose of.

In our culture, we’ve grown pretty used to perfect looking produce. Round, red tomatoes. Huge, firm strawberries. Shiny golden apples. We hardly know what a real patch of vegetables or farm looks like. We’re not used to imperfections in appearance. Unfortunately, we trade aesthetics for taste and nutrient value much of the time. And pesticides.

The over-fertilized supermarket fruit for which my friend’s friend so yearned is largely devoid of vitamins, minerals and juiciness. You can’t be juicy and travel across country to a supermarket near you, still looking like you just came out of the field.

We have to think about what we’re trading away for all those chemicals that will ensure (sort of) a bugless salad.

Bigger Bugs

I did have a “big fish story” experience lately that begs to be shared.  I ordered a big 5-lb. bag of Celtic sea salt along with a friend, not quite knowing what to expect other than that it would last me about 5 years.

My husband was reading the bag about the harvesting right from the sea and asked, “How do they make sure there’s not dirt in there?”  I assured him that there must be some way of cleaning the salt, maybe by filtering the water before or cleaning the salt afterward.

I couldn’t help but hear his voice in my head the next day as I poured the first bit of salt out into a glass jar.

I saw something much darker and larger than salt.  It turned out to be this:celtic sea salt bug Yes, that does have 6 legs.

Yes, it’s quite a beautiful shade of iridescence.

No, it doesn’t have a head. See?salt bug (3) Riddle:  What’s worse than a large bug in your bag of salt?

Answer: A large bug in your bag of salt missing its head! Because you have to ask: “Where’s the head?”

The Celtic Sea Salt company assured me this had never, ever happened before, and they promptly sent me a replacement bag.

I was left wondering, in my frugal, good steward manner, what do I do with 5 lbs. of, besides a little bug touching, perfectly good, expensive sea salt?

Here’s hoping my husband doesn’t choose this to be the first post he’s read in weeks…because I just might have used some of it, after careful inspection for anything dark-colored, in some soups this week.  Ahem.  Please don’t tell.

What would you do with a bug in your salt?

Let a bug make your day today. Buy a head of organic Romaine.

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64 Comments so far ↓

  • Krystal

    I find bugs in my organic store-bought lettuce CONSTANTLY! I grew some beautiful lettuce last year and brought a heaping bowl inside and earwigs started crawling out of it. These aren’t any tiny winged creatures, either. I blogged about it, actually:
    http://musingsfrommomschool.blogspot.com/2009/09/lettuce-have-salad.html

    I just washed the stuff, leaf by leaf, until I was sure there were no more bugs in it.

    As for the salt, totally use it. I bet most of our food is touched by bugs at some point. They’re everywhere. They don’t even gross me out anymore!
    .-= Krystal´s last blog ..A tip for those folks at Meijer =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Gaaahhhhhh! Earwigs are my least favorite creature EVER. I’m pretty sure they’re sent directly by Satan into strange places in my house. *shudder* ;) Katie

    Krystal Reply:

    Bugs just mean extra protein in your salad!! Just pretend they are salad sprinkles and enjoy!

    Courtney Reply:

    We had tons of earwigs the year I gardened. They like moist and dark, so they have a field day if you plant your produce too close together (or if your lettuce does super well and makes lots of shade). Apparently they eat some other more pesky bugs (in addition to some produce as well) so they are not all bad. But yes, super gross looking and too fast.

    Rebecca C Reply:

    a few years ago i bought a 2lb block of cheese shrink wrapped and sealed as typical cheese is. when i got it home i noticed there was a black bug sealed under the plastic against the cheese. if the bug had escaped before the plastic was sealed, i would never have known it was there, but it would have still been touching my cheese. bugs are everywhere. i would probably use the salt anyway.

  • Michelle (Health Food Lover)

    I too love finding bugs in my greens! I especially love finding lady bugs. And seen as you need to wash conventional produce, washing organic is just the same. It’s more reassuring knowing that little creatures want to eat the foods I want to eat! If they didn’t want it why should I eat it?!
    .-= Michelle (Health Food Lover)´s last blog ..New Giveaway Tomorrow!!! =-.

  • Jen @ BigBinder

    I found a slug on my kale last week and I seriously was convinced I hadn’t washed the slug slime off and could taste it. Of course I couldn’t, but my mind just couldn’t let it go. So I made kale chips to ‘cover up’ the slime taste with salt and olive oil.
    .-= Jen @ BigBinder´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Jen,
    Hilarious! It was great finally meeting you in person tonight! :) Katie

  • Tamara

    *comes out of lurkdom*

    HA! I remember the first time I went shopping for organic food, i bought some lettuce and got it home and found BIG HUGE crawling bug in there. I FREAKED! I think i threw away the whole head of lettuce! LOL! Of course, knowing what i know now, i woulda dropped the bug off to go on his merry way and thanked God that the bug thought the lettuce was just as yummy as I did, lol.

    Katie Reply:

    LOL Welcome, lurker Tamara. Good to “hear” your “voice”! Great story – Katie

  • Shannon

    I am loving my homegrown romaine this year. I just rinse each leaf and then run them through the salad spinner. Like you, I would much rather see bugs than unseen chemicals.

    And for the salt, I would use it, too. :)

  • Hilah

    Run it through a sifter and then make pickles! All kinds of amazing bug-free pickles.

  • Greta @ Mom Living Healthy

    Oh no, no head! That would bug me…excuse the pun. Hmmm, I have found bugs on non-organic lettuce too!
    .-= Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last blog ..Homemade Ice Cream: First Time! =-.

  • Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I’ll admit I don’t care for bugs on ANYTHING I eat, even though I know there are probably more bugs involved than I’d care to think about. This week, I plan to write about our pesticide use on our farm and our personal garden and I’m hoping my friend Annemarie will weigh in a bit regarding their pesticide usage, as they own and operate a small produce farm. She’s already told me a method to keep bugs out of apples, but don’t tell Beth… it involves plastic bags. :>) Can’t win for losing!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Link Roundup – I Thought It Was Spring Edition =-.

  • allison

    Brought in baby artichokes from my garden with a lovely green spider and a couple of earwigs – the chickens must have missed a few…

    We have all kinds of lovelies on our produce from my yard or from my CSA…it is almost refreshing.
    I don’t mind washing a few slugs out of my Kale or squishing off some aphids – just comes with the territory – doesn’t it?

    and bugs in the salt? I think i might just have picked the bug out and kept on using it…watching for that little head. But if i ate it? Who cares – i’m sure I’ve had some bugs in my life.
    .-= allison´s last blog ..Seabreeze Organic Farm =-.

  • Paula

    At least the bug in the salt would have been “preserved” and not alive! :)

    The bugs in the lettuce annoys me, but not enough annoyance to stop buying organic or growing it myself. Bugs are way better than slugs though. Those are just nasty and I have to soak the lettuce in vinegar/water to make sure no slug slime is left. My dh has a serious aversion to slugs LOL.
    .-= Paula´s last blog ..127/365 The Cheap Seats =-.

  • karen

    Does anyone remember the urban myth about Hershey chocolate? supposedly, there are six rat hairs in each bar–rats drown in the big vats of chocolate and the workers fish out the anything big enough to float. Soooo….I wouldn’t be worried about a little bug corpse.

    I once found a perfectly preserved bee floating in a jar of homemade jam. I just fished him out and didn’t tell anyone–I had made the jam and missed him the first time!!

  • Sarah W

    I couldn’t waste the salt either!

    Kathryn Reply:

    Or, if nothing else, you could use it for salt scrub. I use salt with baking soda to scrub my pots and pans, and also keep some in the shower for a body scrub.

  • Jassica

    I had this happen with the lettuce I grew in my garden last year. I’m with you, the bugs are annoying, but I’d rather have them than the pesticides. I’ve gotten some odd looks when I say that about our cherries though. What do you think? How would you feel about untreated cherries that have a small worm near the pit of most of them?
    Oh, and I would totally eat the salt. I have seen small black spots in my Celtic Sea Salt that, upon inspection, appear to be bits of plant matter. I still use it.

    Katie Reply:

    J – Hmmmm…do you eat the worm, or cut it out? ;) Katie

    Jassica Reply:

    Usually cut it out, but my son last year (~18 mo.) was a scavenger like you wouldn’t believe. Cherry, plum, apple, if it was on the ground or he could reach it, he ate it…even the pits. I know he must have eaten quite a few worms, as did we before discovering the little boogers hiding inside. No harm came. I can’t believe I’m confessing all that here, but it’s kind of one of those “fact of life things” as I see it.

  • Kristi Temple

    Do not throw that salt away! Bugs are just protein! Lots of places in the world, bugs are a delicacy! I am sure we have all eaten at least one bug in our lifetimes.

  • Stacy

    I agree. Sift the salt carefully and use it. My dad always used to say that bugs= protein. After all, John the Baptist lived on locusts and honey when he was in the desert.

  • Deanna

    For your salt – make salt body scrub! Just mix it with enough almond oil to moisten. Add some essential oils if you want it to smell, or go with the slight almond smell of the oil. Put it in mason jars and give it as gifts. Your friends will LOVE you.
    .-= Deanna´s last blog ..Tempeh – Friend or Foe? =-.

    StephanieMarie Reply:

    GREAT suggestion!!! :D
    no worry about eating the head that way, lol

  • AllieZirkle

    Yum! :)

    I’d use the salt in play-doh! I love making this stuff at home. It’s super easy and the kids LOVE it! In fact, I just bought my weight in salt (5#… lol) to keep a steady flow of play-doh on hand. :)

    Allie

  • Naomi H

    When we used to find bugs in our food, my dad would say it was extra protein. Think how many cultures eat bugs and other crawly things! (I’ve eaten many weird things, including grasshoppers (ok, I was 5), but I think I would draw the line at larvae…eeww) Use the salt, it would be a shame to waste it. You could just put it in cooked dishes if you wanted to be extra safe.

  • Michelle

    Most processed foods have an allowable bug percentage, so if you’re using ketchup (organic or otherwise!), you’re eating bugs. But it’s harder when you can see them! I found a pincher bug in a bag of oganic frozen fruit one time, I just picked it out, checked the rest carefully, and finished making the fruit sauce for our shortcakes. Though it still grosses me out just thinking about it…

  • kara

    I agree with Paula, bugs are better than slugs! Last years the slugs over took our lettuce bed. No fun!
    .-= kara´s last blog ..Mango Chutney =-.

  • kanmuri

    Having seen the vegetables in Japan, I can tell you that the ones we have here( in Canada at least) are not that perfect. The Japanese obsession with food is just crazy. Everything was always perfect… and we paid the price for that, too. Take apples for example, each and every apple is covered by a light fabric when in the tree, to protect them for birds. EVERY ONE OF THEM. Crazy. I also never saw raspberries for sale in Japan; the fruit being too fragile, the damage made in transport would be unacceptable to Japanese consumers. And it’s not like the fruit can’t grow in Japan.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t mind finding a bug in my lettuce; I’ll take that over pesticides anytime. Oh and the salt, I would probably use it anyway.
    .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..Great Expectations =-.

  • lisa

    Well, so far I am the only one who is thinking I could *not* use the salt. I would be thinking of things like sea salt body scrub, salt dough ornaments or other crafts, etc. I’ve heard the stats & know that there are allowable bug parts in the food we eat, but just knowing the bug was in there & you can’t wash the salt off, yeah, it would be too much for me… I found an inch long caterpillar in my salad once at a restaurant- the same restaurant where I worked salad bar prep so I know those bugs even get in conventional produce. And I’ve found moths in cornmeal I bought months prior from the bulk bins at the store (moral: anything you buy in bulk bins put in the freezer for 24 hours to kill bug eggs).

  • Stephanie

    I would use the salt without a second thought!

  • Tami Lewis

    knowing what you paid for the bag of salt i think i would have , ahem. done the same thing :)

  • Jessica

    It’s preserved – and died right away. He didn’t leave behind anything else in the salt.

    Now, bugs on produce can leave behind other evidence of their lives, because they live longer on it. Ugh. ;)
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Two Dimensional Wooden Figures =-.

  • johanna

    My first attempt buying organic broccoli from the grocery store was awful. THis was for my baby’s first broccoli meal, so I was sure to makethe first few rinses run clear, but when I began cutting into florets, I saw more bugs deeper in. After many more rinses, I also saw eggs. in addition to the tiny grasshopper looking bugs, there were also flea-like bugs that were crawling up in deeper to the crowns. We’re vegetarian [maybe not for long after realing Real Food] but I did not want any of THAT protein! I could not salvage a single part of the broccoli [even the stalk was too woody!]. A few bugs are okay when they rinse off… an infestation is not.

  • Melissa S.

    Other ideas for the salt usage: Soaking. We soak sore/splintered hands & feet in salt water. It softens the skin and draws out the offending splinter and/or infection. Also, my Grandma, who was very naturally minded, used to put salt in the cracks of her side walk, to keep the weeds down. It would keep the weeds from growing without using RoundUP!!

  • tina

    I found a bee’s body in my really raw honey; I spooned it out and threw it away. Of course I ate the honey.

    Your freind of a friend must live in a remote area with only a Vitamin Cottage because that’s the only food store that carries only organic produce here in Colorado.

  • Kelly

    I wouldn’t have given the bug in my salt a second thought…well at least as far as using the rest of the salt.

    Last summer was our first summer having our own garden (of course organic). I knew there would be bugs but I was totally unprepared for our pepper experience. I brought in a few red peppers, brought them to the sink to inspect and wash. They looked lovely! Just about perfection in my opionion.

    As I cut into one of these nice red beauties, a SPIDER came crawling out!!!! I have a SERIOUS aversion to spiders! I have no idea how it got in there, as there were no visable holes anywhere and it was a fairly large spider.

    And yes, after cleaning the inside of my pepper, we ate it! :)

    The bugs naturally on my food “bug” me less than the carpenter ants that keep finding there way IN my house!

  • Jessica

    I always say, “it’s not what you CAN see in the food that is scary, it’s what you CAN’T!”

  • Banana

    We got a 13 week membership to an organic CSA two years ago, and the bugs were a big problem. I didn’t mind a little dirt and bugs that would wash off, but sometimes these veggies would come caked with mud and so full of bugs that they were not worth cleaning (especially the broccoli and brussels sprouts!). I was also 8 months pregnant and would have to spend up to two hours at the sink trying to clean everything when the box would come in, exhausting! We called and were told they would fix the problem, give us extra produce for the inconvenience, etc., but we still had to throw away several pieces. It was a college, student worked farm, maybe that was the problem? I would consider trying a different farm in the future, but long story short, I don’t mind bugs, but too many bugs = inedible veggies and wasted money!
    .-= Banana´s last blog ..Healthier Peanut-butter Cups =-.

    allison Reply:

    where did you live?
    .-= allison´s last blog ..Seabreeze Organic Farm =-.

    Banana Reply:

    We lived in San Luis Obispo CA, the produce came from Cal Poly’s organic farm. In their defense, the food that was good was very good, but we just couldn’t afford the time and money for the items that were not.
    .-= Banana´s last blog ..Healthier Peanut-butter Cups =-.

  • Deb

    I just started gardening and I’m doing my best to do it organically. It really bothers me though that I have to pick little worms off the lettuce I grow, especially when I eat it right after picking. Also, when washing it all these little bugs float to the bottom of the bowl and that really bothers me. I don’t like killing the critters. At this point, I would rather buy the lettuce from the grocery store and deal with whatever they do to keep the bugs away than keep dealing with all the bugs in my garden. What’s wrong with me?

    Any ideas on how to grow salad fixings indoors or with some sort of covering until I get use to the idea of critter patrol?

    Most of the time I won’t kill bugs unless they were a health hazard or invading my space (like ants in my prep area). I leave the spiders alone in my house, they take care of many other pests. I even fish them out of the shower before bathing. I’ve changed a little though, out of necessity.

    I bought some whole-wheat flour from a bulk bin, at the time I didn’t know about freezing the product for 24 hrs before using. Well, it’s been over a year and I’m still having problems with little worms and the moths that follow. I’ve cleared and cleaned out all food and cupboards but still have problems with them. I just detest those sticky traps for the moths; it’s such a horrible way to die. I know I’m being silly but the thought of they way they die upsets me.

    Overall, I have to say that my frugality would prevent me from throwing the salt away.

    allison Reply:

    Deb – this is why I’m starting an Eco-life Coaching business.
    Bugs are just part of life – but please don’t feel bad for killing the ones that are on what you want to eat! They are extremely prolific – even more so than any other creature you could imagine – they’ll make more.

    I have chickens to keep a balance but they tend to eat some of the plant while picking off the worms/bugs.

    you can use a leaf spray made up of a 1/10 ratio non-toxic dish soap to water – spray it on the leaves and the bugs will leave it alone. You can also use a cayenne pepper spray to keep bugs off of leaves as well – I just boil a cayenne pepper with 2 cups of water – allow it to cool, take out the pepper – wear gloves! – then transfer the cooled mix into a spray bottle – worms detest it.

    but you also must know that some mother bug has laid eggs on or near your lettuce – you need to check for this daily and – wearing gloves – squish them.

    they other thing to know is that opposite of caterpillars, bugs tend to attack plants that are weak – planted at the wrong time, in the wrong soil, lacking in nutrients needed for that plant – perhaps there’s not enough sun or too much.

    many flours should be kept in the freezer regardless. You should think about storing them in glass or ceramic canisters with a vacuum type seal. This is what we do and it seems to work.

    insects are an important part of the balance of our world, however, the few that die in your home are not going to upset the balance.

    good luck!
    .-= allison´s last blog ..Seabreeze Organic Farm =-.

  • Lynn

    Great post! I’m not the biggest fan of bugs, but I’m well aware how harmless they are. In our society today, we totally only care about what we can see. We can’t see the poison, but we can see the bug. The bug must be way worse than the poison. See a bug, freak out. When in reality, were those bugs really that harmful to begin with? Some are, but some aren’t. We should inform ourselves. Thanks again!
    .-= Lynn´s last blog ..On the Quest for Organic Produce =-.

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  • Erin

    Personally, I would probably take him out (of course) and keep an extra keen eye for any other bugs and body parts. If I were unable to get over the bug in my salt, perhaps I would use it for non-food uses, such as mentioned, body scrub, play-do etc. The bug that I hate the most is fruit flys and that is mainly cause we have a ton right now. As far as finding them in our produce, I soak and then rinse and inspect each piece. I run the salad through the spinner and good to go.

  • Lalia

    Use the sea salt for cooking. As my family always says about anything that isn’t supposed to be there (ie germs from licking the spoon or sampling), “You’re going to cook it, aren’t ya?”

    Katie Reply:

    I totally do…just don’t tell my husband. ;) Katie

  • Mommy V

    Oh, I can relate… I am HAPPY to find bugs in my produce. Every time I do, I think to myself, “If the bug survived, maybe we will, too.” :) If the bugs were all dying, I’d have to wonder what was happening to my own insides.

  • Michaeleen Hinca

    Back in 2009 our very first CSA box arrived one early summer day and I took great delight in removing each item and displaying them one by one to my children as I described what it was and how I planned to use it in the coming days. I felt like “Carol Merrill” as I slowly showed each item to the children. Then I got to the boston lettuce – it was HUGE – and the prettiest shade of green and had a FROG nestled between the leaves! I practically threw the head across the kitchen when I saw it, I was so startled! The kids roared at my reaction and we’ve retold that story a hundred times since and laughed almost as heard with each telling. Gotta love fresh veggies!

    Katie Reply:

    LOL!!! The audience attentiveness is the best part. A frog?!? That’s crazy fun!

  • rhiamom

    A few years ago I lived in Thailand, where pesticide use is pretty much unregulated, and what’s illegal here isn’t illegal there. A story there goes about an American man at the open air market with his Thai girlfriend. She heads straight to the stall selling the lettuce with the holes in the leaves where the bugs have lunched. The man says, “Why are you buying that bad lettuce when there is perfect lettuce at the next stall?” The Thai lady replied “Bugs not eat, I not eat!”

    Katie Reply:

    Love. That. Story.

    Thank you! :) katie

  • Dawn

    An organic farmer once taught me to soak my veggies in a salt water solution to get rid of bugs. They can’t live in the salt water, so they float to the top. It would solve the issue of both the bugs in the veggies and bugs in the salt!!! :) Thanks for a great post!

  • Dave

    I worked in a restaurant in the ’80′s. During orientation, we were told preping a head of lettuce was; pop the stem out, pour salt (a Tbsp.) into the new hole formed. With the lettuce in a container, fill with water on the hole and let stand for 15 min. to kill the bugs. Also, they weren’t harmful. I never thought much of it as insects make up the greatest species on the planet and all mammals eat them. How’s your shrimp?

  • Bugladynora

    As my user name suggests I have an affinity for insects. My degree is in how to control them. The truth is more pesticides are used for keeping produce looking pleasing than for actual plant damage. At home I always grow organic it is easy to do on a small scale. Salt water is key in rinsing them. Great article Katie.

  • Jennifer via Facebook

    At least you know its organic.

  • Tarisa via Facebook

    Whenever I find bugs on my produce my husband teases me, “that’s what you get for buying organic.” Also, I’d probably use your bug salt in soup or other heated applications, but as an OCD sufferer I think I’d be nervous about it in my brine for fermented vegetable. :-)

  • Courtney

    Oh yeah, and I would definitely use the salt. It’s salt, it kills everything, you’re not going to find bug feces or anything in there, I imagine the bug didn’t last very long.

  • Dannell via Facebook

    I actually went and picked up a HUGE bag of apples from a neighbors yard, she apologized to me because they were so ‘ugly’. Hmmm, there is something to be said for some ugly fruit! :)

  • Wendy via Facebook

    The FB site Crc Kosher has a link to it’s site on how to check for insects in produce. Click on Kosher, then Consumer, then Fruit and Vegetable Policy. You will see a step by step way of checking for produce for insects. If you need help with any terminology, feel free to post questions and I will follow this post.

  • Pam

    I don’t want bugs in my house, and certainly NOT on my food. Especially if I can see them. I hate bugs, but the bugs and I have learned to tolerate each other as long as they remain outside where they belong. Or behind glass at an insectarium :) They come in the house, they die. They get found on food, the food and the bugs get tossed.

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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