How Often Do People Find Wild Animals In Their Salads? More Often Than You Want to Know

Carolyn Smith/iStock via Getty Images
Carolyn Smith/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever found a frog in your prepackaged salad? If you answered "yes," you’re (unfortunately) not alone. It's a problem that even Queen Elizabeth II has had to contend with (though in her case, it was a slug).

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and their colleagues recently published a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment on how many wild-animals-in-salads cases have been documented in the media since 2003, which was when a customer discovered the head of a lizard in a prepared salad of romaine lettuce. In that time, as The Takeout reports, the study concluded that there have been 40 documented cases of animals finding their way into someone's bag or plate of greens, with 95 percent of those incidents having occurred since 2008.

An average of 3.8 incidents have been reported each year since 2008, with 2013 posting a record five cases. The study marks the first review of customer-found wild animals in the rapidly growing prepackaged produce industry.

So just what kind of animals are people finding in their would-be lunches? Frogs, lizards, snakes, mice, bats, and birds—both alive and not alive—have all been found in prepackaged salad bags or store-bought prepared salads. Incidents include a woman in D.C. who found a live frog in a salad from a restaurant chain; a woman who found alive frog in a spring mix salad bag she bought from Target (she ended up keeping the little guy as a pet); and a Florida woman who, you guessed it, found a live frog in a bag of salad she purchased at Walmart. (Between all the documented cases, nine frogs total were found alive.)

Though 40 incidents may sound like a small amount, the study suggests that the actual number of cases is higher than that, but that many of the incidents have not been reported or never made national headlines. Amphibians were by far the most common class of animal found, making up 52.5 percent of the discovered animals. Birds, meanwhile, made up approximately 7.5 percent of the cases.

Finding a living, breathing animal in your bag of greens gives new meaning to the phrase organic produce, but 72.5 percent of the time the animals had made homes in conventionally grown veggies. Twenty different states have reported these instances, but Florida and Texas have had the most, with five apiece.

Besides “how many animals have been found in salads?,” a bigger and more important is: “How did those animals get into those salads in the first place?” The study doesn’t have a definitive answer, but suggests that “mechanically harvesting crops that were traditionally hand-picked” might allow some critters to get through. The issue, according to the study, can either be seen as “a food-safety crisis or a complaint against food quality.” But because these animals can spread diseases, the paper asserts that vigilance by the food industry could "reduce the potential health risk to their consumers and negative economic consequences to themselves."

Researching wild vertebrates in prepackaged veggies is new terrain for sciences, and as the study itself says, it represents "an unacknowledged issue in the current system of centralized produce production in the United States, and perhaps for developed countries in general." So if you happen to find a surprise visitor the next time you open a bag of salad, please report it, for science's sake ... and then maybe keep it as a pet.

The Reason White Castle Slider Burgers Have Five Holes

White Castle
White Castle

While it’s not often mentioned in conversations about the best fast food burger on the menu alongside staples like Shake Shack or In-N-Out, the White Castle slider burger still holds a special place in the stomachs of those who enjoy their bite-sized convenience. In 2014, TIME even named the slider the most influential burger of all time, with its debut in 1921 helping begin our nation’s obsession with fast-service burgers.

Peel the bun off a White Castle burger and you’ll find the square meat patty has exactly five holes. Why? Thrillist writer Wil Fulton went looking for an answer to this gastronomic mystery. It turns out that the holes serve a very functional purpose.

In 1954, a Cincinnati-based White Castle employee named Earl Howell stuffed his location’s suggestion box with a note that said the patties might cook more quickly if they were pierced. The reason? The franchise steams its burgers on the grill, and the holes allow the steam to better penetrate the stacks of patties (usually 30 burgers tall) that are piled on the grill at one time. No one has to flip the burgers, and they wind up coming out of the kitchen faster. The steam also picks up the flavor of the onion acting as a bottom layer, allowing it to spread through the stack.

Howell’s idea soon spread from Ohio to White Castle restaurants nationwide. The company facilitates the creation of the holes by puncturing a “meat log” and then slicing it and sending the patties to locations.

If you enjoy their distinctive flavor, the holes have a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

[h/t Thrillist]

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

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