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Can mealworms, ants and crickets worm their way into your diet? Queensland Health’s food scientists are researching a range of insect food products to determine if they are safe to eat.
Before you serve cricket corn chips or salt and vinegar worms at your next backyard barbecue, Forensic and Scientific Services in conjunction with the Metro South Health Public Health Unit are putting the products to the test.
Senior chemist and project lead Hans Yates said while there wasn’t a huge demand for edible insects as yet, more and more products were becoming available.
“We perform a variety of testing to look for potential environmental contaminants or pathogens such as e.coli, determine allergen and trace elements in the products and ensure that what is labelled as crickets, ants or worms is really crickets, ants or worms,” Mr Yates said.
“We have tested a number of commercial samples, both of pure insects and other products made with powdered insects, to ensure production practices are safe and so far not only are they safe, but they appear to be healthier for you than they claim.
“The reported nutritional benefits of insect-based food, as well as the efficiency in farming insects, signals rapid growth in the edible insect market in the near future and we will be working closely with other government departments to test these products before they hit supermarket shelves.”
While gin flavoured with green tree ants may not be on your shopping list yet, Environmental Health Officer Hazel Shumba said the Public Health Unit was keen to keep a close eye on this developing industry.
“Products being tested have come from NSW and WA however insect farming is growing in Queensland and the Public Health Unit has a role in monitoring suppliers of these goods to ensure they are creating these products safely before they make it to the family dinner table,” Ms Shumba said.
“Following the test results, we work closely with suppliers on anything that needs to be rectified, so you can be sure before you munch on those crickets that they are safe for consumption.”
And what about the most important test; the taste test?
“We have been tempted to taste the products, but the smell is quite strong,” Ms Shumba said.
Testing of new products will continue as required, working closely with other agencies such as CSIRO, Department of Agriculture of Fisheries and the Queensland Alliance of Agriculture and Food Innovation.