Over the years, dozens of accounts of wild animals found in consumer-grade leafy green prepackaged salads have been reported. Now, a new review suggests that finding amphibians, reptiles, and even bats and birds may be a growing trend in the US.
There is no formalized method of compiling data on people finding live animals in their salads, so researchers turned to the Internet reviewing media from national news in Google and Bing searches. In fact, a quick Google search of “frog in salad” reveals dozens of accounts of consumers finding amphibians – both alive and dead – in their prepackaged salad.
Across the country, 40 incidents were detected since 2003 with 38 occurring within the last decade. Amphibians were identified in more than half of all cases, with frogs and toads making up all amphibian-related incidents and more than 60 percent being small-bodied treefrogs. At least seven incidents involved Pacific Treefrogs (Hyliola regilla) and three comprised Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis). Reptiles were found in 22.5 percent of cases, mammals in 17.5 percent, and birds in 7.5 percent. Of those, one lizard and nine frogs were found alive and at least two frogs were released into non-native areas, presenting potential problems for local biodiversity. Almost three times more incidents involved conventional produce compared to organic.
Prepackaged salad products have been growing since the 1980s and are now common in nearly every grocery store across the country with much of the production turning to automation in order to meet consumer demands. Furthermore, agricultural expansion converts once natural lands that may still be home to wildlife like those found in salad bags.
It remains unclear if these events could indicate a food or health safety issue. Nevertheless, the researchers note that “wild animals can spread diseases to humans via contaminated produce, therefore we contend that industry professionals can reduce the potential health risk to their consumers and negative economic consequences to themselves through increased attention to this matter.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,00 are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die each year from contaminated food in the US.
“One might expect food-safety professionals to mount a serious response when these incidents occur given the genuine threat that wild animals can pose to human health through contaminated produce,” wrote the authors in Science of the Total Environment. “However, incidents of extemporaneous wildlife found in prepackaged produce rarely receive such attention, perhaps because of the relatively low rates of pathogenic infections detected in certain animal groups.”
Of course, the authors note that online accounts and reporting may be biased and there is not yet a standardized way of tracking such occurrences independently and objectively. That is why they say a formal documentation process of such incidents is needed in order to track occurrence and potential health and safety risks.