The most popular animal found in pre-packaged salads is frogs and consumers are finding them in greater frequency.
In the first ever review of wild animals found by customers in prepackaged produce, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found amphibians were identified in more than half of all reported incidents.
Nearly three-times more incidents involved conventional produce compared to organic and more research needs to be done to “help understand this overlooked issue.”
Prepackaged leafy green vegetables represent one of the fastest growing segments of the fresh-produce industry in the U.S.
Several steps in the production process have been mechanized to meet the downstream demand for pre-bagged lettuces. The growth in this market, however, has come with drawbacks, and chief among them are consumers finding wild animals in prepackaged crops.
These incidents may signal an overburdened produce supply chain, according to the scientists who worked in the university’s department of animal sciences.
We currently lack the information needed to determine if this is a food-safety problem or food-quality concern.”
Since 2003, the researchers discovered 40 separate incidents of animals found in pre-packaged produce. Of that number, 95% occurred during 2008–2018, suggesting that the frequency of incidents may have increased during the last decade.
The minority of incidents included wild animals found in organic produce (27.5%), whereas the majority involved conventionally grown crops (72.5%). Most incidents involved amphibians (52.5%) and reptiles (22.5%), while fewer contained mammals (17.5%) and birds (7.5%).
Frogs and toads made up all of the amphibian-related incidents, with more than 60% comprising small-bodied treefrogs found in various types of fresh leafy greens. At least seven incidents involved Pacific Treefrogs (Hyliola regilla) and three comprised Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis). One lizard and nine frogs were found alive, and at least two frogs were released into non-native areas.
It’s the first review of vertebrates found by customers in prepackaged produce, yet it remains unclear whether these occurrences indicate a food-safety crisis or a complaint against food quality.
Wild animals can spread diseases to humans via contaminated produce.