The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is working closely with New Zealand produce retailers to have all imported Mexican table grapes withdrawn from sale following the discovery of spiders in a small number of consignments.
The Ministry has taken this action as a precautionary measure to ensure that any spiders that may have entered the country on Mexican grapes are identified and destroyed. Currently both major supermarket suppliers have withdrawn grapes from sale.
To date, 10 spiders have been found in grapes at several locations around the country in both islands.
MPI’s Manager Surveillance Brendan Gould says it is likely that some grapes from the affected shipments will have already been sold and the Ministry is advising people who have bought imported grapes in the past few weeks to be on the lookout.
“We have received 10 reports of spider detections – 5 are suspected black widows, one is a suspected brown widow, 2 are likely to be yellow sac spiders and a further 2 are as yet unidentified,” Mr Gould says.
The Ministry says while all these spiders are poisonous, they are not generally considered a serious danger to humans, although their effects can be more serious for the very young or for people with a weakened immune system. Importantly, these spiders do not usually bite unless disturbed.
“We recommend that if people have recently bought imported table grapes, they should carefully check them for the presence of any insects. In the unlikely event that they find a spider, they should immediately bag the grapes (and spider/s) and seal them, and contact on our freephone hotline 0800 80 99 66.”
“Our people will provide advice on further action to take.”
Should anyone believe they have been bitten by a spider in grapes, they should contact their doctor. Information is also available by calling the Ministry of Health’s Healthline on 0800 611 116.
“There are strict controls in place for the importation of grapes from Mexico (and other countries). In the case of Mexico, grapes are visually inspected and if spiders or other pests are identified, there is a requirement for fumigation.
“We take this matter very seriously and we are investigating how this breach has occurred and taking measures to tighten up the system,” Mr Gould says.
“Importers of Mexican grapes that are in transit here are being given the option of treating or destroying them on arrival in New Zealand. Mexico’s exporting season for grapes has now finished for the year.”
None of the spiders identified to date pose a risk to New Zealand’s horticultural industries.