Black Widows In Grapes: How Are Venomous Spiders Ending Up In Our Produce?

on November 23 2013 1:44 PM
black-widow-grapes
Black widow spiders, North America’s most venomous arachnid, are popping up in supermarket grapes all over parts of the U.S. Creative Commons

First, there were Brazilian spiders bursting from bananas in the U.K. Now, it’s grapes that are harboring venomous arachnids. On Thursday, a woman in York County, Pa., found black widows in her grapes.

The Huffington Post reported that Yvonne Whalen was washing some grapes she had purchased a week earlier from Giant Food Stores, when her fingers felt something slimy. Upon closer inspection, Whalen realized the strange substance was a sticky, water-drenched spider web – with a large, black widow spider hiding underneath. 

"I saw the spider come up," Whalen told the York Daily Record. "I quickly dropped the colander and screamed. My first thought was to use a hose and force it down the drain into the garbage disposal." Later, Whalen found a second black widow spider in the grapes, only this one was dead. 

A spokesperson for the grocery store said the store would “diligently inspect” its produce for signs of black widows in their grapes. Whalen said she, too, would inspect her grapes more carefully before picking up a bag at the supermarket. 

Whalen’s encounter with a black widow in her grapes isn’t an isolated event. According to Food Safety News, shoppers have encountered the venomous arachnid in grapes purchased from supermarkets in Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  

Earlier this month, a woman in Milwaukee, Wis., was surprised to find a black widow in grapes she picked up from a local supermarket. According to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinal, Yvonne Duckhorn bought some grapes from Aldi Supermarkets, a German-owned supermarket chain with 1,200 locations in the U.S. While at the store, Duckhorn inspected the plastic container of grapes for mold, when she noticed something crawling around inside. That’s when she realized there was a venomous black widow spider among the grapes. 

"I saw the legs moving frantically," Duckhorn told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinal. "I've seen bugs on fruit before, and I thought, 'That is a very big spider.' Nothing I'd ever seen before."

Aldi Supermarkets pulled grapes from its shelves at several locations in Milwaukee. "We sincerely regret any inconvenience or concern this situation may have caused,” the company said in a statement. 

Several supermarkets in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have had black widow sightings of their own. Food Safety News reported that in St. Louis, two black widow spiders were found in grapes in early October. In September, a school in Maplewood, M.N. found a black widow in a shipment of grapes. 

Black widow spiders are the most venomous spiders in North America and among the most venomous arachnids in the world. They are most recognized by the red hourglass shape on their black abdomens. About 1 percent of black widow spider bites are deadly. 

So how did the deadliest spider in North America end up in supermarket grapes? According to Web Pro News, since the mid-1990s, farmers have been under increasing pressure to cut back on insecticide use. Newer and stricter regulations barred them from spraying chemicals that were once used to kill invasive insect species. 

In response to new limitations on pesticide use, some growers turned to employing black widow spiders in their fields to catch and eat insects. The spider’s coloring often renders it undetectable to field inspectors. 

Young children and the elderly are particularly affected by black widow spider bites, which can cause nausea, fever and swelling. Anyone bitten should seek medical attention immediately. 

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