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.