A new (and horrifying) TikTok trend has emerged recently, and it will change the way you eat strawberries. Dubbed the “Strawberry Challenge”, it sees users submerging unwashed strawberries in saltwater for a few minutes, then reacting in horror and panic as bugs, worms and other creepy crawlies are seen emerging from inside the fruits.
What’s perhaps even more horrifying is that experts say this is perfectly normal business. You can check out some strawberry-purging videos here, here and here but fair warning, they’re not for the faint-hearted.
Where do the bugs come from?
The plain truth is this: We have actually been eating bugs for as long as we have been eating fruits. As Greg Leob, an entomologist and professor at Cornell University told CNN, “If you’re eating fresh produce, you’re eating bugs.”
This is because fruit flies, specifically the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), would often lay their eggs inside soft-flesh fruits, like raspberries, cherries, and strawberries, right before harvest, according to strawberry and small fruit crop entomologist Sriyanka Lahiri who is also an assistant professor at the University of Florida in an interview with Health.com.
Will eating bugs make you sick?
“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,” says Leob.
Since digesting fruit flies and other creepy crawlies found in strawberries is (fortunately) not harmful, not much action has been taken by food authorities around the world.
For example, the US Food and Drug Administration allows a certain percentage of defects to remain in the food, explaining that it is ‘economically impractical’ for crops to be a 100 per cent free from all defects, including bugs, worms and mould.
It sounds unsettling, but this is why eggs can hatch within the ripened fruit and, as we have seen on TikTok are forced out of hiding when the fruit is soaked in salt water.
You might be feeling queasy about having a little extra protein in your fruits, but Loeb shares that there is no need to go the extra mile when washing your fruits, just water alone is sufficient as the bugs that you might ingest are tiny ones that you won’t even notice.
After all, people have been consuming strawberries and their hidden bugs for centuries with no known negative health effects, though you might just want to rinse for a few more seconds, for good measure.
The real problem with fresh produce
In fact, we should be more concerned about consuming pesticide on our fruits and vegetables. If you’ve ever eaten unnaturally bitter greens or taken a bite out of a particularly waxy apple, you might not have washed your fresh produce properly.
Despite strict standards set by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and stringent checks, The Straits Times reported in 2016 that some 300 batches were stopped from being sold after pesticide residue found on samples exceeded levels allowed by authorities.
To keep your family safe, here’s the right way to wash your fruits and vegetables to get rid of pesticide residue (and other microbes) to keep your food safe for eating: