Slugs seek three main things in your vegetable garden, moisture, food, and shed from the sun. They get both things from lettuce, so you may encounter many slugs hidden within your lettuce. Before using lettuce with slugs, you need to know if it is safe or not.
You cannot eat lettuce that has slugs in it because slugs carry parasites, such as rat lungworms that cause serious infections. Slugs also carry lots of bacteria and germs—diseases such as angiostrongyliasis and eosinophilic meningitis result from eating raw vegetables with slugs in them.
If you use lettuce in your salads, you need to ensure you don’t eat slugs. I’ll discuss the dangers of eating slugs in detail and what you can do to make your lettuce slug-free.
Why You Shouldn’t Eat Lettuce With Slugs in It
At a glance, lettuce looks clean and ready to eat. It is not unusual for you to pluck a few leaves and immediately put them in the salad bowl. This practice is a mistake because slugs are common in lettuce, and you can accidentally eat them. The CDC warns against eating lettuce that has slugs in it.
Slugs have many parasites. Rat lungworm is a common parasite that slugs pick up when eating rat feces. When you consume lettuce with an infected slug, the parasite will penetrate your intestines wall and move into the circulatory system.
The larva then finds its way into the central nervous system. The larvae will mature and reproduce. The adult worms will move through the brain until they die, causing neurological damage and eosinophilic meningitis.
Angiostrongyliasis is another parasite infection caused by rat lungworms. When left untreated, the result will be meningitis which can be fatal.
Signs of Slugs in Lettuce
Slugs are not always visible in the vegetable garden. Some hide within the leaves, and they may not be large enough for you to spot them when cutting your lettuce. You need to be careful when harvesting and preparing to eat raw lettuce. There are several telltale signs that slugs are on the lettuce.
The signs that slugs are in your lettuce include:
- Irregular holes on the lettuce.
- Silver snail trails on the soil and lettuce.
Slugs are most active at night because temperatures are low. They can quickly move around the garden without the risk of drying out. If you want to confirm the presence of slugs in your garden, the best time to check the signs is in the morning. Fortunately, slug trails maintain a silver appearance even when dry.
Slugs feed on the lettuce almost the same way as other pests. So, holes in the leaves may not be warning enough of the presence of slugs. However, it doesn’t hurt to check the lettuce before consuming them raw.
Is Slug Slime Harmful?
When eating raw vegetables, you’ll discover slug slime if your garden has slugs. You have to assume that there are slugs in your lettuce because you don’t want to risk eating slugs. Even if you don’t find slugs, you need to be careful about eating lettuce with slug slime.
Slug slime is harmful if it is from an infected slug. The slugs excrete the slime to allow for easy movement and when they exert pressure on the surface. If the slug has parasites, the slime will have some too. However, the number of parasites in the slime is much lower than those in the slug.
Eating lettuce with slime may not be as risky as eating slugs. However, it is still harmful because you do not know if parasites have infected the slugs or not. You need to make sure you clean the lettuce thoroughly before eating it.
How To Harvest and Clean Lettuce With Slugs
If slugs have taken over your lettuce garden, you don’t need to give up on the lettuce. You can still clean the leaves before using them in your salad. Slugs are only harmful to your health if you consume the raw lettuce without washing off the slime and removing any slugs.
Here is how you should harvest and clean lettuce with slugs:
- Cut the heads of the lettuce off the plant. Ensure you wear gloves if you are concerned about accidentally touching slugs while harvesting the lettuce. The best time to get lettuce from the garden is early in the morning before exposure to the sun. Slugs are active at night, so you will find some hidden within the lettuce leaves in the morning.
- Pick individual leaves if you don’t want to harvest the entire head. Remove individual leaves when the outer leaves are 4 – 8 inches (10.16 – 20.32 cm) long. You can also cut the lettuce plant to 3 inches (7.62 cm). The lettuce will grow new leaves.
- When the lettuce starts growing a seed stalk in the middle, the lettuce is bolting due to heat or maturity. Harvest all the lettuce when it starts to bolt because the lettuce will become bitter.
- If you have harvested the lettuce head, cut it in half. Remove the individual leaves while looking out for slugs. You can remove them with chopsticks or any other stick if you discover any. Separate the lettuce leaves and throw away any damaged leaves.
- Submerge the lettuce leaves in warm water and wash the leaves gently. Ensure you clean them quickly and remove them from the water within 30 seconds. Pour out the water.
- Fill the bowl with cold water, and rewash the lettuce. Pay close attention to the leaves with leaves and slug slime.
- Pour the water and fill it with cold water again. Let the lettuce leaves sit in the water for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lettuce and allow them to drain the excess water. If you have a colander, place the leaves in it so that it can drain all the water out of the leaves. After 5-10 minutes, blot the leaves dry using a clean paper towel. You can also use a vegetable spinner to dry the leaves faster.
- Place the lettuce in a plastic bag. Cover the lettuce with a paper towel to keep the lettuce crisp. Refrigerate the lettuce in the coolest part of the fridge. Ensure none of the lettuce is wilted or rotting.
- Avoid storing lettuce with pears, apples, or bananas because they release ethylene gas, a ripening agent. This gas will cause the lettuce to decay quickly.
This Neatness Salad Spinner (available on Amazon.com) is a 3-in-1 kitchen gadget that you can use to clean and dry your lettuce. It has an easy-to-use rotary handle that spins effortlessly. It has a built-in drainage system that takes on the excess water from the lettuce.
This video illustrates how you should clean your lettuce to ensure you don’t eat slugs or leaves with slime.
How To Keep Slugs From Your Lettuce
Lettuce with slugs is a breeding ground for parasites, which can cause serious health issues if you are not careful. You will be safe when you remove slugs from your lettuce and wash it properly before using it in your salad. You can also take steps to make your garden slug-free.
- Remove any items the slugs will use as a shelter against the scorching sun. For example, cardboards and concrete blocks are perfect hiding places for slugs, so you shouldn’t have them in your garden.
- Handpick or use a stick to remove the slugs from your garden as soon as you spot them. Slugs usually lay eggs in damp soil so you can control the future slug population in your garden. You may choose to pick the slugs randomly or be intentional in your search within the lettuce and under debris.
- Use copper barriers. Placing a copper tape around and within the garden will create an electric current every time the slug mucus comes into contact with the metal. The slugs will not be able to go over the tape. Instead, they will stay away from your garden.
- Scatter grit, coal fire ash, coffee grounds, or crushed eggs all over your garden. Slugs have difficulty moving over rough surfaces or items with sharp edges. Having a thick layer of these items at your garden’s boundary will prevent slugs from coming into your garden. You can make egg shells sharper by baking them under low heat.
- Set up bear traps in your garden. Sink a bowl half-filled with beer into the soil. The rim should be 0.5 inches (1 cm) above the soil surface. The aroma will attract slugs, and they will fall into the beer and drown. Replace the beer regularly to ensure the scent keeps attracting the slugs.
- Use slug pellets that contain ferric phosphate. Scatter the pellets in your garden when it has rained or when the ground is wet. Ensure you scatter the pellets lightly. A thick layer will interfere with the soil composition and harm vulnerable plants. You should avoid using slug pellets if your pets and children play outdoors.
Slugs can cause more harm than the holes they leave in your lettuce. You risk getting sick if you eat the slugs or the lettuce with slug trails from an infected slug. Some diseases can be fatal because the parasites will lay eggs and mature in your brain.
Since you cannot identify an infected slug just by looking at it, you are safer washing the lettuce leaves thoroughly before using them. You can also avoid infections and plant damage by controlling the slug population in your garden.