A few bugs turn up in push for organic food

Two students found several insects in the steamed broccoli served at Eickhoff Hall on Oct. 18.

Shaina Basile, junior criminology and justice studies major, said she was about to eat the broccoli from the “Classics” station when a freshman student saw her and stopped her from eating it.

“To my horror, there were about 10 to 15 little black bugs under the broccoli head,” Basile said. “I immediately told her that it had to be reported to the kitchen staff because it was a health hazard.”

The students spoke with Lee Brandolini, director of Resident Dining, who pulled the tray from the Classics station and inspected the other frozen bags in the kitchen, all of which were fine.

John Higgins, general manager of Sodexho Dining Services, said having insects in the produce is one of the issues that come with purchasing produce from small farmers. This year, Sodexho has adopted the Jersey Fresh program, so produce is purchased from local farmers within the state whenever possible.

“We’ve made a significant shift in produce purchasing this year,” Higgins said.

“This is one of the challenges with local farming.”

He said Sodexho contacted the produce company after the insects were found.

Higgins said the change to Jersey Fresh was caused by student feedback for healthier, more organic food, students’ call for sustainability and President R. Barbara Gitenstein’s signing of the Campus Climate Commitment, an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the College. A goal of the Jersey Fresh program is to do away with pesticides.

Higgins said the New Jersey Department of Agriculture called the College one of the most aggressive colleges in the Jersey Fresh Program.

Barbara Bromley, Mercer County horticulturist, said the insects found are not actually a health hazard.

“We have very clean food here in the United States as opposed to other countries, especially packaged pantry food,” Bromley said. “But occasionally something gets by.”

Bromley said the insects would not physically hurt someone who accidentally ate them.

“It doesn’t hurt you, it more hurts your psyche,” she said.

Bromley said broccoli is one of the most difficult crops to grow without insects because of the little buds.

“It’s easy for insects not to be rinsed off or steamed off in the cooking process.” she said.

Basile said she thought the Eickhoff staff should have informed people already eating in Eickhoff about the insects.

“It is really possible that people in the cafeteria were eating the broccoli but weren’t informed of what happened,” she said. “I feel that the people who were eating in Eickhoff at that moment should have been told.”

Bromley said the insects that would infect broccoli are edible.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said, “but not a health risk.”