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Why Check for Insects?

Star-K lab

Photographing a Strawberry with the Star-K laboratory's Digital Microscope

The Torah tells us that a Jew is not allowed to eat tolaim (insects). Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:41 states, “v’chol ha’sheretz h’ashoraitz al ha’aretz sheketz hu lo yochal” - And every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth is a detestable thing; it shall not be eaten. Therefore, a particular food that is known to have an insect on it cannot be eaten until the insect has been removed. What is the status of a food which is only suspected of containing an insect but not known with certainty? Is a person obligated to check the item to determine whether there is an insect, or is a person allowed to assume there is no presence of infestation? This would depend upon the likelihood of there being an insect on that particular variety of food. If the majority of that type of food does have insects, there is a Torah obligation to check. If the majority of that type of food does not have insects, there is no Torah obligation to check. Although there is no Torah obligation to check a food if the majority does not have insects, there is, a Rabbinic obligation (a stringency the Rabbis of the Talmud added to safeguard the precepts of the Torah) to check a food even if only a sizable minority of that type of food has insects. The book, Teshuvos Mishkenos Yaakov, defines a “sizable minority” as more than 10%. According to this opinion, if fewer than 10% of that type of food has insects, there is no need to check any of it.

In general, there are five insect policy categories we may assign to a particular food:

  1. May use without washing or checking
  2. May useafter cleaning
  3. May use after checking each item first
  4. May use after checking. Chazaka check is acceptable. (A chazaka is a means to create a halachic assumption. In general, if any action, activity, or circumstance is repeated three times, or repeats itself three times, Jewish law dictates one is permitted to assume that what has been consecutively repeated will now continue to repeat itself.)
  5. Not recommended

As mentioned above, there are three main pieces of information used to determine which insect policy will be assigned to a food item:

  1. Prevalence of infestation
  2. Type of insect (size, visibility)
  3. Location of insect on the item (hard to reach or clean areas)

The information presented on this site is based on research and testing performed by the Star-K.

NOTE: It is imperative that one familiarize oneself with the appearance of aphids, thrips, flies and other common foodborne insects before attempting to inspect vegetables.