Are Insects Safe to Eat? Everything You Must Know
At first, the idea of eating bugs may seem scary, and you may be wondering if it's just another TikTok trend or if edible insects are actually safe to eat. In fact, there are over 2000 edible insect species, and evidence of people eating them dates as far back as 30,000BC to cave paintings of hunter-gatherers foraging for bees and honey!
Edible insects are also not a novelty in the modern world – over 2 billion people in over 80% of countries cook and eat insects daily! Bugs are especially popular in Latin America, some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, – it's really the West that's missing out! Excitingly, Western countries are starting to catch the bug with a number of new startups emerging in the space, due to edible insects' incredible sustainability and nutrition credentials.
Due to the growing interest in edible insects, many health and safety regulations have been introduced to ensure that all insects reared in purpose-built farms are safe to eat. In this post, you will learn everything about the safety of eating insects, and what you should know before trying your first bug.
What insects are safe to eat?
According to European Food Standards Agency, the following insects are safe for human consumption:
dried Tenebrio molitor larvae (mealworms),
frozen, dried, and powdered migratory locust (Locusta migratoria),
frozen, dried, and powdered house cricket (Acheta domesticus).
The general advice when eating insects is that you shouldn't eat insects that sting or bite, are brightly coloured, or feed on blood (ie. mosquitos, ticks).
In addition, we don't advise eating any insects from the wild; however, there is an old saying regarding collecting and eating insects from the wild which goes "Red, orange, yellow, forget this fellow. Black, green, or brown, wolf it down".
Can I be allergic to edible insects?
Yes, you can be allergic to insects if you're also allergic to Shellfish, Crustaceans, or Dust Mites. This isn't always the case, but there has been some correlation – after all insects and crustaceans are closely related!
Insects also contain proteins called tropomyosin and arginine kinase which can cause an allergic response. What the insect eat themselves can also trigger an allergic reaction. Our crickets are fed on a feed that contains gluten, so there may be traces of gluten in the crickets themselves.
We advise you to only buy packaged, food-safe insects to minimise the possibility of allergen contaminants and to read the allergen label before consuming.
Are edible insects gluten-free?
It depends on the insects and what they're fed.
Our crickets are fed on a feed that contains gluten, so there may be traces of gluten in the crickets themselves.
We advise anyone who is gluten intolerant to check the packaging label or ask the supplier of the bugs before tucking in!
Can I eat raw insects?
Every food eaten raw carries a higher risk of food-borne illness than if the food has been properly cooked – this also applies to insects.
Happily, our insects are pre-roasted so are ambient stable and ready to eat straight out of the bag. By cooking your grub even further to throw into your favourite recipe, you reduce the risk of any contamination even further!
Can I eat insects caught from my backyard?
Insects have to be bred in a controlled and clean environment (i.e. an insect farm) to ensure they are safe for human consumption. If you catch a bug in the field, it may contain toxins or pesticides, or any other nasties you wouldn't want to eat.
How do insects need to be prepared to be edible?
Usually, when you buy whole dried insects or insect powder, these have already been cooked and are ready to be enjoyed straight out of the pack. However, if you are so lucky as to get your hands on fresh, undried insects we recommend blanching them, then roasting or pan-frying them with your favourite seasoning until cooked through. Yum!
Do edible insects have antibiotics, growth hormones, or pesticides in them?
No, fortunately rearing insects doesn't need pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. This is partly because they are reared in hygienic, well-contained facilities, which means they are very unlikely to be infected by pathogens or pests.
In addition, it's highly unlikely the insect feed contains pesticides. This is because pesticides are designed to kill agricultural pests – most commonly insects!
Insects grow incredibly fast and thus there is no need to provide them with growth hormones that could have other side effects on them and potential implications on human health.
Yum Bug's partner insect farms are aware of the health implications of using these chemicals in the insect rearing process and avoid using them.
Can edible insects cause pandemics?
It is highly unlikely for insects to cause pandemics. Unlike pigs and other traditional livestock, insects are far more genetically distant from humans, meaning it's difficult for pathogens, such as viruses, to jump from insects to humans. There are no evidence insects can transmit viruses like COVID-19.
Can edible insects go off?
Yes, just like any food, bacteria can grow on insects and cause illness. However, when roasted and kept in dry conditions, insects can last an incredibly long time (at least 1 year) before they begin to go stale. Even at this point, they are still safe to eat as the low presence of water prevents bacteria from growing – they just might lose their crunchy freshness!
How to know when edible insects are expired?
Check the best before date! Failing that – the easiest way to tell if an insect has expired is by smell. Stale or improperly stored insects have a more bitter smell than their fresh counterparts.
Remember to store them according to the label instructions to ensure they last for as long as possible. Usually, the best place for them is in a dry and cool cupboard.
How to store edible insects to prevent them from going off?
Like with every kind of food, it is very important to store your bugs in the correct way to avoid botulism or Salmonella. Keep your dry insects in a dry and cool cupboard in air-tight packaging or container. If you have fresh insects, you can refrigerate or freeze them if you want them to stay fresh longer.
Is it safe to buy insects abroad?
Whilst many cultures eat insects, the type of insect, how they are collected and processed varies between countries. This has implications for both food safety and the sustainability of insects.
Generally speaking, insects are safest to eat when they have been farmed in clean, hygienic facilities. This is the case for the majority, if not all insect products that can be found in the UK and EU.
Elsewhere in the world, it is apparent that some of the more exotic species are caught from the wild. As there is less control over what these insects may have consumed, the risk that they contain heavy metals or pathogens is much higher. In addition, the collection of these insects from the wild may damage the local wildlife if conducted unsustainably.
The safest, most reliably sustainable option is to get your bugs from reputable brands such as Yum Bug, who ensure strict levels of food hygiene and work with farms to create a more sustainable food system.
Our insects are reared in purpose-built farms that follow strict health and safety practices similar to those used for farming and rearing other animals. All farms are regulated by local food standard authorities, follow HACCP principles, and are regularly inspected to meet these strict guidelines.
We hope that, after reading this post, you feel more confident about implementing insects into your diet. If you'd like to give insects a try, head over to our Shop to get your bug fix, and find inspiration for the recipes you can cook!
Until next time,
Leo & Aaron ❤️