How Often Do People Find Wild Animals In Their Salads? More Often Than You Want to Know

Carolyn Smith/iStock via Getty Images
Carolyn Smith/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever found a frog in your prepackaged salad? If you answered "yes," you’re (unfortunately) not alone. It's a problem that even Queen Elizabeth II has had to contend with (though in her case, it was a slug).

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and their colleagues recently published a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment on how many wild-animals-in-salads cases have been documented in the media since 2003, which was when a customer discovered the head of a lizard in a prepared salad of romaine lettuce. In that time, as The Takeout reports, the study concluded that there have been 40 documented cases of animals finding their way into someone's bag or plate of greens, with 95 percent of those incidents having occurred since 2008.

An average of 3.8 incidents have been reported each year since 2008, with 2013 posting a record five cases. The study marks the first review of customer-found wild animals in the rapidly growing prepackaged produce industry.

So just what kind of animals are people finding in their would-be lunches? Frogs, lizards, snakes, mice, bats, and birds—both alive and not alive—have all been found in prepackaged salad bags or store-bought prepared salads. Incidents include a woman in D.C. who found a live frog in a salad from a restaurant chain; a woman who found alive frog in a spring mix salad bag she bought from Target (she ended up keeping the little guy as a pet); and a Florida woman who, you guessed it, found a live frog in a bag of salad she purchased at Walmart. (Between all the documented cases, nine frogs total were found alive.)

Though 40 incidents may sound like a small amount, the study suggests that the actual number of cases is higher than that, but that many of the incidents have not been reported or never made national headlines. Amphibians were by far the most common class of animal found, making up 52.5 percent of the discovered animals. Birds, meanwhile, made up approximately 7.5 percent of the cases.

Finding a living, breathing animal in your bag of greens gives new meaning to the phrase organic produce, but 72.5 percent of the time the animals had made homes in conventionally grown veggies. Twenty different states have reported these instances, but Florida and Texas have had the most, with five apiece.

Besides “how many animals have been found in salads?,” a bigger and more important is: “How did those animals get into those salads in the first place?” The study doesn’t have a definitive answer, but suggests that “mechanically harvesting crops that were traditionally hand-picked” might allow some critters to get through. The issue, according to the study, can either be seen as “a food-safety crisis or a complaint against food quality.” But because these animals can spread diseases, the paper asserts that vigilance by the food industry could "reduce the potential health risk to their consumers and negative economic consequences to themselves."

Researching wild vertebrates in prepackaged veggies is new terrain for sciences, and as the study itself says, it represents "an unacknowledged issue in the current system of centralized produce production in the United States, and perhaps for developed countries in general." So if you happen to find a surprise visitor the next time you open a bag of salad, please report it, for science's sake ... and then maybe keep it as a pet.

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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