Cicadas: the latest food safety paranoia

So a neat local story predictably went sour in the latest example of food safety bureaucracy. An excellent local ice cream shop decided to have some fun with the recent cicada emergence and whipped up a batch of cicada ice cream:

To make the ice cream, Sparky’s employees collected cicadas from their backyards and brought them in to work on Wednesday. The cicadas are fully cooked through boiling, then covered in brown sugar and milk chocolate. The base ice cream is a brown sugar and butter flavor.

It sold out within an hour, so they planned to make more for the weekend. There was a huge buzz, so to speak, and a lot of interest from intrigued consumers. We definitely thought about going in to try it. What came next, I absolutely knew was going to happen, and it did right on schedule:

Those looking to taste the seasonal flavor of cicada ice cream at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream will no longer have an opportunity to do so.

Sparky’s approached the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services and asked about the use of cicadas in the ice cream, Gerry Worley, environmental health manager for the department, said. “The food code doesn’t directly address cicadas,” Worley said. “We advised against it.”

Really. Despite the fact that it’s labelled “Cicada ice cream” and no one could possibly mistake what they’re ordering (Sparky’s even made sure to place cicada wings on top of the display bin), despite the fact that customer demand was far outstripping supply, despite the fact that it was prepared in a normally inspected commercial kitchen, our local health department feels that the cicadas are a threat to public health that educated adults are incapable of avoiding on their own if they want to.

Yet it gets better. It’s not just that they’re somehow dangerous. It’s that the rulebook doesn’t have specific instructions for how to cook cicadas:

Food code does not address how cicadas should be cooked. “The food code tells us how high the temperature should be,” Worley said of normally cooked foods such as fish, chicken and beef. The department does not have that information for cicadas.

Is there any possible scientific reasoning under which cicadas boiled at 212ºF (by definition) are uniquely capable of carrying pathogens which can survive such conditions, when every other currently known meat-borne food pathogen is killed by 180ºF at the highest (going by the rulebook)? Are they somehow carrying superbugs from deep-sea thermal vents?

It’s a great example of our current health system which is laser-focused on short-term pathogenic health issues and generally oblivious to long-term nutritional health issues, even though the latter affect, hurt, and kill vastly more people.  Not to mention the theoretical right of consumers to make their own choices, like they legally can with such other healthy options like handguns and tobacco.

2 thoughts on “Cicadas: the latest food safety paranoia

  1. One can add the City of Columbia ordinance that food handlers need to be gloved, supposedly to prevent hepatitis, even though it there is no evidence that it prevents transmission.