Over thirty years ago, we realized that due to the dangers of some of the pesticides, they stopped using the more effective ones, and suddenly we started finding bugs in certain vegetables. It took over ten years for mainstream Judaism to stop laughing at us and to start taking this seriously. Unfortunately, as expected, many went way too far. One reason is that people don’t necessarily understand the laws, and therefore chumrot immediately set in. I have been asked to give a bit of an overview, so here goes.
Most people that are strict on the bug issue believe that each bug you eat is a transgression of a commandment and therefore extremely serious. While that is true, the reality is different, and if they were to spend time studying the laws, they’d know better. The laws are located in Shulchan Aruch SIman 84.
When a person comes upon a portion of vegetables that they want to eat, they need to ask themselves are there any bugs in here. If the bugs are smaller than the eye can see, they do not count. There are living organisms in water and in the air. You can drink water and breathe without worrying. (Look at the Aruch Hashulchan)
If the bug is not whole, it is automatically batel (rendered irrelevant), since it’s always going to be less than 1/60th, and additionally it would give a bad flavor (noten taam lifgam).
The only time it is a problem is if there’s a whole bug in the bowl of vegetables. Then of course our machmir is right. If you know there’s a whole bug in your bowl and you intentionally eat this bug, it is a serious transgression.
Now, we never can know for sure that there’s a bug in our bowl, and anyone in his right mind will not eat it if they knew such a thing.
Automatically, any time we take a bowl of vegetables, the maximum we have is a possibility that there may be a bug there. That is referred to as a Safek. Since it’s not a Rabbinical law, but rather in the Torah itself, a Safek is not permitted.
The Rashba explains in Torat Habayit that in the case of bugs in fruits and vegetables we usually have two safeks.
- Is there even a bug there at all.
- Is that bug possibly not whole.
When you have two safeks, it’s referred to as a Safek-safeka and it is allowed. So technically any typical bowl of vegetables should be fine without checking and without thinking about bugs.
However, the Rashba adds that if bugs are common (Matzui) in this vegetable, one is required to check for bugs, and that’s why we check for bugs on lettuce and the like. Years ago bugs were found in certain grains and your grandparents were probably checking those.
The Aruch Hashulchan clarifies the obvious, that certain vegetables in certain places might commonly have bugs, while the same vegetables in other places might not. When we research and determine that a specific vegetable in a specific area commonly has bugs, then those vegetables must be checked before eating them.
People often complain that I’m so lenient on bugs. It’s not leniency, it’s the Halachah. I try to stick to the law and not add my own stuff.
Our research showed a lot of bugs in broccoli and cauliflower. We found in many of the greens, like spinach and lettuce. The greens are easy. Instead of checking them, you can just clean them well. Think about it, if you inspected the leaf with all types of lights and you found a bug, you will rub that bug off the leaf. Why not just rub the whole leaf under the water as you would do anyway. In a nice restaurant, that’s how they clean leafy vegetables. You won’t get bugs on your plate. Broccoli and cauliflower are more complicated. It’s very difficult to impossible to check them and there’s always some bugs in each bag. Ideally, purchase the Bodek brand or something reputable. If you do or did eat regular brand of these, you have not transgressed the Torah law of do not eat bugs. Rather you were lax in the requirement of checking for bugs when they’re common. That’s a huge difference. It’s a bit like not eating Glatt. Meat that’s not Glatt is still kosher, however the expected inspection was not made.
But here’s something else very important that you should know. When the fruits or vegetables that commonly have bugs are chopped up in a blender or food processor, they’re fine too, no need to check, because you can assume the bugs are not whole anymore. Now you shouldn’t chop them just to get rid of the bugs, but if the recipe calls for that, for example broccoli kugel or fruit in a smoothie, then it’s fine. That’s why all Starbucks drinks are Kosher in spite of what some want to say.
So, in places where there is no specific data about specific vegetables or fruit, you don’t need to think about it. In the Northeast of the USA where we did our research, we recommend you watch out for the above.
Onions can easily be eaten without checking by cutting the top and bottom tips and removing the first layer of skin. That’s how most people do it anyway. That’s the only place bugs hang out.
Strawberries are similar. Snip off the green area with a little red and your bugs are gone.
Over the years many people added multiple vegetables and fruits to the list. I don’t trust most of them and therefore don’t rely on their information. Usually the chumra people come out of the woodwork, and if they don’t know the Halachah, suddenly everything is either black or white.
I hope this sheds some light on the bug issues. I welcome any of you to study the laws in depth and I will gladly have further conversations on this.