Edible Cactus May Have Toxic Pesticides, California Officials Warn

California health officials are warning consumers against eating cactus pads imported from Mexico, as they may be contaminated with a potent pesticide. 

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a health warning on Sunday, indicating that edible cactus may have been contaminated with Monocrotophos prior to export from Mexico.

A routine surveillance sample collected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) revealed levels of Monocrotophos measuring at 5.8 parts per million.

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Monocrotophos is an organophosphate based pesticide that was banned from use in the United States in 1989, as it is highly toxic to humans. The pesticide is sold under brand names such as Azodrin, Monocil 40, Monocron, Nuvacron and Plantdrin. Consuming monocrotophos can lead to neurotoxicity and permanent nerve damage, as well as death.

Dr. Ron Chapman, the state health officer, confirmed the presence of the unapproved pesticide in batches of the cactus sold at retail and wholesale locations throughout California.

The CDPH immediately acted by removing those cactus pads that could be located from retail stores and distribution centers. The remaining product was quarantined or destroyed to reduce the likelihood of sickening any consumers.

While no illnesses or cases of poisoning have been reported, officials recommend being vigilant for symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning, which may include sweating, headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, hyper-salivation, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Washing, peeling and boiling the cactus before preparing it for consumption can reduce the amount of pesticide on the product. However, health officials warn not to attempt to reduce the contamination using these methods. Consumers are unable to measure the effectiveness of these procedures and should simply return the product to the store or throw it away.

Certain cases of the cactus product were labeled with a sticker which stated, “Comercializadora De chiles, Selectos Nieto S. De R.L. De C.V.” Some cactus was also sold in bulk bins without any branding or labeling.

Cactus pads or “nopales” are a traditional dish in some parts of Mexico and Tex-Mex cuisine. The “nopales” are often boiled or pickled and served in tacos and salad dishes. “Nopales” can also be peeled and served raw.

The nopal cactus is regarded as a super-food because of the high levels of antioxidants, cholesterol reducing properties and blood glucose benefits revealed in several clinical studies.

The cactus pads were sold at La Superior SuperMercados in Sacramento, Stockton, Woodland and Pittsburg during the first few weeks of February. The cactus was also sold in bulk at several Los Angeles locations; Mercado del Valle, La Sucursal Produce, Fresh American Produce, and J&L Produce.

The CDPH and CDPR are working with the FDA to identify growers and importers in Mexico responsible for shipping the tainted product.

Health officials plan to test and identify future shipments to ensure further pesticide contaminated cactus does not enter the U.S. marketplace.

Photo Courtesy of Paul and Jill via Flickr Creative Commons


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