Brain and Body

Is It Safe to Eat Your Food If a Fly Has Landed on It?

January 7, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

closeup of a fly
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You’ve probably heard that flies vomit as soon as they land on a surface…

Flies. The bane of everyone’s existence. You just want to enjoy a nice picnic outside or dine out on the patio section of the restaurant, but those buzzing pests always seem to find your dinner plate as their landing grounds.

Once a fly lands on your food, what’s the deal? Is it safe to eat? Or is it infested with pathogens?

There are hundreds of different fly species around the world, but the one that’s most likely taking a stroll over your filet mignon is the common house fly, or Musca domestica. These are the nuisances that hang around in our homes and dumpsters, and are closely associated with rotting organic waste, including dead animals and feces. Ich.

This is why it’s not just the fly itself that matters when it comes to passing on harmful bacteria and viruses, but also where it’s been. Since flies typically spend time in rotting animal waste and garbage, there can be a range of pathogens and parasites among this waste.

SEE ALSO: How Dirty Is The Meat You Eat?

Unlike mosquitoes, house flies don’t transmit pathogens through their saliva by biting. Instead, they transmit them on their feet and body, leaving behind pathogen-filled footprints. To add the icing to the cake, they leave behind poop and vomit too.

If that wasn’t enough to gross you out, brace yourself for this: flies don’t have teeth, so instead of taking a bite out of our food, they have to spit out some enzyme-rich saliva that dissolves it. This allows them to suck up the resulting mishmash of regurgitated digestive fluids and dissolved food. Yum.

While the whole process is undoubtedly repulsive, spotting a fly on your food doesn’t mean you need to throw it away in most instances. One or two touchdowns on a sandwich is unlikely to end up causing an illness for the average healthy person.

However, the chances of the pests leaving behind populations of pathogens are much higher if it has plenty of time to walk around on your food. The more time the pests spend walking around vomiting, pooping, and sucking in, the higher chance of delivering harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

So basically, once you spot a fly buzzing around your dinner table or kitchen preparation area, make sure you swat it away from your delicious, non-pathogen-infected eats. One or two lands likely won’t make a difference, but if the fly has strutted its stuff across your food, it’s probably best to throw it out. You know what they say — it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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