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Examining Food for Insects


This week’s article explores the obligation to inspect foods for infestation. How is the “Sin of the Complainers” in this week’s Torah portion related? Why does a righteous person eat to satisfy his hunger and maintain his health, while the wicked experience relentless, endless hunger?  How can we elevate our food and eating experience? What are the different degrees of inspection requirements? Which foods are always infested? When do three insects necessitate inspecting an entire batch? What is the rule for a very large batch that contains three insects? When is it necessary to inspect clean produce? What about clean produce with marks, which are occasionally signs of infestation but are usually not? What percentage defines problematic produce? In this week’s article we will address these questions.

Jewish Eating

In this week’s Torah portion, we read how some people from the Jewish nation complained to Hashem. The Torah recounts (Bamidbar 11:1-22): “The people were looking to complain, and it was evil in the ears of the Lord… the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the children of Yisroel once again began to cry, and they said, “Who will feed us meat? Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying on me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat.’… If sheep and cattle were slaughtered for them, would it suffice for them? If all the fish of the sea were gathered for them, would it suffice for them?”

What were they complaining about? Why was the mohn insufficient? The Torah tells us that they “were looking to complain” – they wanted to feel lack even though there was none. The mohn was the best food in the world, both for their health and their taste buds – no chef could ever achieve such a flavor. Yet, the people craved to crave — they wanted food that could serve as entertainment, something to be attained. The Torah states they were not actually complainers but “like complainers”. The Sifri (Beha’alosecha 85, cited by Rashi) explains that they sought a pretext to complain. Ramban elucidates that they tried to act like sad and mournful people. Moshe understood that the cries of “who will feed us meat” were just excuses, reasons to complain. What’s there to answer is such a situation?

Shlomo Hamelech (Koheles 13:25) articulates this concept: “The righteous eats to the satisfaction of his soul, but the belly of the wicked shall want.” The righteous person enjoys his food, eaten to satisfy his nourishment needs. He chooses healthy foods, avoids what is not, eats moderately and responsibly. As a healthy individual, he also enjoys his food. The wicked, however, eat uncontrollably and irresponsibly. Their food is neither necessarily nutritious nor healthy, hence he lives with an ongoing, constant hunger, termed by the pasuk “lack”.

In one of the first contemporary halachic works published after the Holocaust “Shimusha Shel Torah”, Rabbi David Feldman, Chief Rabbi of Leipzig and later Manchester, begins with the laws of eating. He explains (Introduction, p. 17) that when a person eats like a Jew, with moderation and careful consideration, in what’s termed today “mindful eating”, he avoids two severe prohibitions: first, he avoids eating insects and other forbidden creatures that harm the soul; and second, he does not transgress the prohibition of eating without a blessing, or making an unnecessary or incorrect blessing.

This week’s article continues the topic we began last week, where we discussed the size of prohibited insects. This week we will focus on the foods that must be inspected, which foods are advisable to inspect, and more.


The world of insects is dynamic, having undergone immense transformations in the past century. We could even say that the changes occurring every few years now surpass those that took hundreds of years in the past. Several reasons contribute to this:

  1. Globalization: Our world is much more interconnected, with goods and people moving from one end of the globe to the other easily. Along with them, different species of insects are being transported from country to country. Travelers to New Zealand, for example, are strongly aware of the extensive efforts the country makes to prevent various insects from entering the island. But, despite rigorous checks and measures taken on the plane before landing, their success remains partial. Consequently, many countries restrict importing of plant products without inspection and fumigation to prevent the transfer of new insects and pests.
  2. Pesticides and Farming Techniques: The use of pesticides, insecticides, and greenhouse farming has led to remarkable changes in many products. Foods, which for centuries were considered highly infested, can now be found completely insect-free. On the other hand, organic farming which opposes using pesticides, naturally results in increased infestation.

A case in point is cabbage. Halachic authorities have long discussed the assumption that cabbage is infested and must be inspected. In the US cabbage is regularly sprayed to prevent insects, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote it could be assumed as insect free. However, Rabbi Vaye, in his book, notes that while this was true during Rabbi Feinstein’s lifetime, nowadays, due to reduced pesticide use in farming, regular cabbage grown in the US is again considered infested.

Another crucial factor in determining infestation is the point of purchase. In regions with a significant population of observant Jews who meticulously inspect their food for insects, supermarkets take extra care to offer high-quality, insect-free produce. Suppliers serving religious communities also maintain rigorous standards, aiming to avoid customer complaints and product returns.

Most of the information provided here is sourced from contemporary texts, particularly Rabbi Moshe Vaye’s “Bedikat HaMazon KeHalacha.” Local kashrus agencies also offer valuable insights, and it’s important to stay informed about any updates and changes they announce.

Which Foods Require Inspection?

The Gemara (Chulin 58b) teaches that dates stored in jugs must be inspected before consumption. The Rambam (Laws of Forbidden Foods 2:15), Rosh (Chulin 3:53), Rashba (Toras HaBayis 3, Chapter 3; Responsa 1:113), and Ran (Chulin 19b) explain that the Gemara refers to the common presence of insects in stored dates, necessitating inspection before consumption. The Ran adds that even if only a minority of the dates are infested, since it is a common minority, they all require inspection. This ruling appears in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 84:8): any fruit prone to infestation must be inspected.

The Rashba (1:113) explains that the Gemara’s requirement applies to well-known infested species, such as dates, and to vegetables that are normally insect-free but have three or more insects in them. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 84:9) also mentions this ruling: if three insects are found in a dish and it cannot be inspected, the entire dish is prohibited.

Levels of Inspection Obligation

  1. Consistently Infested Foods: Foods that are always infested with insects, such that it can be assumed that at least one insect is present, must always be inspected. If inspection is impossible, the product is prohibited, even in presence of additional doubts, such as whether the insect survived cooking, or was ground up. Examples include untreated broccoli or cauliflower which always contain insects. Since a clean broccoli is an exceptional and rare occurrence, regular fresh or frozen broccoli and cauliflower are prohibited. The American standard, considered very stringent, allows for the presence of 60 insects per 100 grams of frozen broccoli. Despite companies purchasing top-quality produce and thorough washing, this level is still considered very clean (Bedikas HaMazon KeHalacha Vol. 1, p. 256).
  2. Usually Infested Foods: Foods which are usually infested, but could sometimes be found clean. Figs, for example have a 90% infestation rate. However, there are 10% which are clean. [The source of the food can also affect its infestation rate, as it varies by factors such as region and growing methods. For example, figs from Arab regions are always infested, whereas Israeli figs have lower infestation.]

According to the Shach (YD 84:29, 35; Nekudos HaKesef 2), if a food item is considered certainly infested, there is no doubt that it might not be infested. Therefore, even if there is an additional doubt present (e.g., the product was cooked, and perhaps the insects dissolved and became nullified), it is still not permitted due to a double doubt (safek sefeika) because there is only one doubt involved.

Conversely, the Taz (YD 84:17) holds that there remains a doubt, and the presumption of kosher status still applies. Therefore, even if there is a remote possibility that the food is not infested, this doubt can combine to form a double doubt (safek sefeika). Practically, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 84:17) rules to be stringent like the Shach, but in cases of significant loss, one should consult a competent rabbi to see if there is room to rely on the Taz’s opinion.

  1. Usually Clean Foods, Which Are Sometimes Infested: A food item that is generally clean, but occasionally found to be infested. This food requires inspection, and is called a “common minority” (or in the halachic terminology, “mi’ut ha-matzuy”). The source for this ruling comes from the laws of lung inspection in animals (treifos). If a lung is perforated or has an adhesion (sircha), the animal is considered treif. Although most animals are free of these defects, a significant minority is affected. Nowadays, the proportion of definitely treif cattle is estimated to be around 20%.

The Ramban (Chulin 3b) extended this principle to the entire Torah, stating that if there is a common minority, one must check and verify the item in question is not infested or treif. However, if verification is impossible (because the lung got lost by mistake), the item is permitted. One who purposely discarded the lung without checking, though, causes the animal to become forbidden. The Rashba (Toras HaBayis 303 84a) applied this to the laws of insects, indicating that a common minority necessitates inspection.

The Shach (YD 39:8) writes that the obligation to inspect a common minority is rabbinic, therefore lung inspection of animals is rabbinic. The Pri Megadim (YD 84:28) notes that the same is true for inspecting for insects when infestation is a “mi’ut ha-matzuy”.

  1. Generally Clean, with Signs of Infestation: When a food item is usually clean but specific batches are found to be infested, we must consider the possibility of further infestation. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 84:9) states that if three insects are found in a dish, the entire dish is forbidden until thoroughly inspected. If it is impossible to inspect, the dish should be discarded. Similarly, if three insects are found in a generally clean product, it cannot be used without thorough inspection.

How large or small are a dish or batch? If a banquet hall or hotel purchases a container of carrots and discovers three infested with carrot weevil larvae out of tens of thousands, is it permissible to use the remaining carrots without a comprehensive inspection, even if they appear to be of high quality and clean? On the other hand, if an individual buys a single carrot and finds two carrot weevil larvae in it, can we argue that it requires no further inspection because only two were found and not three?

There is no explicit ruling on this. Rabbi Vaye (Bedikas HaMazon KeHalacha, Vol. 1, halachos 4:4) cites various rabbinic opinions. Rabbi Elyashiv rules that this depends on the amount typically purchased and used at one time, and therefore a hotel would be required to inspect a much larger quantity than a housewife. Rabbi Auerbach indicates it depends upon the food item. For example, a lettuce head that has three bugs calls for inspecting the entire head, not only the leaves one plans on eating at a given meal.

External Signs of Infestation

Bite marks, soft spots, or non-natural stains might indicate an item is infested. In dry products, crumbs, clumps of grains and silk-like threads, or holes in legumes suggest infestation. While these visible signs necessitate inspection, ambiguous signs (e.g., crumbs, which could potentially be caused by mishandling) might not strictly require checking, though it is righteous to do so. The Beis Ephraim (YD 6) argues there is no strict obligation to inspect such products, while the Mishkenos Yaakov (YD 17) maintains it is a full obligation.

Common Minority

What percentage constitutes a “common minority”? The Mishkenos Yaakov (YD 17) suggests that a 10% infestation rate qualifies, referencing the Gemara (Gittin 31a) which states that a “mi’ut ha-matzuy” (common minority) of wine turns to vinegar. In Bava Basra 93b, it is noted that if 10% of a batch of wine becomes vinegar, the purchase remains valid because that is a typical occurrence. However, Rabbi Wosner (Shevet HaLevi, Vol. 4, 81) argues there is no definitive proof from this Gemara that a lower percentage cannot be considered a common minority. He supports his view with various other Gemara sources, explaining that a common minority is one consistently present within the majority, such as animals with adhesions in every herd. Rabbi Falk (Madrich LeBdikas Tola’im, footnote 30) posits that it depends on whether the infestation is surprising and unexpected. Similarly, Rav Sherlin (Kuntress Mi’ut Ha-matzuy) asserts that any occurrence frequently found, even in less than 10% of cases, is still considered a common minority.

Rabbi Vaye (Bedikas HaMazon KeHalacha, Vol. 1, Halachos 4:3) summarized contemporary halachic rulings on insect infestation:

Rabbi Auerbach set the threshold at 10% infestation, Rabbi Elyashiv at 4%, and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rav Chaim Kanievsky hold it at 5%. In stringent kosher certification, even 2-3% infestation is considered significant enough to mandate inspection.

Generally Clean Food

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 88:8) rules that food usually susceptible to infestation must be inspected. The Shach (Footnote 22) adds that if a food is not generally prone to infestation, it does not require any inspection. The Chochmas Adam (Binas Adam, Footnote 37) explains that for vegetables not commonly known to be infested, finding three insects would change their status. Until three insects are found, the infestation is considered uncommon (miut she’eino matzuy) and the food is permitted without inspection.

The Arizal (Shaar HaMitzvos, Parshas Eikev, 43b) advises one seeking Divine protection from accidental consumption of forbidden foods and aspiring to be among the righteous (whom G-d safeguards from mistakes) to always be meticulous about his food, ensuring no forbidden substances, like a fly, have fallen into it. Rabbi Chaim Vital, his disciple, testified to the effectiveness of this practice.

The Vilna Gaon (Maaseh Rav 94) emphasized the importance of checking all food for ants and similar pests. The Chochmas Adam (Klalei HaMitzvos 38:20) recommended that one always inspect his food, asserting that this practice saved him from consuming many insects on numerous occasions.

The Yaavetz (Volume 2, Chapter 124) notes that regarding rice, pious Jews customarily discard the entire batch if even a single mite or large white worm is found. While one could simply inspect the rice, he acknowledged the virtue and sanctity in the stricter practice.

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