How to Check for Bugs
With Tu B'Shvat approaching, the question is, how does one check fruit for bugs? After all, it is a very serious Torah prohibition to eat forbidden insects.
But another question arises: Are there any differences between popular halachic approaches today, and the approach found in Chazal and the Rishonim? After all, seeing how halachah has changed with regard to the kezayis, one wonders if has changed in other areas too.
After receiving a PDF in my email with detailed instructions from Rav Moshe Vaye's work Bedikat HaMazon, I thought it would be appropriate to compare two different approaches to checking fruit for bugs; that of Rav Vaye, and that of Chazal and traditional Judaism.
According to Rav Moshe Vaye’s sefer Bedikas HaMazon According to Chazal and Rishonim: Apricots dried whole: Open and check each half with through-lighting on both sides.
Apricots fruit sold halved: Soak in warm water, open the folds, unroll the edges, and check with through-lighting.
Blueberry Frozen: Preferable to grind it in blender. Fresh: Soak the blueberries in soapy water. Place in a large-holed strainer, and rinse well. Repeat soaking and rinsing 3 times. Preferably grind in blender. Dried: Difficult to check. Use only with Mehadrin Kashrus.
Cashew nuts Look over each one from the outside for nibbling or holes. If a nut seems to be infested, halve it and check inside. (A few thin brown crumbs inside the cashew are pieces of shell, not caused by bugs). If signs of infestation are found, halve and check each nut. [Even if no infestation is found, it is advisable to halve about 10% as a sample and check internally.]
Cherries maraschino: Open several (about 10%) as a sample. Check for a worm. If any infestation is found in the sample, open and check all of the batch. dried: Best to avoid using due to difficulty of checking.
Chestnuts Halve and check inside for a worm or dark crumbs (may be checked after cooking or roasting).
Dates Slit open with a knife, remove pit, check from both sides with through-lighting (looking for a dark bug about 2-3 mm. long or a worm, usually dead and dried up).
Fruit leather sold open Check against the light, looking for an ant or fly stuck on. grapes 1. Seperate tight clusters into small ones. Soak in soapy water and rinse well. Repeat soaking and rinsing 3 times. 2. Look at each grape. If you see a dark spot penetrating inside the grape, cut there and check inside for a worm.
Guava Cut the fruit into slices across and examine each slice on both sides. The worms are the same color as the fruit (with a black dot at the head) and are hard to identify.
alternate method: Peel the fruit and check for a small hole or a dark mushy area.
Cut out this area and examine it for worms in the flesh of the fruit.
Kiwi The fruit itself is clean. On rare occasions there may be white or brown scale insects on the peel. Take care that they do not get transferred onto the fruit during peeling; Alternately, rinse off the fruit after peeling.
Loquat Open the crown at the bottom of the fruit and check it for small insects.
nuts chopped Shake the nuts in a wire mesh strainer over a white surface and check the surface for small bugs. Then pour the nuts themselves, which remained in the strainer, onto a white surface and check between the pieces.
Nuts in shell As you shell each nut, check the inside of the shell and the nut for sticky webbing dangling, round dark crumbs, or worms. Check the nut for holes or nibbling.
nuts shelled Check each nut on both sides for webbing, holes, or nibbling. If a nut seems to be infested, halve it and check inside. If signs of infestation are found, halve and check each nut. [Even if no infestation is found, it is advisable to halve about 10% as a sample and check internally.]
Olives green olives: If there’s a brown stain, open the olive and check inside for a tunnel.
black olives: Open and check inside for a tunnel or a worm.
olive rings: Spread out and check for a tunnel or worm.
peaches canned Check for maggots in fruits and juice.
pecans shelled Check the nuts on both sides for webbing, worms, or round crumbs.
persimmon Remove the leaf at the top and wash well. If the fruit is unusually soft, check it inside. If there is a black stain on the peel, remove the peel at that spot and check to see if there are white maggots inside the fruit. (Small black dots in the flesh are not a problem).
carob Wash well, break into small pieces (2 cm.=1 inch) and check for crumbs, webbing, worms, or insects.
figs fresh and dried Highly infested. The procedure for checking is complicated and difficult. For instructions, see sefer “Bedikas HaMazon” in English.
goji berries Highly infested and very difficult to check. Avoid eating them.
mulberries Very infested and difficult to check. Avoid eating them.
quince (grown in Israel) Halve the fruit and check for a worm or tunnel with dark crumbs. Remove the affected area. Quince in the U.S. is clean.
raisins Raisins, including California raisins, should preferably not be used, due to their high incidence of infestation.
Craisins can be used as a substitute.
If one wants to use regular raisins, it is preferable to use raisins that have already undergone a preliminary screening, such as raisins with Badatz Eida Chareidis supervision. These should be checked thoroughly as follows: 1. Soak in hot water for 15 minutes. 2. Pour the top layer of water onto a white plate and check the water for worms or brown insects. If any are found, don’t use batch, because the worms can also be inside. 3. If no bugs are found, rinse the raisins well under running water.
raspberries Very infested and difficult to check. Avoid eating them.
strawberries There is a world-wide problem of thrips, (small thin insects) which hide in the little depressions on the strawberries and do not come off with the usual cleaning methods. Therefore strawberries should only be eaten in one of the following 2 ways:
Method A: With a knife, cut off the leaf at the top together with a few millimeters of the fruit. Remove any cracks, deep clefts,or damaged areas. Soak in water mixed with a little dishwashing liquid for 3 minutes, rub in the water, and rinse well under running water in such a way that the water reaches every part of the berry.
This process should be done three times, after which the berries may be cooked or blended.
Method B: Peel off the entire outer layer of the berry (including deep cracks and the place where the leaf is attached). Rinse after peeling.
oranges, tangerines, There are often brown or dark gray scale insects on the peel. During peeling and cutting, take care that they do not get
mandarines, grapefruit, transferred onto the fruit or onto your hands. Or rinse off the fruit after peeling. If you want to use the peel, scrub it with a hard brush or metal scrubbie and dishwashing liquid, rinse, and check to make sure no scales remain.
internal infestation: There are sometimes fruit-fly maggots inside the flesh of oranges, grapefruit, mandarines, and tangerines. This is rare when the fruit comes from orchards that were tended, especially in the winter. Citrus from trees that weren’t sprayed, such as from private gardens or from Arabs during Shmitta, as well as citrus in the summertime, is more likely to harbor fruit-fly maggots.
A. As you peel the fruit, look at the white side of the peel, checking for a brown stain or a mushy area that continues into the fruit. If this is found, check to see whether maggots penetrated at that point.
B. If the fruit is soft and mushy or has an unusual odor, the inside of the segments should be checked. If one fruit is found to have maggots, all the fruits of that batch should be checked carefully.
orange juice — fresh squeezed (at home or at a stand): Advisable to strain juice through a strainer. Alternately, the orange peel can be cleaned with a metal scrubbie and dishwashing liquid before the fruit is juiced to prevent scales from entering the juice.
peanuts Look over each one from the outside for nibbling or holes. If a peanut seems to be infested, halve it and check inside. If signs of infestation are found, halve and check each peanut. At the end of the summer and in the fall extra care is required. [Even if no infestation is found, it is advisable to halve about 10% as a sample and check internally.]
coated peanuts (chocolate-coated, candy-coated, etc.): Open about 10%. If infestation is found, open them all.
pistachios Remove the shell and check for worms or webbing. If a nut seems to be infested, halve it and check inside. If infestation is found, each nut should be halved and checked internally. [Even if no infestation is found, it is advisable to halve about 10% as a sample and check internally.]
pumpkin seeds: in the shell: Usually clean. If the shell is damaged, open and check for worms.
shelled: Shake in a plastic noodle strainer over a white surface and check the surface for worms. If worms are found, do not use.
sunflower seeds: in the shell: Shell and check each one.
shelled: Shake the seeds in a wire mesh strainer over a white surface and check the surface for small bugs. Then pour the seeds onto a white surface and check between them. If worms are found, do not use.
watermelon seeds: Shell and check a sample (about 10%). If infestation is found, the entire batch should be shelled and checked.
pineapple fresh: Peel and remove all hard brown hollow areas.
dried with sugar: Look at it on both sides for a fly or bug that got stuck to it.
natural dried: Break into a few pieces and check in the small spaces in the flesh of the fruit for worms or dark round crumbs.
in natural pineapple juice: Sometimes infested. Pineapple in syrup is preferable.
pomegranate Check for a hole in the peel. When taking out the seeds, check for small white maggots or a brown worm.
sugar-apple Peel and rinse. Cut into segments and check for white worms.
walnuts shelled Place the nuts in a large-holed strainer and shake over a white surface. Check the surface for small bugs or worms. Check each nut on both sides, especially inside the folds, for webbing, worms, or nibbling.
Look at the fruit. If you don't see a bug, eat it.
Yes, this is somewhat over-simplified. But not much. Chazal and Jews throughout the generations were clearly not doing the kind of checking demanded by Rav Vye. Not only is there no mention of such procedures; they didn't even having clean water on tap, nor did they have good lighting after dark. And it's hard to argue that the situation with bugs has significantly changed. For more details, see the article "The Scientific Revolution and Modern Bedikat Tola’im Trends" from Hakirah, available online at http://www.hakirah.org/Vol22Adams.pdf. See too the work Lachem Yihiye Le'Achlah by Rabbi Eitam Henkin hy"d and the follow-up article at this link.
UPDATE: See the follow-up post at this link.
See the previous post for my forthcoming US lecture schedule.
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