Most of the fruit and vegetables we consume daily have had something crawl on them at one point or another: insects of all kinds, slugs… perhaps even mice! You can get away with eating all kinds of vegetables, but is it safe to eat those that slugs have been on?
You cannot eat vegetables that slugs have been on because slugs carry harmful parasites, such as rat lungworm. You can become an accidental host if you consume vegetables with slime from an infected slug. This can result in vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and in extreme cases, meningitis.
If you consume organic vegetables regularly, you know that it is common to find slugs on fresh produce. In this article, I will tell you more about the most appropriate way to handle vegetables that slugs have been on.
Will Slugs Contaminate Produce?
Research on slug-contaminated produce is limited. Available data suggests that you stay away from snails and slugs because these apparently innocuous mollusks may carry a parasitic nematode called Angiostrongylus cantonensis.
Slugs will contaminate produce, making it unsafe for human consumption. Slugs carry a lot of harmful bacteria, most of which remain in the slug’s body. However, a small percentage is in the slime, and not all slugs carry these parasites. So, while some produce may be contaminated, not all will be.
So, whether growing food for personal consumption or for sale, you have to look out for slugs in your garden. Although it is rare, slug contamination can cause severe problems, so you must know how to handle the produce that slugs have been on.
What Happens When You Eat Contaminated Vegetables
The problem with snails is that they may carry A. cantonensis larvae. When ingested, the larvae can penetrate your intestinal wall and circulatory system, eventually making their way into the central nervous system.
As they move through the body, the parasites may cause nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pains. The symptoms become more severe when the parasites get to the brain.
Once they reach the brain, the larvae keep growing until they reach the sub-adult stage. These worms will remain in your brain until they die, but until then, they may cause serious damage.
Whether dead or alive, worms in your brain can lead to serious neurological issues. The neurological damage caused by the worms, combined with the immunological response they trigger in the body, ultimately causes eosinophilic meningitis.
Local health authorities take slug contamination very seriously in areas where slugs are more likely to carry parasites, such as Australia and Hawaii. There have been cases where some people have gotten sick after being exposed to slug slime.
The Australian Government has been particularly concerned about the health risks associated with contaminated snails since 2018 when a teenager became paralyzed after eating a slug. In response, the New South Wales Government declared that it is possible to contract angiostrongyliasis from snails and snail slime on unwashed fresh produce (especially lettuce) and skin.
How to Handle Vegetables That Slugs Have Been On
What do you do with vegetables that have had slugs? After all, people grow their food for various reasons. Some do it to save money, while others do it to ensure that they only consume organic meals.
Since slugs are common in gardens, they will move over your vegetables as they feed. So, the risks of vegetable contamination are high. However, this doesn’t mean you throw away all your vegetables.
You can do away the following with vegetables that have had slugs.
- Get rid of leafy vegetables that have trails of slime. Slugs do not move on all vegetable leaves. You can throw away the upper leaves and eat those that were untouched.
- Avoid eating uncooked vegetables if they have slugs or slime trails on them. The risks of ingesting parasites are much higher if you eat raw vegetables.
- Thoroughly wash individual green leafy vegetables. Besides checking the presence of slug slime on each leaf, you will catch any hidden slugs because they usually remain hidden between vegetables as they wait for nightfall.
Some studies have shown that washing vegetables with vinegar, domestic salt, or sodium hypochlorite (bleach) doesn’t remove slime better than regular washing.
Unfortunately, this study was not conclusive on whether regular wash or washing agents kill worms. So, even though you manage to wash the vegetables well, there is no guarantee that you have successfully destroyed the parasites.
If you are specifically growing lettuce infested by slugs, you can read my other article where I discuss the dangers of eating slug slime and what you can do to make your lettuce slug-free: Can You Eat Lettuce That Has Slugs in It?
How to Keep Slugs From Your Vegetables
Keeping slugs from your garden is the best way to ensure your vegetables are safe for consumption. As mentioned above, washing the vegetables doesn’t guarantee safety from disease-causing parasites in the slime trails slugs leave behind.
Fortunately, you can do the following to discourage slugs from venturing into your garden and onto your vegetables:
Use Drip Irrigation
The first fix involves your watering technique: use drip irrigation instead of overhead irrigation. Slugs target wet foliage, so if you can keep water from the leafy vegetables, you will discourage slugs from crawling over them.
Clear the Area Around Your Garden
Long grass provides hiding spots for slugs, especially during the day when it is hot. Mowing the grass removes the hiding spots, which may force slugs to seek residence elsewhere, hopefully far from your garden.
Avoid Mulching With Shredded Wood, Straws, or Hay
Slugs tend to hide underneath them, only to come out at night. Instead, use heavier mulch, like compost and leaf mold.
You can read more on the topic in my other article: Does Straw Stop Slugs from Eating Strawberries?
Avoid Watering in the Evening
Don’t water your garden in the evening because slugs prefer wet conditions. Since they come out at night, a wet garden is perfect. Water your garden in the morning, and if you have to do it twice, water your vegetables early enough such that the garden is dry by nightfall.
Plant Herbs Close to Your Vegetables
Slugs despise fragrant foliage, so they will avoid a garden with scents they dislike. Examples include mint, thyme, sage, rosemary, and parsley.
Plant Furry or Fuzzy Foliage
Slugs also avoid plants with furry or fuzzy foliage. Examples include fennel and ferns. You can plant these around your garden to discourage slugs from living in your garden.
Slugs despise the texture of fuzzy foliage, so they will avoid getting close to them.
Create a Barrier
Use eggshells or thorny cuttings to create a barrier around your vegetables or garden. The soft bodies of slugs will not survive this barrier, so they will stay away from them.
You could also place self-adhesive copper tape around the vegetables to discourage slugs from going onto them. Copper gives slugs a harmless electric shock. It doesn’t harm them but scares them enough to keep off.
Sprinkle Coffee Grounds
You can sprinkle coffee grounds around the vegetables as well. Slugs cannot stand the bitter taste of ground coffee. Besides deterring slugs, coffee grounds add nutrients to the soil, giving you double benefits.
Keep Weeding Your Garden
Weeds provide shade and help retain moisture in the garden. This encourages slugs to venture into the garden because they have hiding spots, and the weeds provide shade from the scorching sun.
Remove Rotten or Fallen Fruits
You should remove any rotten or fallen fruits in the garden. These become easy-to-reach food for slugs, so they will rush into your garden if they discover “free” food on the ground.
Try Commercial Snail Bait
You can also use Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait (available on Amazon.com). It is easy to use, eliminates slugs effectively within 6 days, and is safe for organic gardening. It is also safe to use around pets.
Avoid Using Salt
Whichever option you use for slug control, you should avoid sprinkling salt in your garden. Besides the fact that it is a cruel way of killing slugs, salt is harmful to your plants. Salt absorbs water, depriving your vegetables of the water they need to thrive.
Here is a video guide demonstrating measures you can take to keep slugs away from your vegetables:
Signs Slugs Have Been on Your Vegetables
If you have vegetables in your garden, you should expect slugs to find them. Unfortunately, slugs often come out at night and hide during the day. This is partly because slugs cannot survive under direct sunlight.
Here are some of the signs of slugs in your garden.
Shiny Slime Trails
You should see shiny slime trails early in the morning or after it rains. You may also notice these trails after watering your garden because slugs emerge when the area is wet.
Irregular Holes on Leafy Vegetables
Although several insects and birds may be responsible for the holes in your vegetable, the culprits are likely to be slugs if there are slime trails around.
Slugs can cause significant damage to plants. So it helps to act fast when you consider the possibility they will leave trails of harmful parasites on your vegetables.
Use the tips above to control the damage and prevent slugs from multiplying in your garden.
Eating vegetables that slugs have been on carries risks that are not worth taking. While it is true that serious health problems are associated with the ingestion of contaminated slugs, the same parasites can be found in slug slime.
You need to be cautious when handling vegetables with slug slime. The safest and best practice is to take preventative steps to keep slugs away from your garden and vegetables.