Bugs in My Organic Food?

By blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!


Many people get overwhelmed by the idea of cutting out processed food. I like to tell them it’s not something that happens overnight but over time. I personally started adopting the real food initiative a few years ago but recently, thanks to bugs in my organic food, I became aware of a shortfall on my part.

While I’m lucky to have a few farmers markets nearby, the closest one to me is about nine miles away. Even closer is a farm that Lisa has used and mentioned in the past – an all-organic farm that has been in operation for 20 years.

Three years ago, I participated in a partial-share CSA over the summer with this farm. At the time, I was thrilled with the idea of hand-picked local produce, but I was also confused about what a garlic scape was or what to do with certain foods.

The radishes and beets I received in my boxes sadly sat unused and found their way to the trash can when I failed to learn how to put them to use. (I’ve since learned to love beets – okay, maybe love is a strong word! And radishes can now be found in some of our meals!)

Bugs in My Organic Food? On 100 Days of #RealFood

This year, I didn’t sign up for the CSA share but instead vowed to frequent the farm’s market stand instead. My first visit was this past Saturday. Breaking some of the golden rules, I showed up at 11:30 a.m. and, unsurprisingly, the pickings were slim. Still, I managed to get my hands on some arugula, green leaf lettuce, and a dozen eggs. I headed home knowing what was ahead: the dreaded cleaning.

I sprayed the greens with Branch Basics and washed. I rinsed them out, and three little friends (aka worms) came out. Eeeek! I washed again. And then again. Finally, when I thought I had washed all of the little buggers out, I got out my knife and got set to cut. I started chopping when it happened.

A little slug slithered on my leaf lettuce. Horror of all horrors! I almost threw up a little in my mouth. I know that some of you are thinking, “Come on you pansy,” and are probably ready to leave a comment as such below. But it is what it is. I have no problem stumbling upon a snake on a trail, but I don’t do bugs. Much less like to eat them! What can I say; maybe I am a wuss.

The rest of the night I was paranoid. What if I ate one? What if I had missed one and it ended up on my fork? My next meal was met with extreme caution and a close examination of each bite. One of my kids saw two little “things” in her greens and wouldn’t eat the rest. In all honesty, I was only able to eat two-thirds of my salad.

The next day, when looking into a local strawberry farm, I saw a post on Facebook about this topic:

The pesticide-free sweet corn experiment is a complete failure. It is proving to be impossible to sell an ear of corn with a live worm in the tip so we are having to shuck and clean up every single ear of corn in order to sell it. The consumer demands “organic” but is not willing to accept the inevitable imperfect produce; we will have to manage earworm pressure conventionally in plantings 3-8. Such is the reality of farming.

It was then that I realized I needed to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” You see, we all vote with our dollars, and we talk about supporting with the choices we make. And trust me when I tell you as Sales Manager for this blog, I work with lots of brands who I will always support.

But if I’m gonna talk the talk, I gotta walk the walk. I need to suck it up and not be fearful of those little buggers who are a part of nature – the ones that so gleefully make it to the veggies that I don’t want to be sprayed with pesticides.

I’ll leave you with this little bit of information that I found upon an internet search.

Tips for removing bugs from your veggies

  • Soak in salt water to kill worms and other insects
  • Plunge in a deep cold bath
  • Put a little white vinegar in your soaking liquid
  • Cut veggies into bite-sized pieces and soak in water for about 30 minutes; you may need to repeat.

I encourage you to visit your local farm. Don’t shut them out for fear of a few bugs. If we are pushing for organic, we need to adopt what comes with the territory. This includes me! I’d love to hear your comments on this topic below, even if you are calling me a wimp :).

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60 thoughts on “Bugs in My Organic Food?”

  1. About 5 minutes ago i was preparing dinner. I chopped up some bok choy and things were going fine as usual. Then i got to the broccoli. Oh my GOD. After rinsing the broccoli and chopping it into bite sized pieces, i looked closely at one of the pieces and noticed some small brown critters clinging to them. Now this did not freak me out or strike me as unusual as i had seen these ones before, despite being terrified of bugs. I picked up another piece and noticed these very tiny worm/caterpillar-like things wriggling around. I yelled and dropped that piece of broccoli immediately. I can do dead or inert bugs but as soon as i saw those tiny things dancing in my broccoli, i LOST it. It’s still sitting out there and i don’t know what to do.. Should i throw it out? Perhaps feed it to the dogs? What am i going to eat? I just have no idea anymore.

  2. I was raised on a farm and I never spayed anything in our gardens. Now that I have become a consumer of plant based foods only and I’m trying to help my meat eating husband with some food changes,organic is the only option if we don’t raise it ourselves. But a few bugs will leave if I use a vinegar and water mix to soak and wash produce in. If a bug slips by I m not going to be thrilled,( I guess I’ll consume a little extra protein)but the alternative is So o o much worse.

  3. I grew up eating home grown vegetables, meat and raw milk. We never thought a thing of cutting off part of an ear of corn because the worms got into it. They are going to get into your gardens and the produce you buy from farmers markets. As noted above, proper washing will take care of 99.9% of them. Much better than the chemical poisons left behind on non organic produce. Here’s to healthy eating.

  4. Thank you for the article. I’ve been finding the little aphid bugs after cooking. Grossed me out. I didn’t know what to do. I was either throwing them out or wittling them down to nothing. :)

  5. Just yesterday, my son found a bug in the organic salad I packed for school. He was so startled that he didn’t eat. I can’t wait to share this article with him. I read soaking fruits and vegetables in water splashed with organic apple cider vinegar is the best way to naturally clean produce.

  6. I get sweet corn from a local farm who uses organic practices, and often find a worm or that the top of the corn is a bit chewed up. I just get rid of the worm & chop off about 1/2″ of the tip of the corn. It does not bother me. One time I got broccoli from the store (cert organic) that was covered with little tiny bugs & I could not get them off so had to throw it all away but that was the only time that ever happened to me.

  7. Excellent article! I see I’m not alone in hating the bugs. I’m trying to be more like my grandmother though. She always has the best garden even into her eighties. I told her that bugs creep me out, and she said, “Awww, just wash em off.” So, today I cooked mustard greens from my garden. I soaked them in brine water, and there they were; caterpillars, aphids, and eggs gallore! I did it! And I’m not freaked out! Go me! Now bacon, a bit of salt, and yummy!

  8. I agree with you totally. I am so scared of bugs! I cannot even touch them, so I am so scared to see them on my leaf! At the same time, I know you are either asking bug-free veggies which is tons of invisible chemical that kills you slowly or organic veggies that has some visible creatures that is proving that it is safe for you to eat! It is still a hard choice for me sometimes especially the leaves which is so hard to watch thoroughly. Sometimes, I wonder why those organic leaves in the stores shelves are so clean!? How much should I trust the word “organic” in the store? Yes, I think it is better that we find a local farmar that we can trust.

  9. When I started with my CSA 6 years ago, bugs were a huge mental obstacle. My biggest fear was the kids finding one and using it as an excuse to never eat that veggie again. I found putting veggies in a bowl of water instead of rinsing helped with bugs and uses less water. . .win win!

    1. I’m reading this article a little late, but I loved it!! And the comments were totally cracking me up! =) I knew that being a “health freak weirdo” was different than most people (as often as I hear it), but I honestly had NO IDEA that bugs icked everyone out so much.

      Now I’ll admit, I’m not a very dedicated produce washer (especially organic produce – I figure my family probably needs the extra nutrition left from any trace of healthy soil left on it.) So the first time we encountered a worm in our organic farmer’s market lettuce, (which was probably not washed very well,) I was so amazed that the little guy had survived refrigeration, that it turned into a science experiment! =) My three girls and I went outside in search of all kinds of bugs to refrigerate. We wanted to see if 1) they would survive the cold and 2) how long it would take them to “wake up.” (Fun times!) And while we would truthfully prefer those critters to stay outdoors and not end up in our meals, our family has adopted a pretty laid back attitude toward these little visitors… “a little for you, and the rest for us!” =)

      At the end of the day, I’m finding that I am more repulsed by harmful chemicals (and especially the companies that make them!) than I am the harmless little bugs. So good for all of us who are learning to endure the pests because our produce is pesticide free! =)

  10. Having bugs in your organic food is a good sign that the food is good. Getting rid of the bugs is the hard part. We had home gardens and there were plenty of bugs, and most of the times the bugs would shake off when we harvested our fruits and veggies. One of our neighbors made Mexican sopa (soup) to boil and strain all of the bugs out and kills any Ecoli that may have gotten into the produce.

  11. Totally agree with you! :) And just a cool fact in we heard that in Japan they pay extra for food with bug bites in them because that means that they didn’t spray them with chemicals! :)

  12. My mom picked some of my lettuce and prepared salads for dinner. I was a few bites in when a wolf spider (1 inch long) came scampering out across the bowl. I gasped and jumped back! We squashed it but i had a hard time continuing to eat after that. I picked threw each leaf carefully. While doing so, I found an egg sack of some kind (which closely resembled the feta cheese). I was done after that and my mom learned she had to wash homegrown lettuce very well. I can handle some bugs, but not a large spider!

  13. Thank you – very timely advice. I was just wondering if there was a better way to clean my CSA share!

  14. I loved this blog post. I also hate finding bugs in my lettuce. I had stopped buying at a farmer’s market because of the bugs. What is worse to me is hearing crunch, crunch from the dirt the lettuce grew in. Unfortunately, I am very aware that horse manure is used as fertilizer. LOL I rinse like mad but must not get all the dirt out.
    I’ll try the vinegar next.

  15. It’s true, nobody likes bugs in their food. But I applaud your willingness to step up and deal with the wiggly little things, for the cause! Real, poison-free foods are so much better for us, in spite of the hassle of having to clean them so thoroughly. I appreciate your posting on how to deal with them. I will try the salt water bath for my veggies!

  16. I have to admit, my first batch of local organic broccoli, that came complete with little worms freaked me out, too! I read online about how to manage them, and felt a lot better after watching them float to the surface in a salt water bath. It took some self talk too. “If the traditional commercial broccoli has pesticides so powerful to kill these critters, what’s it doing to me?” Plus it’s sad but true, we probably eat far more insects in processed foods, they are just so pulverized, dehydrated, and processed, we don’t “see” them.

  17. Hi Kiran,

    I teach a nutrition course and bugs in natural or organic foods is a topic that has come up on a number of occasions. I am always encouraging students to eat more veggies, yet find one bug in a bundle of romaine and all of my teachings go out the window! I often share the salt water trick, but are you saying that you do all four of the bullet points for all vegetables?

    Becky

  18. I guess I am the only one who could care less about bugs…I mean, if I see one, I will pick it off. But they just don’t bother me. I’ll still eat the produce. I wash my produce before consumption and I’ve never had a problem. I’ve seen a few here and there but nothing disturbing. Maybe if it was a really creepy bug it would deter me. The recent story of the black widow in the bag of grapes was scary! Although, I doubt they were even organic! That would cause me to throw the whole bag away!

    1. *couldn’t care less that is. Acutally, this might really freak people out, I had a bunch of ants (bigger ones) get into my very expensive local raw honey. The bottle was over half full. I just scooped them out and used the honey. It was used in baking anyway, so the heat killed the germs. We are all fine and alive over a year later. haha, don’t judge me.

  19. I remember several years back, when my second-oldest boy was about 9 or 10, we had purchased some ears of corn from a farmers’ market. The seller had quietly warned me that, since these were picked following the previous week’s rainy weather, there was a greater likelihood of seeing worms near the tips of the ears.

    4 or 5 of the kids were in the kitchen helping to clean the corn when my son pulled back the leaves of one ear, saw a fat, wiggly worm, and promptly dropped the ear and ran from the room, shrieking as his younger sister followed him. The only way I was able to “unsqueamishly” pick it up and cut off the tip (worm and all) was because I was laughing to hard!

    And, now that he’s 21, I have a great story to hold over him….

  20. Being a gardener and organic at that…bugs are the price you pay~ As well as groundhogs, turtles, birds, etc. I’ve learned a few things while picking and cleaning. When picking I try to shake whatever I’m picking before putting it in my basket. And yes, soak in water with a little salt or vinegar. The critters will either float to the top or sink to the bottom. Once the weather gets hot the lettuce and broccoli tend to accumulate more critters. I try to only plant in season.

  21. Oh no! I feel your pain, I too am HORRIFIED by any of these little creatures. BUT, they don’t just come from organic produce. I’ve found them in organic and conventional pasta and rice (eww!!!). I’ve learned to just triple check things, and then carry on a good conversation at the table so we won’t think about it! btw, my hubby won’t eat blueberries, he found a worm in one when he was a kid, and hasn’t touched them since!

    I love you “be the change” approach! I’ll embrace it too!

  22. I feel that the farmers market would be a lot like growing your own, so you would expect to find some buggies in the veggies. Now if one would be paying high price for organic veggies in the stores, I wouldn’t want to see one itty bug or worm at all! No way! I feel for those people who can’t grow their very own veggies with then knowing all that goes into them. One isn’t even sure with getting them from a farmer’s market. And yes, I am a wimp too!

  23. We have a garden here at our house. Among other veggies, we grow broccoli. Talk about green worms! Yuck! I know if my kids saw a worm they would freak out. I tried the salt water and it does work to some degree. It is hard to get used to this fact. I just don’t want worms in my Broccoli Salad!

    1. I know just what you mean. A long time ago, we got some beautiful home-grown broccoli from our neighbor, and when I boiled it, a whole bunch of light colored green worms came to the top! And then when we sat down to eat it, more worms were inside! That turned me off of home-grown broccoli and have bought in the stores now. I’m like that other reader, where I’ll put up with some pesticide! I do know that when a person does grow broccoli, cabbage, etc., here in MN, you have to keep shaking that pesticide on regularly, so this neighbor of ours must not have.

      1. I know. It is gross ! We just aren’t used to this. I know we have eaten much worse and don’t even realize it. The worms aren’t bad to eat, it’s just the thought of it. I try not to use pesticides, but sometimes it seems it is unavoidable.

  24. Yes, this change of diet for me and my husband has been a process, mostly good to great. I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing this post. I’m kind of squeamish, too, but I am gaining courage in the kitchen. Maybe the next generation will not have the fears and anxieties that we had to overcome during this invaluable process.

  25. Since I am the biggest wimp of all, this totally turned be off of organic produce. I’d rather eat the pesticides than the worms.

  26. I grow my own organic garden and what I don’t have room to grow I buy at the local market. I find lettuce the most difficult when it comes to bugs as they can hide so much better. Lettuce is one of the things that I insist on growing myself. It is super easy and inexpensive. I live in Minnesota so we plant our gardens later in the spring but I like some lettuce and tomatos as soon as possible. I have a large garden but as early as possible in the spring I plant one large pot on my deck (so that I can cover it or move it indoors depending on the weather) with an early girl tomato plant and I sprinkle a packet of lettuce seeds around the tomato plant. By the time the lettuce pops up the tomato plant is several feet tall and i trim back the bottom leaves to give light to the lettuce. There are very few bugs this way and I replant lettuce all summer long.

  27. Here are my CSA box solutions: I dislike RADISHES raw, but I have come to tolerate them in curry or pozole. So I never buy them anytime of year, I make beef and radish curry one a summer, and sometimes pozole, with shaved radish as a garnish. (That’s how some mexicans eat it) As for BEETS, they are not my favorite either, but they are growing on me…I make a Red Velvet Beet Cake (Elana’s pantry) or put beet puree in pancakes to make them pink, or freeze cubes of puree for smoothies. Then the beet flavor does not dominate.

  28. I have a CSA share with a friend and get my bounty every two weeks. I have noticed bugs in my lettuces as well. There is definitely a squirm factor there but I just decided that if we are ok eating bigger animals (cows, pigs, etc) then eating a few bugs should be no big deal. I hate earwigs and found a few recently. Just threw them in the compost bin! I will try the vinegar wash next time.

  29. I enjoy your site and get many ideas for for my family to eat better, BUT I am bothered by your comment that radishes and beets went to the trash! Why trash and not to some sort of composting?? My family is quite guilty of not finishing veg, but we ALWAYS put what we don’t use into compost. Am I missing something?

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Cheryl,

      I’m sorry that you are bothered. This is an honest post, and yes, at that time, I did let those few veggies sit until they needed to be composted or thrown out. Since I was not into composting at that time, I simply threw them out. I do not claim to be perfect in any way and agree that there are plenty of areas in which I can improve, as suggested throughout this post. It’s all a learning process, right? We can only try to do our best:).

      Kiran

      1. Have you ever tried roasted radishes Kiran? I didn’t really care much for radishes either, until I tried them roasted. Oh my gosh! SOO good. And even my (somewhat) picky kids will eat them. Bonus! Just cuts ends off and I cut them in half or fourths if they are very large, drizzle with some good olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and roast at 400 for about 30-40 minutes. Makes a great addition to a roast chicken meal. :)

      2. I live on a farm and we grow most of what we eat. I do not compost.I do not feel guilty about this. There is always something out here that is hungry. opossum, coon, rabbits, crows etc. We all just do the best we can. We eat and can food and sell what we don’t need. We are not organic. We do use some things on our plants, depending on so many things.

  30. I grew up on a farm and I remember my mother saying this about the corn, “A good sign that the corn is good is if you can find a worm or two ’cause if the worms don’t like it, then it ain’t no good.”

  31. I remember as a child eating apples and always being careful to eat around the worm holes. My mother had to deal with bugs in her flour and flies on the open air meat when we lived in Buenos Aires in the 60’s. I miss those chemical-free days.. I’d much rather work around organic creatures in my food than unpack sterile food from chemical laden packaging. I always get a sick feeling when I enter the bread aisle at the supermarket and smell unnatural packaging and who knows what else instead of the tempting aroma of fresh baked bread!

  32. I don’t think you are a wimp at all. When I started gardening a few years ago, I was getting a lot of earwigs in my lettuce. YUCK – I HATE earwigs, and I was similarly creeped out by bugs in my food. I also couldn’t eat the stuff at first. But over time, I got less afraid and was more careful to shake out and then rinse well all my greens. I still don’t like bugs that much, but the ick factor is a lot less when I see one and I can deal. I’d say, give it some time and remind yourself that it’s natural, you can remove them, and you are feeding your family good, healthy food!

    1. Our CSA farmer gives us tips on bug removal in the weekly newsletter. For corn we always need to break the top end off as soon as it gets home because there are often worms in there. Once that’s removed we store it until eating and its good to go.
      They’ve also told us not to wash produce until you are ready to eat it. It will last longer that way. Just something to note since your post made it sound like you wash it all when you get home.

      1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

        Great tips on the corn, Amy. And yes – good point; I do know not to wash until you are ready to eat but am not always good about this. I like to do a big wash and try to get it all clean at the same time. Another area I can clearly improve in!;)

      2. Actually, I wash all mine the day I buy them in a vinegar soak and I swear they last longer (with the vinegar) than not washing them until ready to eat. To each their own though.

      3. Interesting. Our CSA farm recommends washing everything at home the same day as pickup to prevent bacteria growth. I find that my veggies last the longest when I wash everything and let it dry completely (or wrap it with paper towels if I’m in a hurry) before I store it in the fridge. It also makes cooking meals easier if everything is already clean! I’ve never tried the vinegar trick, though. Thanks for sharing!

  33. I once ate an entire kale salad and then the next day when I went to use the rest of the kale there were bugs all in it. I’m sure I had eaten a ton of bugs the day before. (I had rinsed the kale leaves but hadn’t checked them thoroughly.) Oh well! A few bugs won’t hurt. Thanks for the tips for the future though. :-)

  34. I’ve been trying to get used to bugs in my veggies lately! I had a few slugs in a cabbage recently and I definitely screamed and did a yucky dance. I also had a live wasp in my cilantro… I can’t imagine how that happened. I was actually able to set free because I saw it in my salad spinner after I washed it!
    I think of it this way, I used to get squeamish handling meat bones, but now I’m so used to it that it is no big deal. Eventually I will be used to all these little critters coming out of my organic produce. I am also grateful that the food we are now eating is clean enough for bugs to stay alive on. What a blessing this day in age!
    I’ve been using a homemade wash with water and a small amount of raw apple cider vinegar for soaking things like berries and greens. It works great!
    Thanks for the great article!

  35. This is something that I have dealt with as I grow my own produce and cook with it. It is impossible to create a garden that is completely bug free – the outdoors is not a sterile place! However, by planting things according to seasons and with good companions, I find that I have fewer and fewer bugs. The vinegar thing totally works and if you grow your own, consider doing a first rinse outside and using the water on your garden. Best wishes on keeping it clean!

  36. Yes, bugs come with the territory and a good soak usually takes care of most of them . Your children will mirror whatever attitude you have, so if you want them to eat vegetables when they are old enough to choose what to eat for themselves, you’re going to have to suck it up now. Thanks for bringing awareness to this very real problem for organic farmers. Now, do you have any ideas of how we can wipe the phrase “threw up a little in my mouth” out of our vocabulary? And, yes, I know the phrase “suck it up” is equally annoying. :)

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      LOL, Jane; I am not crazy about the term either, but it almost seemed fitting at the moment! Suck it up is a better option IMO. Good points about the kids – so true.

  37. I cook most of my veggies so whatever bugs were there are extra protein. As far as salads go, enough vinaigrette dressing generally takes care of whatever might still be living and the carcasses provide extra protein. But I admit it took a while for me to get to this place.

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