Why worry if you accidentally swallow an insect?

It happens every day. You’re out for a run or biking on the farmland, doing an evening round the fence run in campus and, whoosh, an insect lands in your mouth. The ick factor is high, but can it cause any real harm? Well…swallowing an insect is largely harmless. For real!

Most people get bit or stung by something, and many of

Star fried crickets

us even eat a few critters. I am sure I’ve swallowed my fair share of insects. I know you are thinking its gross but it’s just a fact of life. The good thing with me is that I have intentionally swallowed quite a handful too. For the most part, eating a bug isn’t cause for worry. In general, your body will digest arthropods, which include arachnids like spiders, mites and ticks, and insects such as gnats, flies, mosquitoes, fleas and bedbugs, just like any other food. This means that eating a bug now and then probably won’t be a problem for most.

I am one of few who believe that swallowing an occasional live bug adds to their protein, vitamin and minerals intake. For those populations around the world who regularly ingest

Marinated crickets garnished with vegetables of the season

beetles, termites, ants, spiders and other arthropods, eating bugs can be an important source of these essential nutrients. But, it’s a good idea to cook the bugs before eating them in order to generally kill any harmful bacteria and parasites. If you’re going to get serious about eating insects like me, cook it!

I have this amazing colleague at Edible Insects Gastronomy Lab at JKUAT who is a gastronomist. Anything she touches turns to a delicious meal. She is a strong believer in the adage that a delicious meal is only limited by the chefs imagination. Her hands are like this magic wand that turns the most unfoody looking ingredient to a mouth watering delicacy. She has turned insects into dishes out of this world. If foods wear bow ties, hers would wear a red one! I think she can even cook stones or those mean looking railway steels lying idle with envy all over their face as they watch the new standard gauge railway snaking from Mombasa to Nairobi. I think I want to be a railway line in the after life. To just sit there unmoved by the years of merciless elements of weather and human activity!…mmmh

I digressed. Going back to the story…the bottom line is, avoid swallowing uncooked bugs but if you do, the enzymes and acids in your gut will do justice to it!

Happy 2017 bug lovers!

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43 thoughts on “Why worry if you accidentally swallow an insect?

  1. I think my next destination is your lab,luckily am bigger than Safari ant,so lucky that no one’s fingers can turn me into a cookie 😂

  2. Of course, some insects are poisonous. They key thing is to know what you are eating, and where it come from. Essentially, any food has a variety of risks associated with it. With insects, the risks are estimated to be relatively small, and easily controlled. Therefore, edible insects are eco-friendly to ingest because our bodies can digest. Because insects emit far fewer greenhouse gases than livestock and consume way less water, they have a comparative tiny ecological footprint, and there’re thought to thrive on basically anything, even organic waste. That last point sums up the main ecological appeal of eating insects. In fact, some two billion people across the globe eat a wide variety of insects regularly. They are a fantastic source of protein and don’t require intensive resources to produce; and they have little environmental impact, unlike the livestock that we are so reliant on here. And a few things to consider. Cooking will improve flavor, texture and kill parasites. Wings and legs do not contained much protein, remove them if they make you want to gag. Heads, too. Take care in eating already-dead insects, as they may have been killed by pesticides. And importantly, if you want to forage for wild insects, seek out a good guidebook so that you are sure to get the best from your efforts. Be brave, and bon appetite. Recent assessments of the potential of large-scale entomophily have led some experts to suggest entomophily as a potential alternative protein source to animal livestock, citing possible benefits including greater efficiency, lower resource use, increased food security, and environmental and economic sustainability. Use of insects as an ingredient in traditional foodstuffs in places such as Mexico has been on a largely use enough scale to cause their populations to decline. Eating insects has not been adopted in Kenya, despite attempts to introduce insects based food in Kenyan market. A few companies have introduced products made using insects, whole or processed into food products. Insects as food and feed emerge as an especially relevant issue in the twenty –first century due to the rising cost of animal protein, food and feed insecurity, environmental pressures, population growth and increasing demand for protein among the middle classes. Edible insects can provide economic, nutritional, and ecological advantages to the indigenous population that commonly raise them. However, there is very little knowledge or appreciation of the potential for managing and harvesting insects sustainably. Adapting food technology and safety standards to insect-based foods would enhance these prospects by providing a clear legal foundation for insect-based foods. The methods of matter assimilation and nutrient transport used by insects make insects cultivation more efficient method of converting plant material into plant biomass than rearing traditional livestock. In general, many insects are herbivorous and less problematic than omnivores. Cooking is advisable in ideal circumstances since parasites of concern may be present. The disadvantages of utilization of insect is that spore forming bacteria can spoil forming bacteria can spoil both raw and cooked insects protein, threatening to cause food poisoning.

    1. Very true…
      Already dead insects shouldn’t be consumed since you doesn’t know the actual cause of death. Insects consumption in Kenya exist thought not common.. it’s always meant for just fun and enjoyments and not in seriously as source of food, the type of insects consumed also varies from region to region, example in western Kenya​ luos consume locusts, luhyas consume white Ants.. so I think it’s the high time for the government to come up with standard and regulations to enhance insects consumption and their uses all across the country because high quantities of them is just going to waste unexploited.

    2. As long as we are very excited about the emerging alternative source of protein I.e insects, we may lose sense of it all if we forget many advantages that accompany Other sources of protein e.g cattle and shoats. Am very sure the advantages that we get from the above named animals it’s unlikely to get from insect. For example how many tones of insect do we need to produce a good amount of manure that we can use to add fertility in the soil or to be used in production of biogas. I think we should not eliminate other sources of protein but we should add insect protein to existing sources of protein.

    3. @Solomon, great advice there on removing wings, legs and head on the first time am trying out insects as a delicacy.Not only because of their low protein value but for a proper introduction to insects as meal.Finally can l have a lists of introduced meals with crickets in Kenya?

    4. I dont think there is something like poisoning from eating insects those are just thoughts. Even if they contains some chemicals i dont believe the chemicals will withstand those harsh conditions from preparation to enzymes in GIT…Basically most edible insects i know of they always been docile…But i liked the fact that you came into a conclusion that besides that bad feeling when you swallow one. You just benefit from it nutritionally. Learn to consume more.

    5. @Solomon,I partly agree to your statement on you mentioning about the poison effects of most insects. The truth is to find out the difference between poison and venom since majority of insects only possess the latter of which has little or no effect at all if ingested.

    6. When you accidentally swallow an insect there are two things involved, the upside is that the insect will go into the digestive system interact with stomach enzymes and become digested to release nutrients that are good for the body. The downside could be that the insect may be carrying allergens could be deposited on the trachea and eventually into lungs thereby initiating an allergic reaction.

    7. One benefit of edible insects as food source is their genetic dissimilarity from humans. Swine and avian flue pose a significant threat to human due to genetic similarity with humans allowing the disease to jump across and mutate. insects though are genetically distant from humans. this gives us an advantage of consumption of insects as compared to other domesticated animals. Edible insects have also an advantage of high protein and protein content which give them nutritional significance to humans and those malnutritioned.

    8. Mmmmh,true ,though I would say…don’t throw away food or all leave them dead or alive “ukiona”.Depending on the type of insect,you can eat them if they cross you part. How many times do we see ” kumbe kumbe” on corridors and balconys after the rains? That means they just died on their own or something,leaving them …ni kuaribu chakula. I think you are being too cautious, people eat fresh fish why not fresh insects? Come to think processed food are more dangerous and expensive yet we have cheap and fresh meals at our exposure, dead or alive…am ready but still gathering the courage to do that.Kusema na kutenda.

  3. Well if it doesn’t kill you it makes you strong, entomophagy has long made sense in Africa it has become part and parcel for most indigenous communities. I do concur with Dr. Kinyuru in sense that we have once or twice swallowed these innocent insects intentionally or unintentionally. Yes most have turned out to be good for human health, however the ‘yuck factor’ makes most people hate eating insects. This changes attitude of one towards this ironically nasty food. The health beneficial aspects of insects eating makes me totally agree with this blog, most recently there have been a lot of hypes around eating insects as compared to other foods. Its healthy and sustainable alternative source of food to supplement conventional protein sources. Consuming this bug-based food is more ecofriendly as compared to food from livestock. This are small creatures which are more efficient in converting feed into edible body mass unlike big animals as proven by many food scientists. Moreover, it has been proven that an insect like a cricket requires about 2 kilos of feed to produce a kilo of meat which 80% is consumed whereas a bigger animal requires approx. 8kg to produce same amount of meat and only 40% consumed. There is a well-balanced nutritive components unlike in other foods. To make these insects or bug-based food more attractive and pleasing to consume, on my point of view, it should be mixed with common foods as their ratios increase inversely. Then at the end of the day, people will be munching insects like no one business. If we had many guys like the specialists at the Gastronomy lab JKUAT, insects would be selling like hot cakes sooner than later. Of course yes insects can complement meat as food security measure. Nowadays animal population is decreasing due to many unavoidable circumstances and factors. Here sets in diseases and parasites, harsh climate is seriously working on animal sub sector, as well as reducing sizes of farms. All these makes production of meat from big animals, uneconomical and tedious. Thus growing or production of insects would much be better since they just require small space, less feeds to produce maximum. It is only a matter of time then guys will be accustomed to bug-based foods as in the case of meat from big animals. Crickets farming can be improved in many ways to boost food security; these include; Educating farmers on the importance of the ‘minilivestock’ as source of nutrients and how to produce them within short time thus faster earnings unlike in large animals. Providing incentives and input to willing farmers will attract a huge numbers of producers. Cricket flour should be made available at market where consumer can assess with ease, Production should be of cheap labor which will not require full technology platform which is expensive Teaching people on how cricket food is free from diseases and chemical residues like in food from animals. Advertising widely in different platforms the nutritive importance of cricket flour food and beneficial health effects. Finally animal professionals should be the ambassadors this of bug-based food.

    1. The cost of production is the key nowadays in level of production towards any food animals. For instance a farmer is absolutely convinced on less feeds purchase for feeding reared insects rather than high cost of production on larger animals which will finally leds to loss or low returns from the sells. Insects production must be addressed in full force has an alternative enterprise for protein production.

    2. I like the idea that if it doesn’t kill you it makes you strong its very true. Many are times we’ve swallowed insects but never experienced any poisoning or complications. If you are to implement the idea of insects keeping you would bevable to obtain greater profits. People should really venture into such such business. It all starts by enlightening the people in the society about insects, nutritive value and the maturity time.

    3. I like the thinking, instead of struggling with food insecurity being experience each day in the country can take advantage of the insects. I think the ideas you are providing are so valid but now, without the intervention from the government nothing can change. More thanks to great men at JKUAT i am just wondering how they came up with the idea but with such great thinking we can eliminate malnutrition in the country. My advice on this approach is to involve the government so as to invest on laboratories in the institutions more so JKUAT to boost more research and public educations on insect meal.

    4. Aaroon am sure you are saying this for the sake. imagine your self eating this insect then you realize you are eating chicken, birds and whatever else that eats this things apart from you. crickets am sure are among the things you hate attributed to the noise they make to you when you are a sleep… but any way ought to try it fried crickets.. i think the next thing you will be doing all night is ch ripping……

  4. The fact of eating insects is no longer a tale, insects like any other food acts as a nutritious source of essential nutrients that humans require in their diet. This fact comes with great relieve bearing in mind the drastic change of climate that have led to decrease food production. Accidental swallowing of insect should not worry humans but should give them courage to embrace the culture of using insects as sources of food.
    Edible insects according to FAO (2003) contain high quality vitamins, proteins amino acids compared to more of African food stuff such as chicken, beef etc. Their high food conversion rates is enough reason to encourage different countries to engage in insect farming to curb food insecurity. Insects such as crickets take less feed and provides same amount of proteins to that of other food animals. Therefore, insects if adopted well are the potential source of essential nutrients which humans can enjoy through direct consumption of insects or indirectly in recomposed foods.
    Orthoptera such as locusts, various species of grasshoppers and crickets can be kept in mini-livestock program that needs to be adopted in Kenya to encourage keeping of this insects to safeguard the country in terms of food security. Termites and crickets in Kenya will once become special delicacy. In fact this approach will be of importance in curbing child malnutrition in areas that face draught. Instead of struggling in cultivation of crops and other food products which require high inputs due to varying weather conditions, desert insects such as desert grasshoppers can be cultivated since that thrive well. This not only improve the standards but also its affordable and safe food with adequate nutrient density.
    Consumer acceptances is something that need to be invested to reduce reluctance and ignorance. There is a need of developing strategies to overcome some of the psychological and cultural barriers to entomology that undermines the utilization of insects as alternative nutrient source. That I can advise the investors to take include ensuring familiarity of the products is increased this is through provision of consumers with adequate information concerning insects as alternative source of food. This can be done through public educations, relies etc. making edible insects available and providing knowledge on how to prepare the insects can also be used to encourage its adoption and insect farms. The products manufactured having incorporation of insects should not only be made locally available but also be manufactured to taste good and appealing to eat.
    It is quite clear that to gain consumer acceptance on insect consumption various aspects need to be made clear. The mental linking of insects with the decaying matter need resolved through adoption of mini-farming where insects are kept and feed like any other conventional livestock. Product development of insects as food should take into account cultural and individual expectations about species that are used as food and the steps that are undertaken in the product preparation. Therefore as much as the need to change the dietary system is pushed on, need of gastronomy research should be done.

    1. Very good Felix, I agree with you that swallowing of insect is not problem. Most edible insects have alot of nutrients that provides body with all essential required in diet once one takes them.
      The acceptance of insect eating culture then should be highly encourage and educated people about their farming. This will supplement the limited protein pexpletives obtain from animals.

    2. From traditional day,insects have been a contant human food without knowing their nutritional value but it was attributed to cause strong early child development and disease resistant. e.g white ants that are largely consumed in rural parts. Scientific result has proven beyond reasonable doubt that indeed the white ants have a nutritional value of improving the human immune system.

  5. This is one of the most incredible yet entertaining blogs I’ve read so far this year. Not only is it relatable but it’s also one of those articles you read and you find yourself critically thinking about things you’ve never thought about, and if you did, you’ve never put any serious thought to it. When I hear about bugs and mouth and eating all at the same time, in the same sentence, all I can think about, at first is ew! Definitely not happening! I’m not a huge fan of bugs and if I think about all the times my mouth has come into contact with a bug trying to force its way into my gut, I might just end up writing a whole book of my encounters with bugs. Most times they have accidentally found their way into my oesophagus holding me in a choke hold, probably mid laughter; other times I have actually eaten them intentionally.
    Growing up, we’d harvest these flying termites (kumbekumbe) during the rainy season. Frying them over low heat and eating them as an accompaniment to some nice ugali….just yummy! When I think back to that point in time and how excited I would get about eating them and I think about myself right now, I very much doubt I’d be as enthusiastic as then. Well unless I get to visit the Edible Insects Gastronomy Lab and have the chef wow me. The consumption of insects, preferably cooked, in my opinion is a really good source of minerals and proteins. However this, insect consumption as a delicacy, is hindered by the fact that we have been raised in a society that has taught us that what you don’t know is bad for you. We are therefore barred from deviating from the conventional sources of food because we are afraid of what the society or how people in the society will think of us and treat us.
    If anyone was to ask me the next time I’ve swallowed a bug if I’m worried, I’d tell them no, because let’s admit it to ourselves, we have had our fair share of weevils in the food in high school, and look at us ? Some of us have grey hair on our heads. Clearly nothing happens all thanks to our gut. In this time and era where there are a lot of fast changing climatic conditions causing natural calamities like drought, our food sources should also be rapidly expanding. This is where insects and bugs come in, our only problem being that we are limited by our minds, inducing our gag reflexes at the very thought of it.
    Insects might just be what starving nations need to feed their people. They have adequate proteins, essential nutrients and minerals therefore complementing meat. It is important however to provide mass education to the public on insect consumption and farming techniques. This will improve even the small scale insect farms, which would also benefit from the farmers having workshops with insect farmers from other countries.
    I think this is the next big thing, and people should definitely embrace it!

    1. I recall the highschool life. Weavils in a meal, that was not news. Trust me we complained alot. Now with regard to the protein content, its like we were complaining that ‘manna should stop falling’. I agree that we should all ignore our social beliefs to enjoy this protein dynasty.

    2. Bugs directly placed in my mouth No! not with my digestion unless otherwise added or fortified in food like biscuits and bread as an ingredient. What about the taste, the feel ooh! no or can l assume it and swallow with chewing, if fried is it crunchy like biscuits? may be you have experience this.

    3. I couldn’t agree more Sharon, basic stereotypes on insect consumption needs to stop. We need to embrace insect eating culture with open arms considering how we gobbled down insects as kids and are still alive and well to tell the tales. It’s really a no brainer considering insect eating now as compared to when we knew nothing of the small yet highly nutritious bugs.

    4. I remember Case in high school where the githeri was full of weavels and and we the student could not even dare take a bit just because ati iko na weavels. we expressed our betterness buy decorating the dining floor with “weaveled githeri”as we called it. If we had a bit of knolwedge about edible bugs, i think this could be the best dish and we could eargly wait for meal time to go and eat it.

    5. The ‘yuck’ factor sure does play a vital role when it comes to preaching the gospel of eating insects to people. I concur with you when you say there is need to educate people on the benefits of feeding on edible insects. With the growing population, insects are our only hope.

    6. Just reminded me of the hundreds of weevils we ate in our primary and secondary school. Anyone who tried to throw them away we would warn, “wacha kutupa proteins!” They balanced the diet in the “githeri”. If we found it delicious then, we should comfortably swallow the accidental fly.


      I couldn’t agree more with Sharon. All of us have had our fair share of accidental insect swallowing by virtue of getting through boarding high schools. It did not do us any harm and maybe to the contrary it provided some essential nutrients in our bodies and boosted our immunity.

    8. kumbekumbe …..my child hood experience as Sharon has just elaborated reminds me when we were at my grand ma place at night you would move out with a latern to trap them…. but know i will eat them because they are very yummy as said ……

      1. Denoo…get in touch. We should do a story on your childhood and bugs..sounds fascinating. I think its a Denoo thing…(roll eyes)

  6. Why worry!!
    Of course I need to worry when accidentally swallow an insect, since it’s not one of those common dishes am used to placing on my table, the first worry of concern when accidentally swallow an insect is the personal hygienic purposes, Definitely you will have to ask yourself why this stray insect only choose to land deep in to my mouth?, does it mean I have a smelly mouth or any other unpleasant smell!!… Anyway let’s put that aside since this is universal situation regardless of personal hygiene. Another source of concern when accidentally swallowed an insect is which kind of insect have you swallowed? Can it cause any mechanical or chemical damage to your gut and digestive viscera organs through bites, stings or either production of poisonous and irritating chemicals? The third source of worry is the hygienic properties of the insect swallowed, is it the carrier of harmful pathogenic organism or compounds which might progressively lead to infection, can it interfere with the normal digestion process in your alimentary canal? Or can it cause abnormal function of your gut? Hygienic properties of insect is influenced by the stage of cycle of the insect development, particular insect species since various insects prefers various environments for their growth, breeding and survival, finally its affected by the point of origin before it definitely lands into your mouth and finally swallowing it?
    The appropriate alternative when you accidentally swallow an unknown insect is to use some particular drugs or chemicals which; facilitates digestion rate and efficiency, prevents bloating due to digestion of uncooked insect ingested and prevents diarrhea which might result as ingestion of un edible or uncooked insect and also kills swallowed insect as fast as possible. These drugs or chemicals may include appropriate digestive enzymes or appropriate drug compounds which contains the appropriate required chemicals for digestion. Drinking plenty of water may also be one of the appropriate alternative, this is due to the fact that water increases the rate and efficiency of the digestion.
    In general, edible insects can majorly complement as a food security measure, this can only be realized through; encouraging insect farming, establishment of edible insect research institution within various parts of the country to enhance research on breeding, keeping, harvesting and processing of the edible insects, establishment of the relevant insect production and processing industries this would definitely enhance marketing and consumption of the edible insects.
    Insect keeping has several advantages, these includes; faster rate of maturity than food crops and animals therefore are capable to maintain food supply throughout the year, require small piece for land for production, requires small amount of initial capital and lower maintenance cost thus making insect keeping more affordable to the small scale farmers, this may subsequently lead to attract interests of many insect farmers, hence leading to surplus production of edible insects maintaining steady food supply. This may subsequently leads to achievement of Kenya vision 2030 sustainable development goal number 2 which states that “zero hunger”, Kenya should be free of Hunger.

    1. Swallowing insects happen most of the times especially when doing some exercises such as running or biking…. I though agree with Okoth that one needs to worry if they accidentally swallow an insect but it is dependent on the type of insect swallowed, take for instance visiting the washroom and all of a sudden, a stray fly just lands deep into your mouth!!!…. That feeling though! … But all in all, why should I worry when the insect is busy dancing to the tune of my rumen physiology.

      1. i like the concept that Okoth has put forth….:” an insect landing in my mouth…or is it that my mouth is smelly or has unpleasant smell….” if it is house fly then you have reason to worry but if not you are safe….i will be worried if it happens to me if a housefly land on my mouth.. knowing the various errands a house fly has which of course am not going to mention for the sake.. other than a house fly i think I will eat the other accident landing mouth insects…..

    2. From the look of things i agree on the small piece of land needed for rearing this insects compared to large animals like cattle.But, the big question is, does the pastoral communitues welcome this avenue or not? look ,like the maasai believes on large cattle population has a “sign of prestige” in which to convince them is a story of another day.

    3. True one should be worried if swallowed accidentally for example stinging bugs and biting bugs can be a problem if swallowed including the bees,wasps,fire ants and some caterpillars can cause mildpain and localized swellings.On the other hand some are swallowed intentionally and they are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium,iron and zinc,despite being swallowed the play a vital role in the body.

    4. most of us think that insect are poisonous but other will be shocked to find out that most insect are much healthier than what we take in our daily normal life. insects tend to have high protein value compared to beef mutton or pork that you buy. so its wise to turn your attention to the insect production.

    5. I totally agree with you. In the past few months there has been an outbreak of cholera in most parts of the country. I am imagining myself in a situation where i am in a public toilet and then i accidentally swallow a housefly which i know it can act as a vector in the transmission of cholera. Coincidentally that is the time you come across adverts on signs and symptoms of cholera and how severe it is.

    6. @Okoth

      Yes sometimes there is a worry because not all insects are edible.Hygiene is of paramount importance in anything that goes to our gut.Insects can be a source of life threatening diseases that can wipe humanity.The good news is that there are a variety of species of insects that we can choose from .If insects are well prepared prior to cooking I’m sure we can enjoy being part of our daily meals.

    7. one should not worry when he or she consumes a insect accidentally as it may have nutritional advance over the bad effects which are mostly associated with edible insects consumption. as the research done in JKUAT, it has been postulated that Insects can substitute normal animal protein to human diet recommendation. This has changed humans thinking towards insect consumption.

  7. Insect! Swallowing an insect? Yeah. Most of the insects are harmless if swallowed accidentally or intentionally, this is because our gut are capable of digesting them, and also they have high protein content in their profile so no worry while swallowed or swallowing an insect!

  8. While I was young we were used to eat termites during the rainy season, also accidentally swallowing the insect while running. This proves that there is no harm caused by the insect while swallowed. Insect has high level of protein and are digestible to human digestive track.

  9. Well, I agree with Okoth that the kind of insect swallowed have to be of major concern. Some insects for instance are believed to have poisonous content while others are eaten freely and are believed to be a great source of cheap protein. Personally, I cannot worry if I accidentally swallow a termite because have grown up eating them even without cooking.

  10. According scientific research done in Beijing China based on edible insects, indicate that,insects have positive effect on environment control and prevention against pollution. This was highlighted by their ability to decompose kitchen waste and other household wastes and produce byproducts that are environmentally friendly. Advantage of this was evidenced based on their index environmental pollution in China.

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