Apr 20, 2009

strawberries and creepy crawly things

By now you cannot be a regular reader of Jewish websites and blogs and not be familiar with the "strawberry infestation".

They say that this year strawberries cannot be eaten, at least not whole. The reason is because of an unusual infestation. Normally the bugs in strawberries hang around and party near the top of the strawberry - in the leafy part. As long as you cut the top off, and wash the rest of course, you are good to go.

This year, they say, the strawberries are infested to the point that the bug party is not just at the top by the leaf, but all over the strawberry - by the seeds in the wall of the berry - thus making it impossible to clean properly and eat (unless perhaps if you would peel the strawberry - not very practical).

Why are the strawberries infested so much worse this year than normal? The only reason i have seen offered is because of the shmitta year - Jewish farmers for the most part did not grow strawberries this past year, because of shmitta. Most strawberries were grown by the Palestinians, and they use dirty water for their irrigation and watering. The use of dirty water caused the strawberries to grow, supposedly, completely infested.

Personally I have always held like the opinion that if you cannot find the bugs and cannot see them with the naked eye (looking well when necessary - not just a cursory glance), they are not considered a problem.

If these bugs are so tiny that you need a powerful microscope to see them, it does not seem to bother me. If we would inspect the air we breathe with a microscope and magnifying glass, we would also say it is assur to breathe because of what we are taking in.

Just for kicks, I bought strawberries on Friday for shabbos. I took a couple of random berries from the bag and inspected them very closely, but only with my naked eye. I pulled out the little pips and inspected them, and under them. I inspected the whole berry very thoroughly. Yet I was unable to see any creepy crawly or clingy buggies.

So what do you do about strawberries and other such fruit and veggies with "bug problems"? Have you stopped eating them?


  1. Not for kicks--serious blog research.

  2. Someone told me that they are ok if you liquidize them into a puree.
    Squished invisible bugs are not treif.

  3. I have personally seen thrips on strawberries (before the recent supposed increase in infestation). You can see them with the naked eye, but often only if you know what to look for or if someone points it out to you.
    One was pointed out to me crawling up a strawberry, and I never would have seen it had it not been pointed out to me. You have to get the light to hit it at the right angle.
    Is this considered visible enough to make it prohibited?
    I don't know myself, but I can tell you that the Aroch HaShulchan in hilchos Tolayim says it very clearly that even tiny bugs which can only be seen in the sunlight are prohibited and the Mishna Berura says the same thing in hilchos pesach where he discourages using lettuce for marror.
    However R. Moshe Feinstein in Igros Moshe 8 YD 4 Siman 2 (and other places)
    writes some possible ways to be lenient (including your sevara), but he doesn't present a final pesak.

    According to an agricultural source quoted at
    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2007/07/thrips-on-strawberries.html ,
    there was a significant increase in thrip infestation in 2006.

    See the responses from machon hatora vehaaretz about it, where they agree with R. Vaye's assessment.

    and here

    I also read, but I can't find the source now, that machon hatora vehaaretz did lab tests with strawberries and confirmed both the level of infestation and the fact that they cannot be totally cleaned with regular washing with soap and water. They are experimenting with a commercial washer.I believe that I also read there that the increase in infestation was caused by increase in Arab strawberry production for shemitta. They water with waste water. The infestation then spread to other fields.

  4. Apikoros that I am, I still eat whole, unpeeled strawberries. The Star-K website has a great video for how to check and clean strawberries.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Has anyone bothered checking with the Star-k if the same method that is used in the US is sufficient in Israel?

  7. My Rav (in Israel) recommended that Star-K video to me, saying, "That looks pretty reasonable."

  8. rw - obviously you should not eat squished bugs either, but if you did you have no transgressed the prohibitions of eating bugs....

  9. Rafi G,
    Not that you haven't trangsressed, rather that you are not chayav malkos. We pasken chatzi shiur assur mim hatorah. This isn't why they are advising to puree them. The advantage to pureeing them is that it is no longer "beria". Beria is aina betela (and also it wouldn't be batel, because it can be seen/removed). Even though, ein mevatlin issur lechatechila, one can nullify safek issur. I assume at least once the strawberries are washed in soap it is a safek whether any bugs are present.

    Shaul, I am glad that you can now comfortably consume whole strawberries. Enjoy. I'll have to check out the video.

  10. I buy the largrest strawberries I can find and I do peel them- its not the biggest deal. You get used to it.

  11. Shaul - did you reconfirm that the Star-K method is permissible even for this year's over-infested waste-water-grown crop?

  12. BlackBeltStep - I did not. But misvara, the method that Star-K is recommending is a thorough wash in a bath of soapy water. If that is good enough to remove one insect from a strawberry, it's good enough to remove ten.

    This reasoning works as long as the "super-infestation" this year is a matter of degree, rather than quality. If there's a new type of bug that doesn't wash off in soapy water, then I agree, this method wouldn't be sufficient. But I haven't heard of any new bugs; just reports of above-normal rates of infestation of the usual critters.

  13. באתר של הרה"ג בן-ציון מוצפי http://www.mutzafi.tv מופיעים מאגר של שאלות שנשאל לאחרונה. העתקתי לפה שותי"ם בנושא של אכילת תותים.

    בברכת יאכלו ענוים וישמחו,

    שמעון א.

    שאלה - 18793

    לכבוד הרב
    שבוע טוב וחודש מבורך, הרב, האם מותר לקנות תותים להשרות אותם 10 דקות במים וסבון אח"כ לשטוף תחת זרם מים ולאכול? או עדיף להימנע?אנא כבוד הרב מה שיפסוק, נקבל באהבה.


    אין צורך להשרות במים, אלא לבדוק היטב שהם לא פגועים או כמושים.

    שאלה - 15721

    לכבוד הרב שלום רב
    האם זה נכון שיש בעיה עם אכילת תותים (מחשש לתולעים)וגם שטיפה עם סבון לא תועיל?


    מותר לאכול תותים ויש לבדקם מתולעים, בעיקר אם יש צד רקוב או פצוע.

    שאלה - 15629

    שלום לכבוד הרב
    האם אסור לאכול תותים?


    מותר לאכלם אלא שיש לבדוק מתולעים

  14. nope - same with lettuce. if you clean em and check em, then they "ain't there" l'halacha

  15. Everyone agrees that if you cant see them, then its not a problem.

    The issue arises in that you see them, you just dont know its a bug. Same problem as the NY water. You can see "dots" just you might not know its a bug. If you look at the bug books, youll see what Im talking about.

  16. the bug books dont prove anything. they magnify all those images at tremendous levels. just because the book shows you a picture does not mean it is visible to the naked eye.

  17. The thrips are visible to the naked eye, although very difficult to spot. You may need to look for different angles.
    Perhaps one could argue that this is not visible enough to make it prohibited, but I would like to hear a good proof or source for this idea.
    As I mentioned, R. Moshe in chelek ches does mention the possibility but isn't machria, and even he in other teshuvos mentions that Romaine Lettuce needs a very careful bedika from tiny bugs which are the same color as the leaf. If you have ever tried to check lettuce you know that they are also pretty difficult to spot.
    Even the Aroch Hashulchan, who at the end of siman 100 in Yore Dea (on the topic of b'ria eina b'teila) tries very hard to find limud zechus for not being so careful about tolaim does not mention this possibility. He himself says in hilchos tolaim where he talks about not being worried about microscopic bugs that something which is very tiny (dak min hadak) and is only visible in sunlight is still a problem. Sounds like anything which can be seen at all with the naked eye.

    I have another possible suggestion for the strawberry problem.
    The rama and the shach pasken (and this is really a machlokes rishonim - the taz is machmir) that bittul depends on the inability to remove the offensive substance. In other words, even if it is visible or it might be encountered during eating, if it can not be completely removed it can be batel.
    If it is indeed the case that there is no practical way to remove all of the bugs from a strawberry, then if one would get as much of as possible by washing/soaking with soapy water, the rest could be batel.
    (Remember this rama and shach is shanuy bemachlokes, though. R. Heinemann of the Star-k does really on this sevara for broccoli.)

    What about beria eina betela?
    Here we have a few solutions:
    1. if less than 50 percent of the strawberries have bugs, than it is only a safek beria which is batel.
    (But, if there is a way to accurately inspect them after then this wouldn't necessarily work, even if you need an expert to do the checking, because safek mechamas chesron yedia is not considered a safek.)

    2. If indeed the majority are infested, then we would have to resort to the Aroch Hashulchan's limuddei zechus, that beria is betela in 960, that beria which is davar maus is batel, etc.
    I don't think that strawberries meet the AHS's criteria for shaas hedechak, though.

    If I am right, then we wouldn't even need to clarify the metzius of whether or not the washing method is completely effective, because mima nafsach, if it works then no bugs, if it doesn't so they are batel.

    This of course is assuming that there is no other practical way to remove all of them.

  18. "does really" should be "does rely".

  19. another thing - if it is true that the infestation is because of the Arabs growing strawberries in low quality water because of shmitta, then only such strawberries should be infested. Jewish grown strawberries should be ok. Like the guy who sells in the merkaz mischari in RBS on Fridays is selling Jewish grown strawberries. Those you should be able to eat as normal, even if you won't eat the more prominent arab grown strawberry.
    Is that correct?

  20. The claim is that the infestation spread from the Arab to the Jewish fields.

  21. forget the bugs, what about the problem of supporting a terrorist economy?


    "Just for kicks, I bought strawberries on Friday for shabbos"

    sure, you're afraid about a little thing like celebrating yom haatzmaut, but you have no problem publicy flaunting a much bigger "aveirah" like eating strawberries. i'd watch my back if i were you.

  22. that was a joke, in case of any misunderstanding

  23. LOZ - I sometimes like to go out on a limb. test the edges. Hey - just that post, without actually waving the flag, is enough to get me in trouble!


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