The Center Square

A University of Illinois study that looked at wild animals found in prepackaged produce determined frogs were more likely to turn up in your bagged salad than any other animal in what the authors said is an overlooked issue.

The study concluded such incidents were rare, but that the public should be aware of the issue and more research should be done.

“It’s just something that we thought needed more attention than it has been given,” said Daniel Hughes, a post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois. “Prior to our work, no one has really systematically tried to compile the number of these incidents that are out there. We found some interesting things that suggest that there might even be more of these incidents.”

Hughes said the scope of the study was limited to internet searches of news articles, so the researchers were more interested in trying to quantify and determine the frequency of people finding animals in fresh produce. He found a sample of 40 news stories from the U.S. from 2003-18.

“The fact that there were more than just five or ten, that was definitely a take away that we should be at least attempting to do more to reduce this incident,” Hughes said. “We should be trying to figure out more about it.”

Hughes said amphibians were the most common animals found in fresh produce, having been seen in more than 50 percent of the cases. Of the amphibians, 60 percent were tree frogs. Other animals found in produce included lizards, snakes, mice, birds and bats.

“Frogs are essentially seeking moisture,” Hughes said. “In some of these environments where lettuces are grown for these types of bagged salads, those crops may be a good moisture retreat for those frogs and these frogs are usually pretty small, so they’re hard to see when you’re harvesting the crop.”

The study found of the 40 cases, “one lizard and nine frogs were found alive, and at least two frogs were released into nonnative areas.”

Looking at the number of cases since 2008, Hughes said the average number of animals found in packaged produce per year was about five.

“It’s not necessarily a common occurrence, but it’s definitely more common that one would expect,” Hughes said.

The study proposed some possible solutions to make sure the incidents don’t happen more often, including some methods of keeping small animals out of the growing environment at the time of the year they’re being harvested.

Hughes said the study focused on nonlethal approaches that redirect animals away from growing environments.

“You can’t just eliminate all the wildlife that is out there,” Hughes said. “You just need to figure out ways to co-manage the agricultural products and the wildlife that are inhabiting those areas.”

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