Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't Bug Me, Man

I just received an email blurb touting PestCatch, a small pest detection kit apparently designed for the kosher consumer who wants to reduce their insect consumption.

I'm somewhat puzzled by the marketing of this product. On their benefits page (which looks like it was composed by someone with a poor command of English), they suggest that PestCatch is suitable for large agricultural operations ("check large quantities of produce", "spot-monitor crops to save money on unnecessary pesticide treatments"), but it is obvious that it is a modest product that is really designed for small-scale, home use.

Here's what you get for your 45 smackeroos:
  • One metal colander
  • One pot
  • Two filters
  • One 10x magnifying glass
Personally, I'm waiting for a higher end model to be made available. One that comes with a 1000x microscope. One can never be too careful with those little critters!

Heaven forfend that I be seen as belittling the need for the kosher consumer to check for insects. Although the average person consumes one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites per year, most of it is presumably bits and pieces, which is much less of a concern from a kashrut perspective than eating a complete bug or insect. The OK veggie checking guide states that eating an insect violates seven Torah prohibitions (they neglect to mention that this is only for a whole, winged insect). But let's be reasonable, folks! If you are afraid that your broccoli may be infested, give it a good washing in a bowl, then pour the water through a paper towel or coffee filter. If you can't see bugs on the paper using the naked eye, enjoy your veggies! (And feel free to send me some of money that you saved by not buying PestCatch or a Star-K approved light table.)

One of the biggest scams related to this is the certification of bagged salad greens. It's amazing how many kosher consumers feel that they have to buy bagged salad with a hechsher! I have NEVER found a bug in non-certified bagged greens. This stuff is really washed well, and I challenge anyone to find a significant difference between certified and uncertified greens. Companies are always watching the bottom line, and they can't risk the consumer uproar that would result if they were to sell infested bags of salad. Besides, the kashrut agencies operate largely by chazakah with bagged salad, inspecting only samples. Ask yourself - what added benefit do these agencies provide (other than to their bottom line)?

On the other hand, I almost always find bugs on romaine, and therefore check it carefully. (As an aside, the most infested batch of romaine that I ever had was ironically from Alei Katif; supposedly it is insect free, having been grown in hermetically sealed greenhouses. I mistakenly thought that I'd be saving a ton of time inspecting the maror for the seder. The upside is that I now save money buying generic romaine.) Other fresh fruits & veggies that the OK says to check, but for which I have never, ever seen a bug (at least after a light rinsing) include celery, mushrooms (except when I gather them wild), blueberries, strawberries, sprouts, and most others.

Either my experience is anomalous or the kashrut organizations search out infested crops for their scare tactics - and the more folks they scare, the more demand there is for their hech$her.


Mashgiach said...

Higher standards for checking produce makes it significantly more difficult for non-Jewish establishments to opporate under kosher supervision. This means that door$$ are closed that would have otherwise become customers. Additionally raising standards doesn't mean that existing establishments are going to be willing to pay anymore than they already do which can mean the additional expence for the hashgachah can come out of their own pockets.

Don't let skepticism be confused with cynicism.

Product said...

The utilization of the microscope in the field of kashrus shrunk the array of fruits and veggies available to the kosher consumer. Even though the bugs must be visible to the naked eye, the microscope reveals the insects which can then be spotted with the naked eye.
If you can’t find any bugs, you need to better educate yourself on what to look for. Bugs must not be black and detectable on the white background of a paper towel. Aphids are lightly colored and thrips are so tiny yet visible to the naked eye. Each strawberry head contains a colony of pests.
More and more kinds of produce, nuts, and dried fruits join the infested ranks every year, and worms are discovered in water, in various fishes, and—perhaps one day—in meat. At some point, chewing gum will be the only item on the kosher menu.
But let’s not forget the Torah was not given to a microscope-possessing audience. Talmudic sages had no idea about the exponential number of prohibitions possible to transgress with a single batch of romaine. The halachic clause that allows for magnifying glass to assist in bug checking is a hole in the law.

Anonymous said...

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