Steve Kronski, a produce worker at the Quinpool Superstore, likes his job. With the company for several years, Kronski says his job is less than exciting, except when someone finds a spider in the produce.
Kronski (not his real name) says a black widow spider was captured a month ago. Some of the types of spiders found by Kronski and his co-workers include black widows, yellow sack spiders and a variety commonly called the banana spider.
“Am I afraid of being bitten? Obviously, it’s the kind of thing that’s always in the back of your head when you’re putting the product out,” says Kronski. “I always keep an eye out.”
In December 2003, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released a report cautioning consumers about black widow spiders turning up in imported grapes. In September 2004, Atlantic Superstore sent a document to its Quinpool location informing staff of precautions to take while handling the imported produce.
The 2004 document recommended that tropical produce be handled in a contained area, employees handling tropical fruit wear gloves and that employees check their gloves, clothes and shoes for spiders after handling produce. It also recommends that spiders found be reported to the Natural History Museum for classification.
Kronski says he doesn’t wear the protective gloves and instead of notifying the Natural History Museum, the produce staff will ask co-workers to classify spiders. Kronski says a couple co-workers have a vast knowledge of spiders from years of personal interest. After the spider is killed or contained, Kronski says they are kept out back in the plastic pineapple containers for a fun type of show and tell. Recently, one staff member took a black widow spider home to keep as a pet.
Pete Luckett, owner of Pete’s Frootique, says his staff finds spiders in produce only “once in a blue moon.” He says chemical and organic controls and new packaging techniques minimize spiders and insects found in imported produce. As a result, his staff isn’t required to takes safety precautions while handling imported fruit.
Atlantic Superstore employee Dirk Roymn says finding spiders in the produce section is a non-issue. He says that if an employee or customer did find a spider, the solution is simple: “drop it and step on it.”
Andrew Hebda, zoologist at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, says there are usually two high volume times each year for finding spiders in imported produce. In June and July, they arrive from Central and South America and the southern States; in November and December, they come from banana producers in Chile and Mexico.
Hebda says the spiders found in imported produce are not a big risk to employees or consumers. “It’s cold when they handle the produce, and spiders are cold-blooded,” he says. “They move slowly so employees have more time to react.” Although spiders should be treated with caution and the CFIA advises consumers to wash their grapes thoroughly, most spiders found would be too small and weak to penetrate human skin or a protective glove, says Hebda.
There haven’t been any spiders reported this year from HRM, says Heather Leslie of the CFIA. “This year is a bit of an anomaly because out of the handful of complaints we receive every year at least a few are from Halifax,” says Leslie.
When Luckett worked in England, he says there were all kinds of spiders, snakes and frogs found in imported produce, especially in grapes. He says it was pretty scary stuff, but now that grapes come in individual ziplock-type bags those days are over. Luckett can’t guarantee an employee or costumer will never find a spider in one of his stores because as he says, “shit can happen.”