Are Tiny Bugs Hiding in Your Strawberries? An Expert Explains.
In a now-viral video, a TikTok user soaks her strawberries in a bowl of salt water and, to the horror of about 1.5 million viewers, tiny bugs begin to crawl out of the fruit. You can chalk the admittedly gross phenomenon up to basic osmosis — and, in this case, what appears to be a bad batch of strawberries.
According to Dr. Sriyanka Lahiri, an entomology and nematology professor at the University of Florida who researches pests and strawberries, people use saltwater solution to clean fruit because it causes water from inside to flow out of the fruit’s cell membrane, drawing out lingering grime. In the TikTok video, the water also happened to include tiny bugs.
The good news is, you definitely don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) stop buying or eating strawberries. Lahiri says what you see in the TikTok video is an isolated incident — it’s highly unlikely bug-infested fruit would ever make it from the farm to the store all the way to your home. That’s because the type of fruit fly in the video, which Lahiri identified as the spotted wing drosophila, generally only lays eggs on rotting fruit that’s still on the vine. So any fruit with bugs in it was picked too late, when the fruit was already over-ripe.
“These female flies can only lay eggs on the fruit if it’s been sitting out for too long and hasn’t been harvested,” she says. “Watching the video, I was more concerned about the source of the fruit itself.”
Lahiri says consumers don’t have to worry about these bugs hitchhiking from a strawberry farm into a grocery shopper’s basket, because most farmers take responsibility for ensuring their strawberries are picked at just the right time. “Growers monitor fruit flies, because they’re drawn to fruity smells,” she says. “They would know to start picking fruit on time and not let the fruit sit there to avoid this kind of situation.”
Even in the rare event your strawberries are home to baby fruit flies, you don’t have to worry. For one thing, you honestly probably wouldn’t even notice (unless, of course, you’re trying the TikTok trend). And if you accidentally do consume the bugs (gross, we know), you’re probably not going to get sick.
“If there were a few fly eggs in fruit that was picked, the size is so minute — and there’s no report out there showing that such tiny fly eggs would have a negative impact on a person if they were consumed,” Lahiri says.
Moral of the story: If you bought a box of strawberries from the grocery store, you can rest assured that these vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits are probably safe to eat. And while Lahiri says you don’t need to soak your produce in salt water, definitely give any fruit or vegetable a thorough rinse before eating.
“If you rinse your produce under running tap water, that should take care of any dust or residue on it,” she says. “Then it’s definitely safe to eat.”