Don’t Worry, The Caterpillar You Found In Your Dinner Is Totally Safe To Eat

Now with free caterpillar!

Now with free caterpillar!

Unless that’s what they set out to eat in the first place, people aren’t thrilled to find insects in their food. Reader V. and his family are vegetarians, and were even less thrilled than most people to find a worm in their package of frozen edamame from Trader Joe’s. When he wrote to complain, the company was pretty transparent about what the critter was and how it ended up in their dinner. The company gave a refund. But V. found the company’s assurance that the critter was safe to eat insensitive.

“All I wanted is them to be sensitive by not mentioning that the bug is edible and safe to digest,” he wrote. “If they can say that, then there is no reason to screen for those bugs I suppose.” Well, other than having to issue refunds when customers who don’t like eating caterpillars inevitably complain. Was their assurance that the caterpillar is safe to eat insensitive, or reassuring?

In the initial e-mail, V. wrote:

I purchased edmame soy beans (Frozen Soybeans in a pod) from your store . While my wife was eating them, she found a dead caterpillar in the pod. I have pictures taken. We are vegetarians as well, and it was quite disgusting. She had to throw up later just to feel ok. Please help

wormyworm

Customer Service wrote back to him:

We would like to express our sincerest regret and apologies for your experience with our Trader Joe’s Edamame.

We believe that quality is essential to good value, and that’s what we are all about!

We can assure you that our suppliers follow Good Manufacturing Practices and are continually looking for ways to improve their systems to ensure that they deliver a quality product.

In response to your specific findings, we would like to share with you that the worm you found is likely an Edamame Caterpillar that lays an egg in the pod as the pod is forming. The caterpillar then grows and feeds off the protein produced by the soybean plant. These occur only in the spring harvest, and our vendor is constantly searching for the perfect balance between pesticide usage and 100% worm free Edamame Pods. Their goal is to keep these as free from any pesticides as possible, so this is a delicate balance. The bean with the worm inside only shows a very small black spot on the pods exterior, making it difficult to detect.

Our vendor has recently installed new x-ray equipment, and this equipment along with their employees, will enable them to monitor this during the sorting process. The x-ray equipment shows the outline of the worm so in the future this should not be an issue.

Despite the unsightly nature of finding a worm in an Edamame pod, it does not pose a safety issue as it is fully cooked and safe to digest.

I have sent a copy of your e-mail to our Quality Assurance Department. We will continue to track this product for future trends and search for additional procedures that we can employ to reduce the likelihood of a future occurrence.

On your next store visit please stop by the Customer Service desk with the empty package for a full
refund.

Thank you for your time and thank you for shopping with us.

Sincerely,
[Redacted]
Customer Relations

Great response from Trader Joe’s – their concern over whether the critter was poisonous probably had more to do with V’s wife’s vomiting and the possible question of whether the caterpillar made her ill. Would it have been more or less sensitive to leave the part about the caterpillars being edible out?

By the way, if you’re concerned about finding your own edamame caterpillars, V. just sent us this exchange now, but it happened back in October.