Michelle Leach holds out a worm she found in a can of pork and beans. She says the smell is so bad from the wormy can, she has to wear a mask. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
A Boones Creek woman opened a can of worms this week when she and her two boys sat down for dinner.
Michelle Leach, 28, said she had just opened and spooned out a can of Van Camp’s Pork & Beans to her children, 3 and 5, when she bit into a big spoonful of her own and felt something strange in her mouth.
“When I got it out of my mouth and looked at it, it was this black worm that I had taken a bite out of,” she said. “When I dug down into the can a little deeper, I found another one. Eww!”
Leach said the insects, which appear to be black soldier flies in the pupa stage, were in the sealed can that was within its “use by” date and appeared intact from the outside.
She immediately took the boys’ beans away upon discovering the dead maggots, and said upon closer inspection, the product in the can smelled a little odd.
“It’s just nasty, that’s all I can say about it,” she said. “I mean, I grew up on that stuff since I was little, I think we all did. But me and my family are definitely not eating pork and beans from any company anymore.”
Seeking some answers regarding how the bugs got in the can or what she should do about it, Leach visited a customer service website printed on the can’s label.
The email she received from the company with a link to printable coupons was less than satisfying, she said.
“The message looked like it was computer generated: ‘Here’s a link to get discounts on more Van Camp’s food,’ ” Leach said. “Why would I want to eat more from your company after finding worms in it?”
A representative of ConAgra Foods, parent of Van Camp’s, denied the larvae were in the can of beans before it was opened.
“Based on our forensic analysis and the thermal processing used to package the food, it’s impossible that the foreign object the consumer described could have been packaged with the product during production due to the high level of heat,” company spokeswoman Lanie Friedman said in an email. “ConAgra Foods is committed to food safety and quality and has strict quality control standards for our food.”
ConAgra also owns other well-known brands such as Hunt’s, Rotel, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Banquet, Hebrew National, Manwich and Odom’s Tennessee Pride.
After contacting the maker, Leach didn’t take the tainted beans back to the Ingles supermarket on North Roan Street where she bought them.
Ingles Markets’ Chief Financial Officer Ron Freeman said if she had, the store would have offered a refund.
“If our customers bring in a product they are not happy with and bring their receipt, we will promptly replace the product or provide a refund,” Freeman wrote in an emailed statement. “We may also contact the product manufacturer.”
He added that the grocery store chain regularly receives recall information and promptly removes the affected products from its shelves.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, foodsafety.gov, said there have been no recent recalls on any of Van Camp’s products.
North Carolina State University’s Integrated Pest Management program said the black soldier fly, or Hermetia illucens, is a non-biting fly less than an inch long when mature.
It eats decaying organic matter, from carrion to dead plants, and is commonly found in manure and compost piles.
Occasionally, the larvae can accidentally infest the intestinal tract of man or animals, but such cases are rare, and the maggots pose little threat.
Since the food safety scare, Leach said she has been almost obsessively inspecting all of her family’s food for contaminants, and she plans to start weaning them off highly processed foods.
“I guess I’m going to start growing everything myself, and if we want pork and beans, I’ll buy a bag of navy beans instead and make it from scratch,” she said. “When I think about it, it just makes me gag. I think everybody should inspect their food better, because there may be things in there you wouldn’t even see before eating it.”