People are shocked by what happens when you put strawberries in salt water.

By Renee Cherry
May 21, 2020
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Welp, apparently there are bugs lurking in strawberries. In one of the latest trends on TikTok, people have been washing strawberries in salt water and filming tiny worm-like bugs that emerge.

Every video starts with someone leaving strawberries to soak in a bowl of heavily salted water. In some cases, they zoom in to show a few tiny bugs squirming on one of the berries. A few presumably staged videos show much larger bugs floating in the aftermath; others call BS on the trend with no bugs in sight. (ICYMI, people on TikTok are also experimenting with Pepto-Bismol face masks.)

Truth is, bugs hang out on crops while they're growing, and produce won't necessarily be completely bug-free once it reaches your plate. When it comes to strawberries, in particular, fruit flies are a major offender, according to the National Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Database. The pests sometimes lay eggs in ripe berries, then the eggs hatch into larvae that feed off of the inside of the fruit—those are the squirmy guys that people are discovering through their TikTok experiments. Soaking berries for 10 minutes or so in a salt-water or sugar-water solution can prompt the larvae to exit the fruit, as evidenced in these creepy-crawly videos.

If you're seriously considering swearing off strawberries at this point, keep in mind that consuming these bugs probably won't harm you. When testing food samples, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually allows for certain percentages of defects (such as the presence of larvae) at levels that the agency considers low enough not to pose health hazards. Under the FDA's guidelines, berries are passable unless a representative sample has four or more larvae per 500 grams or 10 or more whole insects per 500 grams. And FWIW, the FDA's rec for cleaning berries is to run water over and rub them, so no need to soak in salt if you want to pretend you never read this. (Related: How to Safely Handle Your Groceries During the Coronavirus Pandemic)

Admittedly, finding tiny worms in strawberries is still unsettling, even if the bugs are harmless. If you feel like you've lost your appetite, maybe try distracting yourself with another TikTok trend: mini pancake cereal.

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