Edible cactus in Calif. may contain dangerous pesticides

Edible nopales, or prickly pear cactus, are seen near a residential trailor on August 11, 2004 near the town of Arvin, southeast of Bakersfield, California. Getty Images

California health officials are warning residents not to eat some cactus products imported from Mexico, because they may contain banned pesticides that can cause harmful health effects if consumed.

Cooked nopales, or spiny cactus pads, are a traditional vegetable dish in some areas of Mexico, CBS Los Angeles reports. They are typically boiled or pickled, and served peeled without needles.

The California Department of Public Health said that routine testing of imported cactus samples found up to 5.8 parts per million (ppm) of Monocrotophos, an organophosphate-based pesticide.

Monocrotophos has been banned in Australia, Cambodia, China, the European Union, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and as of 1989, the United States.

Monocrotophos was recently eyed as the source behind a July poisoning case in India. Dozens of schoolchildren were sickened after ingesting foods contaminated with the chemical, including 23 deaths.

Chemical weapons including nerve agents -- such as sarin -- use concentrated amounts of organophosphates.

The contaminated cactus may contain a label with a supplier sticker that stated “Comercializadora De Chiles, Selectos Nieto S. De R.L. De C.V.,” but officials said products sold in bulk bins may not have specific branding or labeling.

  • La Superior SuperMercados in Sacramento, Stockton, Woodland and Pittsburg between 2/6/2014 and 2/12/2014
  • Mercado del Valle in Concord between 2/6/2014 and 2/12/2014
  • La Sucursal Produce located on Central Avenue in Los Angeles on 2/6/2014
  • Fresh American Produce located on Mission Road in Los Angeles on 2/7/2014
  • J&L Produce located on Central Avenue in Los Angeles on 2/6/2014

No illnesses have been reported to date, but poisoning symptoms may include sweating, headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, excess saliva production, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. The health department adds that consuming Monocrotophos can lead to neurotoxicity and permanent nerve damage.

Washing, peeling and boiling the cactus prior to preparation can remove some of the pesticide, however, it is not recommended that consumers try to salvage any of this contaminated product, according to the California Department of Public Health. Consumers instead should return any remaining product to the place of purchase or dispose of it in the garbage.

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