One of the greatest joys of summer is eating a tomato freshly picked from your own small garden. For months, you have been anticipating that first tomato sandwich of the season or that first tomato salad. So you start harvesting your tomatoes only to find that a bird has beaten you to it. A bird has pecked your tomatoes! Oh my, now you have to decide, should you eat a tomato that a bird has pecked?
As a general rule, do not eat a tomato that a bird has pecked. Birds carry over 60 pathogens. When a bird pecks a tomato, any germs on the beak are injected into the tomato pulp and tomato juice. Germs travel throughout the tomato via the tomato juice. It is not safe to eat food eaten by birds.
Expect the entire tomato to be contaminated. Cutting off the affected area may not make the rest of the tomato safe to eat.
“As a general precaution, people should avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance, if possible. Wild birds can be infected with bird flu viruses without appearing sick.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
As noted above, the CDC recommends avoiding direct contact with wild birds. When a human eats a tomato that a bird has pecked, there is direct contact between the human and the bird. Eating a tomato that a bird has pecked is not safe.
Is It Safe To Eat A Tomato that a Bird Has Pecked?
When you find that many of your tomatoes have been pecked, you may consider eating them in spite of the bite. You may convince yourself that by cutting off the damaged portion of the tomato and then a bit more, you will avoid eating any contamination. When a bird pecks a tomato, pathogens, bacteria and diseases will migrate from the bird’s beak thoroughout the tomato. We encourage you to reconsider eating the pecked tomato. Take a look at the following quote by a horticulture technician.
“When in doubt, throw it out.” Wild animals can carry bacteria and other pathogens in their mouths, beaks and claws. Once the vegetable’s skin has broken, decay starts to set in as well. Vegetables and fruit that have been compromised by animal feeding should be discarded.Carol Wilder, Horticulture Technician, Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service, Louisville, KY ask2.extension.org/kb/faq.php?id=430792
Are There Germs On A Bird’s Beak?
Germs on wild birds’ beaks are left behind when a hungry and thirsty bird pecks a tomato, eating a portion of the tomato and drinking the yummy refreshing juice of the tomato. In addition, other bacteria and insects enter into the opening in the tomato left by the bird as part of the natural decaying process. So there are 2 sources of bacteria growing in and throughout a pecked tomato.
What about the un-pecked portion of the tomato? Is it safe to eat the un-pecked portion of a pecked tomato? Ask yourself this: How long ago did the bird peck the tomato? Also does it really matter how long ago the bird pecked the tomato?
Answer: Always anticipate that enough of the pecked tomato is contaminated to make you sick, including the un-pecked portion of the tomato. Cutting off the pecked portion and eating the remaining tomato really may not be safe for you to eat.
The NewScientist Magazine 4 May 1991 tells us that microbiologists have found evidence of germs on the beaks of birds.
“an army of researchers – from microbiologists to ornithologists – has established that [the birds] jackdaws and magpies peck [the tops of ] milk bottles with campylobacter bacteria carried on their beaks. If people drink the milk they risk campylobacter poisoning, which causes abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
…the Department of Health intends to issue advice to milk traders and consumers, urging them to return pecked bottles to milkmen.”NewScientist “Milk thieves caught spreading disease’ 4 May 1991
So there is proof of germs actually being on the beak of a bird. As stated above, germs from the bird’s beak are injected into the milk. Anyone drinking this milk will risk getting sick, ie stomach cramps and worse. So you risk illness too when you eat a tomato that a bird has pecked. Campylobacter is only one illness that you risk getting. Remember birds carry 60 pathogens.
Can You Get Sick From A Bird Eating Your Food?
Zoonosis is an infection or disease that is transmissible from animals (and birds) to humans.
Washington State University published an article about zoonoses between birds and humans. The following is a list of diseases that can be transmitted from birds to humans.
- Lyme Disease. CDC reports that birds have a role in transmitting microorganisms that humans can contract. An article by the National Science Foundation states that birds play a role in spreading Lyme disease.
- Campylobacterosis CDC states that “People can get [an] Campylobacter infection… by contact with animals”, like infected birds.
- Avian Influenza
- E.coli Birds frequently peck on cow manure which harbors E.coli.
- Avian Pneumoencephalitis
- and more…
Are you willing to risk contracting any of the above for a tomato?
How Do Germs Get On A Bird’s Beak?
Germs on the beak may not be something you are thinking about when you are tempted to eat a tomato pecked by a bird. You probably are focusing on the tomatoes you miss the opportunity to enjoy because birds have pecked so many of your delicious tomatoes. But germs on a bird’s beak is worth your consideration to avoid getting sick.
Birds and their beaks pick up pathogens and diseases from contaminated:
- Bird feeders can be crowded and thus become contaminated by pathogens from diseased but healthy looking birds. Also bird feeders can become contaminated simply by infrequent cleaning.
“Many diseases are spread at bird feeders including salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, pigeon paramyxovirus, avian pox, and others. These diseases can be controlled and prevented by proper use and regular cleaning of feeders.”Colorado Parks & Wildlife
- Birdbaths can become contaminated by mold, feces and debris rotting and infrequent cleaning. Salmonella could be lurking at your bird feeders and baths from Popsci.com has more details.
- Garbage Dumpsters contain so many germs due to food decay and disease carrying insects. Birds oftentimes visit garbage dumpsters looking for easy food and can become infected with zoonotic diseases. PubMed.gov has published an article “Scavenger birds exploiting rubbish dumps: Pathogens at the gates”
- Contaminated Water Sources, especially large puddles on the ground that birds often visit can be infected by insects, mosquitos and feces. These germs would then be on the bird’s beak.
- Cleaning Feathers is a normal activity by birds but sometimes feathers become infected by disease-carrying insects and ticks. Birds clean their feathers using their beaks.
- Birds standing in feces infects their feet which spreads to a bird feeder, birdbaths and other water sources. Birds often stand on cow feces and other feces as well thus spreading pathogens wherever the birds feet touch when they land.
It is easy to underestimate the contamination to the tomato pecked by a bird by just looking at it. Expect the entire pecked tomato to be infected. Cutting off the affected part and eating the rest of the tomato may not make the tomato safe to eat. For some diseases, symptoms appear 5 to 14 days after exposure.Read more
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