In May 2020 a bizarre craze emerged on TikTok which saw users bathing their strawberries in salt water. The individuals then focused on the fruit’s surface and revealed some shocking results. And due to their findings, you might start to question if your approach to eating fresh produce needs to change.
More often than not, we’re required to wash fruits and vegetables before we sit down to eat them at home. This simple act clears away any dirt or grime that could still be residing on the surface. But as it turns out, running certain types of produce under a tap might not be enough.
As we highlighted earlier, TikTok users kick-started a new trend that focused on the state of fresh strawberries. In the videos, the people would grab a bowl from their kitchen and fill it up with water. Once that was done, they subsequently added around two tablespoons of salt to the mix.
Then, after placing the strawberries in the salt water, the users would leave them to soak for roughly 30 minutes. And when that time had elapsed, they took a closer look inside the bowl to see the results. The strange experiment quickly went viral, with those videos earning close to six million views on TikTok at the time of writing.
Before we explore the users’ findings, though, let’s switch our focus back to a previous point. As we’ve already stated, fruits and vegetables should be doused in water after you bring them into your kitchen. That’s because you’re not just cleaning off residual muck and grime.
There’s a chance that your fresh greens and fruits could actually be carrying harmful germs, and consumption of it could cause you to become ill. And if you’re wondering how they pick them up, an expert from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center went into a bit more detail.
Drew Patterson plies his trade as a culinary director at the college, and he spoke to Men’s Health magazine about the hidden dangers that these products could harbor. To illustrate his point, Patterson used green onions as an example.
“[Green onions are] like little straws – when you pull them out of the ground, it’s so easy for dirt to get down in there,” Patterson told the publication in August 2018. “You could get a food-borne illness if you eat a little chunk of dirt that happened to have a live strain of bacteria in it. [So washing your produce] can only provide positive benefits.”
One of the most famous examples of a “food-borne illness” is a condition known as the norovirus. Back in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that this ailment affected roughly 20 million Americans every year. The symptoms range from diarrhea to nausea, and in more extreme cases the virus can be fatal.
The chance of catching norovirus can be mitigated by washing your fresh vegetables and fruits with water. But this method doesn’t always get rid of every germ in the produce, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Brendan Niemira explained to LiveScience.
Niemira told the publication in 2010, “If you’ve got bacteria on the surface of fruits and vegetables, and you give them a wash with cold water, it removes some of what’s on the surface. Unfortunately, [cold water rinsing] doesn’t remove all of them, and that’s a problem.”
“If [germs] are well-attached or living in a tight-knit community called a biofilm, that’s going to be hard to get rid of,” Niemira added. Elsewhere, a group of experts published a paper on the matter in September 2017 in the Food Science & Nutrition journal, and they looked at pieces of lettuce that contained the E. coli bacteria.
Over the course of the project, the participants attempted to remove the E. coli from the affected lettuce by running the produce under a tap. Their efforts did make a slight difference in the end, but the harmful germ wasn’t completely removed. Therefore, it could still make you sick.
But bacteria isn’t the only thing that you need to worry about when you buy fresh products. Fruits and vegetables can contain traces of pesticides, too. And much like the aforementioned germs, they have the ability to pose a threat to your health.
But why do vegetables and fruits contain pesticides in the first place? Well, as the name suggests, the substances are used to ward off troublesome “pests” like rats and mosquitoes while the plants grow. They also protect the latter from weeds, too.
However, there isn’t just one type of pesticide, and farmers utilize a number of them. Insecticides target bugs, for instance, and herbicides focus on harmful plant growths. And as we highlighted earlier, you could be putting your health at risk by eating produce that’s been in contact with them.
Using insecticides as an example, it was reported that a certain compound known as chlorpyrifos might cause developmental issues in young kids back in 2017. Elsewhere, a herbicide called glyphosate has been linked to cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
It’s believed that pesticides can also spark medical ailments like diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s disease. As a result of those risks, the Center for Farmworker Families website unveiled a shocking statistic. It claimed that the average life expectancy of ranch employees in the United States stands at just 49 years old.
So given what we’ve talked about, it is important to ensure that your fresh fruits and vegetables are washed in the kitchen. But if you feel that a simple rinse under the tap won’t be enough, there are a couple of alternative methods you could use to rid the produce of any pesticide traces.
Cooler water is believed to clear away up to 80 percent of the pesticides found on fruit and veg, according to NDTV. But peeling and blanching might be even more effective, the Indian broadcaster claims. There’s actually a good chance that you could completely remove the harmful substances with the former approach.
White vinegar can also be a useful tool. Simply mix one tenth of it with nine tenths of water, bathe the produce in the solution, and then run it under a tap. These precautions should help, yet there are certain foods that you have to be especially wary of regarding pesticides.
For instance, you should take great care with produce such as mangoes, okra, apples, plums, tomatoes and grapes. Due to their various nooks and crannies, pesticide traces are more likely to be found in them. However, while the thought of consuming a hazardous chemical or harmful germ is pretty unnerving, something else came to light in May 2020.
As we touched upon earlier, some TikTok users began filming themselves soaking their strawberries in salt water. Since then, the videos have sparked a bizarre craze which has led to more people sharing their findings online. But what did they actually come across?
The craze kicked off after a writer called Krista Torres uploaded a video on TikTok showing her mixing salt water with strawberries. In the clip, she is heard making gagging noises as the camera shows a tiny worm crawling on one of the pieces of fruit after it has been soaked in the solution. And soon, a host of other users took to the social media platform to try the experiment out for themselves.
Within days of the initial post, numerous other TikTok users began posting their own clips showing different critters in their strawberries. One of them caught sight of a caterpillar-like creature emerging in her bowl of salt water, while another saw a maggot in his.
The videos were certainly shocking, but not everyone was surprised by what they found. Take Cornell University professor and entomologist Greg Loeb, who spoke to the CNN website. He offered his thoughts surrounding the craze just as the TikTok posts went into overdrive.
Loeb said bluntly, “If you’re eating fresh produce, you’re eating bugs. Sometimes we entomologists joke that, ‘Hey, it’s just a little bit more protein.’” While the TikTok videos showed a variety of insects emerging from the strawberries, though, one seemed to be more prominent than the others.
The bug in question was a little white insect which eventually grows into a fly known as a spotted wing drosophila. They were first sighted in the United States back in 2008, according to Sriyanka Lahiri, who is a small-crop and strawberry entomologist and assistant professor at the University of Florida. She explained to USA Today that the insects – which are attracted to sweet fruits – spread across the country like wildfire within a year.
Lahiri touched upon the process that the spotted wing drosophila goes through once it finds a strawberry. Apparently, it’s much like a fruit fly, albeit with a significant difference. Lahiri told the newspaper in May 2020, “[The spotted wing drosophila are] so sneaky that they’re the only pest that can be transported to the grocery store.”
“The female lays eggs inside perfect, ripe, undamaged fruit and that’s where you see this problem,” Lahiri went on. In contrast, the assistant professor noted, fruit flies generally target produce which is either damaged or overripe.
Lahiri then offered some insight into how the spotted wing drosophila is able to leave its offspring behind without being noticed. And it’s this special technique which means that farmhands are none the wiser when the time comes to harvest the fruit.
“This species is able to make a very fine incision that can’t be seen with a naked eye and [it] lays its eggs in there,” Lahiri continued. “When the picker gets the fruit, they can’t even see that there’s an egg because it’s deep in the fruit. That’s why it escapes detection, and it’s not possible to detect that a fruit has been infested.”
Lahiri subsequently switched her focus to the TikTok craze that was sweeping the internet in May 2020. Given what users were uncovering in the salt water, she tried to clarify why that particular mixture drew the insects out. Simply put, the expert intimated that they were “drowning” inside the strawberries.
Lahiri told USA Today, “When the egg gets laid, they have tiny breathing tubes that go out to the surface – even though they live deep inside the fruit. They’re at risk of getting dehydrated. So they start escaping [once the strawberry is submerged in salt water].”
Outside of the salt water solution, though, is there any other way to eliminate the bugs? According to Lahiri, you’d be hard-pressed to find an additional answer. She explained, “The management of this fly is tricky because nothing can be done if the spotted wing drosophila has laid its eggs.”
But there are ways to prevent the spotted wing drosophila from swarming strawberry fields. In fact, there might be a couple of different approaches that farmers could utilize going forward. The first is fairly simple, yet it would require workers to stay alert when they’re outside.
One of the better ways to stop the spotted wing drosophila in its tracks is by harvesting the strawberries as soon as they become ripe, according to Lahiri. If you do that, the bugs won’t have a place to lay their eggs. Furthermore, damaged produce should be removed too.
For those who want to rid themselves of the spotted wing drosophila for good, however, there is an alternative idea. Some harvesters will create their own makeshift traps for the insect with yeasted sugar water to see if they’re in the area. The aforementioned mixture mirrors the scent of fermenting fruit, so should they appear, the person can then put down insecticides.
But it isn’t all bad news, because it turns out that inadvertently consuming these bugs is generally not dangerous. Lahiri said, “The reality is that most fruits, [and] stored grains, have some level of insect infestation that is impossible to get rid of. It’s just having some extra animal protein in your diet.”
Greg Loeb also concurred with Lahiri’s comments during his conversation with CNN. According to him, you have nothing to worry about – regardless of how shocking the TikTok videos are. He concluded, “The real point is there are organisms on your fruit and even if it makes people uncomfortable, it’s definitely not going to hurt them. Eating those bugs won’t make you sick.”