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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

A Rat Lungworm in your salad?

A lovely thought as my daughters and I head out to one of the local restaurants here in Hawaii. I wonder if the organic, local salad that we order tonight was grown with any concern for good agricultural practices and inspected by a local government official, or if a local farmer grew it that simply believes that small Ag, being always good, is always safe?

So, back to rat lungworm – it is a tropical disease found in warm, moist climates that is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, a parasitic worm carried by rats (the parasites live in the pulmonary arteries of rats, hence the name “rat lungworm”). The rats excrete worm larvae in their feces, which are sometimes eaten by small snails and slugs that often nestle in the folds of lettuce, peppers and other produce.

In January 2009 three people in Hawaii came down with rat lungworm disease after eating raw vegetables – and physicians fear they may have accidentally swallowed slug larvae hidden inside folds of raw peppers. One of the eaters eventually survived a coma. In May 2011 four probable cases of rat lungworm disease where discovered in Hawaii among salad eaters.

Symptoms of rat lungworm disease can include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, skin and light sensitivity, and other problems related to the brain and spinal cord, such as numbness or partial paralysis. The symptoms differ in severity, with most people recovering without ever seeking treatment. In rare instances, the worm causes potentially deadly meningitis, an infection of the fluid that bathes the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include severe headache, stiff neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin, low-grade fever, nausea, and vomiting. The severity of the illness seems to depend on how many worms are ingested, how strong a person’s immune system happens to be, and how long the worm stays in the central nervous system.

Keeping gardens free of rodents, snails and slugs can reduce the risk of rat lungworm disease, which means washing all raw vegetables and fruits thoroughly and visually inspecting them to be sure they are free of slugs and snails.

  • Steve

    Hmmmm…. Bill’s on the horns of a dilemma: (if even given a choice) should one order the locally fresh organic salad from local family farmers — or the “Fresh-Cut” leafy greens product with the 17 day shelf life shipped in from AZ??
    Video scare stories aside, slugs and snails are destructive agricultural pests unwanted by consumers — or farmers and gardeners.
    Well, in addition to spraying a regular dose of a whole range of toxic chemical insecticides, fungicides herbicides and other pesticides — chemical growers also use molluscicides to kill slugs and snails — generally some form of Metaldehyde bait where the active ingredients, Methiocarb and Thiodicarb, disrupt the production of cholinesterase, an essential nervous system enzyme — that are also proven extremely toxic to pets and wildlife (as well as to young children attracted to the brightly colored pellets).
    Organic growers, on the other hand, achieve excellent control of slugs and snails with effective low toxicity products like “Slug-go” — an iron phosphate granular bait formulation that is safe to use around pets and wildlife and that eventually breaks down to become a benign soil amendment.
    As to the other microbial food safety considerations beyond the use of toxic pesticides and industrial treatments — I’ll choose the foods that farmers feed themselves and their own daughters day in and day out, thank you very much…

  • Why does there need to be a dilemma? Why can’t small Ag embrace size appropriate food safety policies instead of simply believing small is safe. Why can’t small organic local Ag differentiate itself from big Ag by actually making food safe from all perspectives – including labor?

  • Steve

    Begging your pardon Bill, but there’s a mistaken perception out there (promoted and exacerbated by Big Ag) that smaller scale farmers are exempt from — or think they are not beholden to — verifiable food safety precepts. This is simply not so.
    Much of the negotiation in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in Congress finally ended up putting in place a range of risk and scale-appropriate food safety measures — not the one-size-fits-all regs that would easily force smaller farmers out of business, by design or neglect.
    Effecting “small” and “very small” farmers only — Senators Senators, Bennett, Brown, Stabenow, Tester and others placed amendments in FSMA that better defined the distinctions between facilities and farms, cut down on paperwork, provided traceback without having to purchase expensive bar-coding equipment and created funding for food safety education for this sector. However, we still have to see what regulations FDA’s rule making process actually creates out of the legislation.
    But the idea that small farmers somehow believe that “small is safe” is ridiculous — and is another scare tactic being used by Big Ag and its minions. The fact is organic and sustainable farming organizations across the country have embraced scale-appropriate food safety — making food safety education and practices a top priority. And farmers and gardeners are flocking to conferences, field days, extension events and workshops to learn the latest state-of-the-art food safety practices — as if their lives and livelihood depend on it.
    That’s because it does — in their face-to-face relationships with consumers safety and quality rule. Where the Big Ag corporations just write off their recall losses and continue on with business-as-usual (a little wiser we hope) — small farmers are only as good as their last sale. And smaller farmers — who feed themselves and their families with the same food they grow, process and sell to consumers — have ALL the incentive in the world to do things right.
    The only “dilemma” I mentioned previously is that of consumers deciding to purchase local organic — or conventional. Practicing appropriate food safety methods is a basic condition for all participating in the marketplace — even as the big national players are trying to use their scientifically-unverified food safety metrics and super-metrics to gain a competitive advantage. But for more and more consumers there is no dilemma at all — they’ll order the healthy, pesticide-free food every time…

  • Doc Mudd

    Nicely crafted NOFA-sponsored fairy tale there, but the reality is quite different for consumers…
    http://www.marlerblog.com/case-news/know-your-farmer-know-your-food—except-when-it-is-not-the-food-they-grew/
    And it’s much too soon to begin overlooking the historic debacle with organic sprouts in Germany.
    Oh, sure, the NOFA types talk a good game. Rant on and on about the imagined evils of modern farming, technology, sanitary food processing. Even scrawl some nice, quaint cardboard signs at their booths to deliver deceptive “no pesticides” messages. All so very trendy and enticing!
    It’s just one big over-hyped laissez-faire honor system with a carefully calculated caveat emptor outcome. That’s what’s being fiercely protected by these “small” producers who cannot, will not comply with ordinary food safety measures for selfish pecuniary reasons. These dreamers have convinced themselves they are somehow different from farmers anywhere else, different from “Big Ag”, but their gambit is transparent to rational thinking folks. NOFA-type activists invest untoward amounts of energy bashing modern agriculture, poisoning the well in a shabby attempt to differentiate their substantially equivalent products. All bullcrap and gunsmoke with an elitist twist.
    Don’t be taken in. Protect your family’s food safety (and your grocery budget). Keep your wits about you in the farcical “face to face” sales carnival as the syrupy sales pitch is flowing.
    At the farmers market, at the CSA, at the organic co-op, at the yuppie deli it’s caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!!